Texas abortion law foes target corporate donations

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, file photo, anti-abortion demonstrators pray and protest outside of a Whole Women's Health of North Texas, in McKinney, Texas. Foes of the strict abortion ban passed in Texas are taking aim at companies that donated money to the bill’s sponsors, hoping consumers will pressure corporate America to join the fight against a surge of abortion restrictions. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File)

AUSTIN — Foes of Texas’ abortion ban are taking aim at companies that donated money to the bill’s sponsors, hoping left-leaning consumers will pressure corporate America to join the fight against laws they disagree with in the state.

Corporate Accountability Action and American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic Party’s opposition research arm, began highlighting AT&T’s contributions to Texas Republican lawmakers in television and digital ads. There are plans to expand the campaign to Florida, where similar measures have been introduced.

Abortion rights supporters in Texas are confronting the new pro-life law in one of the most populous states, as well as a conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court and GOP lawmakers who want their states to be next. Democrats and their allies on this issue are looking for new ways to harness frustration into leverage.

“This is a moment in our country where there is no middle ground. You really can’t be on the sidelines,” said Cecile Richards, past president of Planned Parenthood and current co-chair of American Bridge 21st Century.

Texas had roughly two dozen abortion clinics before the law took effect Sept. 1. At least six clinics resumed performing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy after a federal judge blocked the law last Wednesday, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. But late Friday, an appeals court allowed the restrictions to resume pending further arguments. The Biden administration has also sued the state over the law.

The ads in Texas aim at AT&T, which Corporate Accountability Action claims donated more than $645,000 over the past two years to nearly 22 lawmakers who sponsored the measure. The Dallas-based telecom company also donated thousands to Democratic lawmakers.

In Florida, the group is criticizing corporations such as Walt Disney for its $262,000 in donations to among the more than two dozen lawmakers who sponsored proposed abortion restrictions over the past two years. NBC Universal gave $83,500 to those legislators, and some $88,000 in Texas, CAA found.

AT&T said it a statement it does not take a position on the issue of abortion or endorse the law known as Senate Bill 8, and gave money to legislators on both sides.

Representatives for NBC and Walt Disney, which have also donated to Democrats, did not immediately respond to email messages seeking comment.

The two groups eventually plan to expand the campaign to the dozen states where legislators have said they want to model their own laws based on the Texas measure.

The Texas ban prohibits abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks. The law’s novel enforcement mechanism kept it from being blocked by the Supreme Court: Private citizens, not the state, have the power to enforce the law through civil suits that can net them $10,000.

Pressuring corporations to pull support and business from states that pass controversial laws has some record of success. Supporters of the practice say North Carolina lost $3.76 billion in business after passing a law requiring transgender people to use the bathroom of their birth certificate in 2016. That pressure led to a compromise and partial repeal.

This year, the effect was more muted on GOP-backed election-overhaul bills that critics called attempts to suppress Democratic votes. Republicans such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp stuck by the measure there, even after Major League Baseball’s decision to move the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta.

Some companies, including the customer-management firm Salesforce, dating app Bumble and ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, pushed back against the Texas abortion law after it went into effect a month ago.

But that didn’t deter Tesla CEO Elon Musk from announcing he would move the electric carmaker’s headquarters from the San Francisco Bay area to Austin, a tech hub and the capital of Texas.

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, but on Sept. 2, Musk tweeted that he believes “government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness. That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”

The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life pointed out that companies making donations might not support everything for which candidates stand. “We hope that people in Texas and companies in Texas will not bow down to ‘cancel culture,'” spokeswoman Kimberlyn Schwartz said.