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Tina Casey headshot

How Anti-Science Set the Stage for Dobbs and the End of DEI

In the wake of Dobbs, fact-free thinking now ripples into the very bedrock principles of DEI efforts; companies had better take notice of what's in store.
By Tina Casey

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 50-year abortion rights precedent in the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, the 6-3 majority ignored ample evidence of economic harm to women. That may seem shocking. However, it simply reflects the fact-free thinking that has supported conservative policymaking and punditry for decades. With the Dobbs decision, fact-free thinking now ripples into the very bedrock principles of corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Smoking, climate science and fact-free policy

The tobacco industry is a notorious, early example of fact-free policymaking in support of special interests. Led by the conservative organization Heartland Institute, lobbyists have waged a decades-long campaign of denial, confusion and deflection, if not outright lying, in order to undermine trust in public health experts and medical science.

It took decades of work and multiple lawsuits for health experts and their allies to undo the damage to public trust. Meanwhile, Heartland Institute has already moved on to lobbying on behalf of e-cigarettes.

Heartland has also been a leading force behind the decades-long movement to undermine trust in climate science as well as public health experts as two sides of the same coin. Alongside ExxonMobil and others, Heartland is well known for deploying the tobacco playbook in support of the fossil energy industry.

If the aim is to undermine trust in experts who have training, professional credentials and hands-on experience, science is not the only target. During the Barack Obama administration, future President Donald Trump played the anti-expert card to great effect. He launched a loud, long campaign to raise doubts about President Obama’s country of birth. Years later, the relentless braying over a simple, provable fact set the stage for the Trump-led election denial movement, culminating in the violent insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 and the ongoing series of attacks on experienced election administrators.

The stage is set for violent attacks on women, girls and other pregnancy-capable people

Against this backdrop, it is not shocking that the 6-3 supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court, cemented with three appointments by Trump, ignored the experts on public health when they overruled 50 years of abortion rights precedent in the Dobbs case last June.

The impact of the Dobbs decision is still rippling out, but it is already clear that business leaders will have to revise their diversity, equity and inclusion policies to accommodate the fact that in many U.S. states, women, girls, and other pregnancy-capable people are now classified as secondary citizens who are not protected by the same laws that protect others.

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Denial of prompt, appropriate treatment while pregnant is not “pro-life.” It is an act of legally sanctioned, government enforced violence against pregnancy-capable people. Regardless of whether or not their pregnancy is a wanted one, all of them are now enrolled in a police state centered around control of the uterus.

Also caught up in the violent aftermath of the Dobbs case are people of all ages who rely on pregnancy-suppressing drugs to treat other health conditions. To cite just one recent example, a 14-year-old girl was suddenly denied a longstanding prescription for her lifesaving medication two days after Arizona reinstated an abortion ban that became a law more than 150 years ago when Arizona was still a territory.

The impact of Dobbs on DEI was predictable

All of this pain and suffering was preventable if the six conservative justices had taken expert knowledge under consideration in the Dobbs case. 

Yet to be seen are the long-term impacts on the corporate social responsibility movement in general and DEI programs in particular. However, the experts who weighed in on Dobbs provide a hint of things to come.
As described by Shadi Bushra of the highly regarded academic rating firm OnlineU (formerly Guide to Online Schools), the plaintiff in Dobbs prevailed in part by arguing, without evidence, that there was “no way to gauge the impact of abortion access on economic factors such as gender-based inequities in hiring, pay, and labor force participation.”

That line of argument was not only free of facts. It was patently false.

Bushra noted that over 150 economists filed an amicus brief in favor of the defense in Dobbs. The brief demonstrated that there actually is a strong, longstanding body of expert knowledge on the impact of abortion access on the well-being of women.

“’[T]here is a substantial body of well-developed and credible research that shows that abortion legalization and access in the United States has had — and continues to have — a significant effect on birth rates as well as broad downstream social and economic effects, including on women’s educational attainment and job opportunities,’” Bushra wrote.

“Among other points, the brief argued that access to abortion had a bigger impact on women’s labor force participation than access to birth control, leading to increased wages," Bushra added. "The economists found that reproductive rights access was especially beneficial for Black women, who currently earn 63 cents for each dollar a white man earns."

Bushra also cited a New York Times interview with Rosalind Petchesky, the researcher cited in the 1992 Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. “There’s no question that legal abortion makes it possible for women in all classes and races to have some control over their economic lives and ability to work outside the home,” Petchesky told the Times.

What now, corporate leaders?

It is too late to undo the suffering and trauma of the months since Dobbs, and the months to follow. However, corporate leaders who profess to support DEI should take a closer look at that amicus brief, reassess their support for office holders or candidates who simply make up their own facts to gain and keep power, and work toward the restoration of a legal framework for abortion that respects the living, breathing people who happen to be born with a uterus.

That’s going to take some doing, but it has to be done. The poison of fact-free policymaking has already spread from an insurrection-fostering former president to members of the U.S. Congress over the past two years, and from there into state legislation. 

Don’t be fooled by the black robes and the aura of legitimacy. The Dobbs decision is simply the latest manifestation of an authoritarian power grab, now cloaked in the trappings of constitutional law with none of the substance. Corporate leadership has been asleep at the wheel, but it’s not too late to wake up.

Image credit: Sarah Penney via Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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