Enter the Abortion Debate? Big Companies Can’t See the Upside

(Bloomberg) -- Several influential Hollywood producers have threatened to stop filming in Georgia, protesting the state’s new abortion law. But so far, none of the studios with projects currently underway there have plans to relocate, a sign that otherwise politically outspoken and liberal companies are loath to speak out on abortion.

In fact, the corporate silence on abortion in Georgia and elsewhere has been deafening, especially compared with corporations’ eagerness to demonstrate their support for other progressive social issues, such as LGBT rights. More than 200 companies, from Amazon.com Inc. to Xerox Corp., are supporting pending federal legislation that would extend civil rights laws to include protection for LGBT people. And hundreds of companies have lobbied on LGBT restrictions in Southern states.

“This is a more difficult issue,” Schuyler Moore, a lawyer at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP who advises producers and studios, said in an interview. “It isn’t as controversial to support gays as it is to support abortion.”

It’s also not clear to companies that there’s any advantage to taking a stand on abortion politics. American public opinion hasn’t changed in the last 24 years, with the most recent data showing that about 58% of think it should be legal in most situations and 37% saying it should be illegal in most cases, according to the Pew Research Center.

Less Pressure

Consumers reward CEOs who take positions on clean air, health care, climate change and poverty, according to research last year from Stanford University. Less than half think executives should wade into abortion rights, politics or religion.

Groups that support laws like Georgia’s are also vocal. David Black, founder of conservative Christian watchdog group 2ndVote, has several active campaigns publicizing and criticizing big companies that donate to Planned Parenthood. “No company wants to advertise that it’s for abortion,” he said.

Many pro-choice advocates in and around Georgia have stopped short of endorsing a boycott. Producers J.J. Abrams, the director of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and Jordan Peele, the director of “Get Out,” said they will still be shooting their show “Lovecraft Country” in the state -- but will donate all their fees for this season to the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia.

Threat to Livelihood

Peter Chernin’s entertainment company also said it would make a donation to the ACLU as production in the state continues.

“If we chose the boycott route, thousands of jobs would be lost, ultimately damaging workers who rely on production for livelihood, including many women,” he said in a joint statement with Jenno Topping, Chernin Entertainment’s film president.

For the film industry, Georgia is a hard state to walk away from. With some of the most generous tax incentives in the country, the state has become the most popular U.S. hub for filmmaking. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Netflix’s “Ozark” film there, as were several of Disney’s biggest recent hits, including “Captain America: Civil War,” “Ant-Man” and “Black Panther.”

Film production contributed an estimated $9.5 billion in revenue in the state in 2018, according to the Georgia Dept of Economic Development.

Georgia’s new law doesn’t take effect for six months. It’s also expected to be challenged in court, buying the film industry some time.

“Similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged,” the Motion Picture Association of America said in a statement. “The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process. We will continue to monitor developments.”

Big public companies and film companies did threaten to pull business from Georgia in 2016 to defeat a religious freedom law that opponents said sanctioned discrimination against LGBT residents in Georgia. VH1, owned by Viacom Inc., said at the time it would relocate shooting on the show “Satan’s Sisters,” and Disney, Time Warner, Fox, CBS, AMC, Sony Pictures and Discovery threatened a boycott over the perceived threat to LGBT rights.

More than 400 companies, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., Delta Air Lines Inc., Home Depot Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc., publicly denounced the so-called religious liberty law.

None of those Atlanta companies has addressed the abortion law, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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