In a few days, I’ll reach full term with the baby I’m carrying. It is a girl and she is my fourth child. I didn’t sleep last night. Not because of the endless heartburn brought on by almost any food or the fact that I have to go to the bathroom every hour, though those are certainly markers of the final weeks of pregnancy.
I didn’t sleep last night because of what happened this week in Alabama, when 25 white men in the state senate passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the country — a near-total ban on all abortions sponsored and signed by two women: Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins and Gov. Kay Ivey, respectively.
I didn’t sleep because this made Alabama one of seven states to recently pass a ban on abortions in the sixth week of pregnancy, a time when very few women even know that they are pregnant. (For reference, as we’ll need it, the tally also includes Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri, and is growing). But mostly I didn’t sleep last night because I know this legislation is not about abortion; it is about control of my life, of my daughters’ lives, and of the lives of all American women*. It is about human rights. And if we don’t halt and reverse the creeping criminalization of a woman’s self-determination now, we may never have the chance again.
I’m not going to tell you stories today articulating all the very real reasons people might choose to terminate a pregnancy. Those stories matter, but the reality is, this is not about abortion. This is about some men maintaining control over all women.
In 1972, the Supreme Court (in Baird v. Eisenstadt) for the first time legalized birth control for all American citizens, regardless of marital status. One year later, the Court affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
And now for some relevant statistics. One-third of women’s wage gains since the 1960’s are a result of access to oral contraceptives. And while we still have a gender wage gap in the workforce in which, for example, Latinx women earn 53 cents for every dollar a white man makes for the same work, reproductive freedom is responsible for the progress we’ve made in closing the chasm: without access to widespread and legal contraception, the narrowing of the gender pay gap would have been 10 percent smaller in the 1980s and 30 percent smaller in the 1990s.
I am the beneficiary of living in a country that afforded me reproductive rights. My mother and father planned for our family, which includes me and my older sister. My mother welcomed us into the world after she worked night-shifts to pay for her college tuition, after she became a first generation college graduate, and after she married my father. Before I started college, my doctor wrote me a prescription for birth control, and I remained on the pill until I was 33 and decided to start a family with my husband. In the intervening 15 years, I attended college and law school, worked on Wall Street, earned six figure salaries, and served in various capacities for former and aspiring U.S. presidents. Would it have been possible to do all these things with a baby (or babies) at a young age? I can't say for sure. But the reality is, I had the right to make my own decisions about my body.
I have continued to grow into my career in the years since becoming a mother — a privilege I have because my husband and I can afford the astronomical costs of childcare in America — and am now the founder and CEO of a rapidly growing start-up, The Riveter. We have over 50 employees, dozens of investors, and thousands of members. The company is dedicated to equity in the workplace. It is our mission, and we are built around this principle. And yet this week I still paused and asked myself a critical question: can I speak up about abortion and reproductive rights as a corporate leader? Isn’t it remarkable that in the face of my experience and passion, it was still hard to pen this piece, because we live in a day when supporting equity of opportunity for women is a political risk. Can I risk my business — and the payroll my team depends on, the resources my members use — to say anything at all? But here I am. Here we are. Standing up for women. Because which risk is greater: losing possible business with those who believe a woman should not choose her own basic destiny, or not speaking out against legislation that would criminalize women who terminate their pregnancies?
And there’s more to this idea of destiny and control, which further requires that those of us with privilege not only use our voices; it requires that we shout and turn our resources to support the fight for basic freedoms. These anti-abortion laws are not just about controlling women; they are specifically about the control of poor women, women of color and others we continue to push to the margins. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "[u]intended pregnancy rates are highest among those least able to afford contraception and have increased substantially over the past decade. The unintended pregnancy rate for poor women is more than five times the rate for women in the highest income bracket."
So I’ll use whatever voice and platform I have as a leader in the corporate ecosystem to demand that the world listen — and speak up, and act. I’ve read missives from CEOs around the country about the need to address climate change (with some leaders even going so far as to refuse to expense employee meals that include meat), family separations at the border, and voting rights — each critically important, of course. But I’ve never read one about abortion. This remains the third rail of American politics, and one corporate America refuses to address. Is it because there are so few women CEOs at the helm of major corporations? And if that’s the case, why can’t men speak up, too? Why aren’t the most powerful men in America — with their great privilege — crying out against these attacks on the rights of their wives, their sisters, and their daughters — their fellow humans? This is a human rights issue, after all, and these are attacks that will have dire consequences for generations to come. It is worth the risk to speak out against injustice. And so I ask of my fellow CEOs, and the many men who believe deeply in justice and rights and self-determination: Get louder. We can’t hear you. We need you. Now.
*Though the word "women" is used throughout this piece, we acknowledge that these challenges also affect trans and gender nonconforming people who do not identify as women.