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Healthcare corporations Pfizer and UnitedHealthcare are among the biggest financial backers of lawmakers behind state abortion bans

Kimberly Leonard,Andrea Michelson,Angela Wang   

Healthcare corporations Pfizer and UnitedHealthcare are among the biggest financial backers of lawmakers behind state abortion bans
  • Healthcare companies funded lawmakers behind state abortion bans set to go into effect now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.
  • Pharmaceutical companies that make abortion drugs have bankrolled efforts to criminalize abortion.

This story is part of an investigative series from Insider examining the demise of abortion rights in so-called "trigger law" states. It was originally published on May 13, 42 days before the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right. Read all the stories from "The First 13" here.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has made strides toward gender equality in the workplace in recent years, announcing a global study in 2019 that showed men and women at the company received the same pay for the same work. Two years later, the company hired a chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.

As a business, Pfizer has created products that are essential for reproductive health. It markets contraceptives as well as Cytotec, a drug that assists patients in expelling an embryo or fetus from the uterus during an abortion or miscarriage.

Despite this profile, Pfizer is one of the most generous corporate supporters of lawmakers behind the political movement to criminalize abortion, an Insider investigation has found. It's one of dozens of companies and associations in the healthcare sector that have given money to politicians behind so-called trigger laws that will ban abortion in 13 states if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

An Insider analysis of campaign-finance data compiled by found that Pfizer gave about $341,000 to politicians in 13 states who drafted or signed such laws.

Overall, Insider found, close to 1,000 healthcare companies, insurers, clinics, care facilities, pharmacies, drug companies, and medical associations (or their associated political-action committees) have collectively given more than $14 million to the 444 state legislators and 13 governors responsible for enacting trigger laws since 2005.

Insider's analysis looked at donations for the election cycle immediately prior to the passing of each law, as well as all subsequent cycles.

The findings are remarkable given that many of the sponsors employ, represent, or otherwise rely on doctors and nurses — the people who would be held criminally responsible for performing abortions under the laws. Providers in some states would face felony charges and up to 10 years in prison.

"Those of us in all corners of medicine, from healthcare professionals to institutions to industry, must understand that these restrictive laws will lead to profound and immeasurable downstream consequences across the healthcare field," said Maureen G. Phipps, the chief executive officer of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Now is the time to convene as one voice in opposition to any law that would strip patients of access to care."

If a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court that shows a majority of justices have voted to strike down Roe v. Wade holds true, the laws could take effect as early as this summer.

To be sure, healthcare companies turn to their elected representatives for help with a range of issues important to their bottom lines, including regulations and tax breaks. They tend to place their bets on the candidates they anticipate will win, or give to both Democrats and Republicans.

Often, they are publicly silent on heated social issues — such as abortion, a topic that can divide employees or alienate customers.

"The health industry is one of the biggest campaign-finance donors in general," said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan campaign-finance research organization OpenSecrets. "If you are a major player, then you tend to give to a wide variety of candidates from across the political spectrum."

But whatever the motive for giving, the core group of lawmakers pushing trigger laws received far more support from corporations, including those in the healthcare industry, than from ideological groups committed to restricting abortion rights, which contributed just over $60,000, an Insider analysis found.

Among the biggest spenders was UnitedHealth Group, the largest health-insurance company in the US. The company, which has a majority-female workforce, gave just over $395,000 to trigger-law backers in 11 states.

Centene, which works mainly with government health programs and whose CEO, Sarah London, is a woman, gave over $280,000 to anti-abortion politicians in eight states. Centene is headquartered in the trigger-law state of Missouri, but it hasn't said whether it plans to pay to help workers access abortions if they can't obtain one in their home state — as some companies recently pledged to do.

Representatives from the two insurers did not respond to requests for comment, and they haven't released public statements responding to restrictive state laws on abortion.

