How Some Of The World’s Most Powerful Women Are Fighting For Reproductive Rights
Jan 8, 2023
American women have fewer rights than they did a year ago. The question is: can 100 people overcome the decision made by 5?
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion, by a 5-4 vote. The decision triggered state-specific bans to go into effect, and today, ending a pregnancy is illegal in a dozen states and restricted or unavailable in a dozen more.
Abortion is not just an American issue. United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (No. 82 on the Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women) saidin June that Roe’s repeal makes the U.S. an “outlier” among the world’s developed nations. The World Health Organization in March declared that access to abortion is “fundamental” to meeting several key sustainable development goals that have been set by the UN.
This is because, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (No. 33) said during a May Senate hearing, “Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor force participation.” Reproductive freedom allows women to finish school, plan careers and save money to grow their families, she said. The loss of Roe, Yellen said, will “have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.” Vice President Kamala Harris (No. 3) and outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (No. 25), have expressed their strong support for women’s reproductive rights and have advocated laws to protect them.
Women are not a monolith when it comes to their opinions on abortion access, and neither are the members of 2022 World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Some have remained silent on the issue, and others, like far-right Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni (No. 7) have pledged only to not interfere with their country’s abortion protections. (Even so, Italians flooded the streets of Rome and Milan with “My Body, My Choice” signs in the wake of Meloni’s September victory.)
Many on the list are using their voices and their platforms to advocate for abortion care—and are doing so in a much more visible way than ever before. Reproductive health advocates and corporate social responsibility experts alike agree that even though Roe is gone, the power of these leaders’ ongoing engagement cannot be underestimated. If the world’s most influential people and companies “had been talking about abortion as much over the past decade as they have been since May, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” says Jen Stark, the co-director at BSR Center for Business and Social Justice.
“You need to do an assessment of where you have influence and power, and you need to use it,” says Nancy Northup, president of the legal and advocacy group Center for Reproductive Rights. “The more that everyone is vocal, and using the expanse of their power to the extent they can, that is what’s going to turn this around.”
Here’s a look at how some of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women have acted to protect access to reproductive healthcare in 2022:
MacKenzie Scott (No. 11) donated $275 million to Planned Parenthood in May, the largest gift from a single donor in the organization’s history.
Corporate leaders began implementing benefits for employees who need to travel to access abortion services. Citigroup, led by Jane Fraser (No. 10), was ahead of its corporate peers. In its 2022 proxy statement, which was filed before the draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked in early May, the bank pledged to provide travel benefits “to facilitate access to adequate resources.” By late June, Accenture, led by CEO Julie Sweet (No. 9) joined the ranks of companies offering a similar benefit, and Abigail Johnson’s (No. 5) Fidelity was saying the same.
This year, Xiomara Castro (No. 94) became Honduras’ first female president after campaigning to expand abortion access in her country. However, she’s been facing opposition on this initiative and, as of this writing, has yet to succeed.
Abortion is legal in New Zealand, where Jacinda Ardern (No. 40) is prime minister, and in March the Kiwi parliament voted to further safeguard abortion clinics and their surrounding areas from intimidation or obstruction efforts. In June, Ardern called the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision “a loss for women everywhere.”
TV showrunner Shonda Rhimes (No. 93) has long had Grey’s Anatomy take a straightforward approach to reproductive health. Over the years, its fictional doctors have had abortions, prescribed abortion pills and lamented state laws that limit the treatment they can provide to patients. An October 2022 episode of the show took an even more educational approach: One of the episode’s storylines involved two Grey’s doctors explicitly guiding a teenager with an unwanted pregnancy through the process taking mifepristone and misoprostol, the two abortion pills.