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Tina Casey headshot

Who Is Corporate America’s Next Josh Hawley? One Drugstore Chain is a Top Contender

Josh Hawley is now a meme after last week's January 6th hearings, but some of corporate America's leading brands aren't behind in this race.
By Tina Casey
Josh Hawley

Dunking on freshman U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has become something of a national sport, after video emerged of him fleeing from a bloodthirsty mob in the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, mere hours after egging on those same people to attack that same building:

However, some of America’s leading corporate citizens have put themselves in a similar spot. Unwittingly or not, their tolerance for anti-abortion “moral” objections has played into the same vigilante-oriented white supremacist sentiment that built and armed the failed insurrection.

White supremacists and anti-abortionists have much in common

The similarity of purpose between the white supremacist movement and the anti-abortion movement has not been part of the public conversation. However, The Nation drew attention to the overlap between white male supremacists and anti-abortion activism in February of 2020, almost a full year before the insurrection of January 6.

“The anti-abortion movement in the United States has long been complicit with white supremacy. In recent decades, the movement mainstream has been careful to protect its public image by distancing itself from overt white nationalists in its ranks,” wrote terrorism expert Alex DiBranco, founder of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, in an article for The Nation.

In May of this year, National Public Radio reporter Odette Youseff elaborated on DiBranco’s work.

“I spoke with Alex DiBranco, who runs something called the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism. And she says we have to stop thinking about extremism in the anti-abortion context simply as violence. Instead, she says, we should be looking at the ideologies and movements that inspire that violence because they've pulled America's abortion debate to the extreme right. And you can hear that in the language used today,” Youseff explained in an interview with NPR host Adrian Florido.

Earlier this year, Moira Donegan of the Guardian also noted the connection between anti-feminism grievances and white supremacy. “The militias and explicitly white supremacist groups of the organized far right” have become a more visible and “growing cohort within the anti-choice movement,” Donegan wrote.

“But the affinity goes both ways,” she added citing the notorious anti-choice group Operation Rescue’s use of posters created by the KKK in the 1990’s.

“Just as the alt-right loves the anti-choice movement, the anti-choice movement loves the alt-right,” she wrote.

Permission granted for extremist violence

In this context, Texas’s vigilante-oriented abortion law carries all the freight of white violence in the U.S., a history that stretches back to the nation’s founding.

The connection to white vigilante violence and anti-abortion community policing now seems all too obvious today. It was also obvious, at least to some, more than 20 years ago.

The sight of anti-abortion street activists harassing women seeking care at clinics is a common one, but it is just one expression of the anti-abortion culture of violence. In 1996, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice took note of growing violence in the anti-abortion movement.

In 1998, the civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) also described how Operation Rescue and other violent anti-abortion groups drove more moderate thinkers out of the movement, leaving a hard core of extremists.

“It is, perhaps, the history of the future,” wrote SPLC reporter Frederick Clarkson. “In much the way that the neo-Nazi novel The Turner Diaries served as a blueprint for white supremacist revolution, a fictional account of the future of insurrectionary anti-abortion violence has already been written.” (emphasis added)

Clarkson cited the example of the futuristic anti-abortion novel Rescue Platoon, published on an anti-abortion website in serial form.

“Replete with bombs and murder, the mini-novel tells of a ‘righteous wrath to come,” Clarkson wrote. “In the end, the ‘Army of God,’ amid a bloodbath of epic proportions, gains the final victory.”

It is no coincidence that former President Trump pandered to white evangelicals, white supremacists and anti-abortion activists alike. Elevating himself to cult status, he conferred a sense of legitimacy, privilege and religious righteousness upon all three movements, with all the authority of the highest elected office in the nation. Trump gave permission, both tacit and outright, for the bloodbath that erupted around and inside the U.S. Capitol more than 20 years after Clarkson’s reference to insurrectionary ant-abortion violence. 

Pandering to the anti-abortion movement

Trump alone bears responsibility for the failed insurrection and attempted coup of 2021. However, a willingness to pander to the anti-abortion movement has been threading through corporate America for a generation, empowering culture that permits micro-aggressions to occur in the course of otherwise routine commercial transactions.

Walgreens brought the issue into the media spotlight earlier this month, after a clerk refused to complete a transaction for a box of condoms and the customer described the experience to her Tik-Tok followers.

“When did Walgreens’ associates become the contraceptive police?” was among the many headlines circulating across the media. 
However, Walgreens is far from alone. The right to refuse otherwise legal transactions based on moral or religious objections grabbed the media spotlight back in 2005, when reports emerged that some pharmacists were completing sales of prescription birth control pills but refusing to sell Plan B, the emergency contraceptive.

As of last December, six states had laws on the books providing legal protection for pharmacies that refuse sales based on religious objections.

“In six red states, pharmacists can legally refuse to fill somebody’s prescription based on a moral or religious objection: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota. This includes emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B,” reporter Jesse Rifkin wrote for the organization GovTrack Insider.

“Other states including Florida and Tennessee have more general medical refusal protections, but those six states specifically single out pharmacists for such legal protection,” Rifkin added.

Pharmacy refusal is far more common than state laws permit. The National Women’s Law Center, for example, has documented pharmacy refusal in at least 26 states by 2016, including several particularly egregious incidents involving emergency contraceptives at Rite-Aid and CVS, as well as Walgreens. 

Separating church, state and business

As promised on the campaign trail, former president Trump appointed three conservative Justices sympathetic to the anti-abortion movement, cementing a 6-3 conservative supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

That the Supreme Court struck down abortion protections in its decision on Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last month was no surprise, though some did find it shocking that Justice Clarence Thomas took the opportunity to indicate that the right to contraception is also on the chopping block.

It is also shocking, but not surprising in this context, to learn that Justice Thomas’s wife, the conservative activist Ginni Thomas, has been credibly accused of aiding and abetting President Trump in his effort to remain in power after losing the 2020 election by any means necessary.

Pharmacies that permit individual employees to render their personal judgements on customers are just one expression of a corporate culture that has conferred outsized power and influence on the anti-abortion movement. 

The end result is that pleas for religious tolerance have morphed into a violent movement that feels empowered to attack every other manifestation of tolerance including abortion rights, trans rights and gay marriage, embraces book bans and terrorizes children at library events, fosters panic over race awareness in education, and seeks to take power by violence.

Business leaders who want no part of this will have to choose up sides. Either they embrace intolerance, or they stand up against it. There is no mushy middle of “deeply held beliefs” anymore.

Image credit: Screen shot of January 6th Select Committee video footage

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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