Pfizer isn't the only drugmaker that financially supported politicians who are trying to make abortion a crime

Other health organizations did provide statements to Insider. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, a powerful trade group headquartered in Washington, DC, said it supported politicians with a wide variety of positions on public policy. The group gave nearly $229,000 to sponsors of trigger laws and the governors who signed them across seven states in recent years, disclosures showed.

"We may not agree on every issue, but we believe engagement and dialogue is important to promoting a policy environment that supports innovation, a highly-skilled workforce and access to life-saving medicines for patients," Brian Newell, a PhRMA spokesperson, wrote in an email to Insider.

In addition to Pfizer, 47 other drug companies offered financial support to trigger-law advocates, including some that have a stake in reproductive healthcare.

For instance, Bayer AG, a multinational company in Germany, is perhaps best known for developing and marketing aspirin.

The pharmaceutical giant's advertised values reflect a commitment to providing people with options for family planning. The company has set a goal to provide 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries with access to modern contraception, such as IUDs or the pill, by 2030, a company webpage said.

Bayer not only supports access to contraception but also manufactures some of the most popular long-term birth-control products. The company makes three different IUDs: Mirena, Skyla, and Kyleena.

Bayer has been publicly silent when it comes to abortion politics. But the company's American arm gave just over $69,000 to sponsors of trigger bills in six states, plus an additional $4,000 to two governors who signed those bills into law.

AbbVie Inc., another company with ties to makers of contraceptives, has contributed more than $75,000 to lawmakers behind trigger bills across seven states. Neither AbbVie nor Bayer responded to Insider's requests for comment regarding its contributions.

AbbVie started as a spinoff of Abbott Laboratories in 2013 and quickly grew to acquire a few smaller companies, including two manufacturers of birth control: Allergan manufactures the Lo Loestrin birth-control pill, and Odyssea Pharma makes an IUD called Liletta.

Legal experts have sounded the alarm that if Roe were to fall, it's possible that the Supreme Court decision that protected access to contraception could be next. Some influential anti-abortion organizations oppose IUDs because they can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall.

Although the leaked draft opinion said that it solely concerned the constitutional right to abortion, the decision would open the door for more legal debate over what's covered by the constitutional right to privacy — and that could include access to birth control, experts told The Guardian.

Like Pfizer, Bayer and AbbVie have made commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Bayer plans to achieve gender parity in all management levels by 2030, and AbbVie was recently ranked among the 100 best companies for working mothers.

Some companies or organizations have been outspoken on abortion rights

Not all corporations or medical organizations have been silent on the topic of abortion. In September, for instance, the Texas Medical Association condemned the Lone Star State's six-week abortion ban, saying it went "too far" and was unconstitutional.

Yet the group also gave more than $297,000 to anti-abortion politicians who enacted a trigger law in the state that would create an all-out ban on abortion. The Texas Medical Association says it represents more than 55,000 physicians in Texas, and any of those who provide abortion care would risk facing felony prosecution and a $100,000 fine under Texas' trigger law, which has an exemption only for pregnancies that are life-threatening.

Among corporations, the health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the retail and pharmaceutical giant CVS Health spoke out in 2020 against a Trump administration rule that allowed medical staff with religious or moral objections to opt out of providing transgender and abortion care. Both companies have women CEOs.

But over the years, Blue Cross Blue Shield and its independently operated affiliates have given nearly $500,000 to sponsors in 11 states, while CVS donated more than $220,000 to trigger-law sponsors and the governors who signed them in 10 states.

Blue Cross did not respond to a request for comment, but CVS explained its donations.

"As part of our political engagement, we make contributions to both Democrats and Republicans," said Mike DeAngelis, CVS's executive director for corporate communications. "Past political contributions are by no means a blanket endorsement of an individual's position on every issue, nor are they an indication of where we'll direct our future support."

Correction: An earlier version of this story relied on an inaccurate list of trigger-law sponsors in Tennessee. The contribution totals have been updated to reflect the correct list of legislators.


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