Facebook and Google gave the group that helped overthrow Roe v. wade

When the The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the nation’s major internet companies quickly responded by pledging to help employees in states that decided to ban abortion. In an implied signal of support for abortion rights, the companies said they would help such employees obtain abortions in states where the procedure remains legal.

In the years leading up to the seismic reproductive rights ruling, however, the tech giants sponsored a controversial group that worked tirelessly to bring the Supreme Court under conservative control, paving the way for Roe’s overthrow.

The Independent Women’s Forum traces its origins to the 1991 fight to confirm the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Since then, the group has expanded to promoting a litany of perennial right-wing causes like climate denial, migration alarmismand deregulationbut a conservative-dominated Supreme Court remained the focus.

Public relations plays a key role in its operation. With a savvy self-brand as a pro-women organization, the group fought for the appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court. The IWF called Bret Kavanaugh’s support good feminism and any opposition to Amy Coney Barrett as Sexism – despite well-founded fears that their rises to court would spell the end for Roe. The IWF uses a deft blend of media placement, editorials, television pundits and other contributions to the curatorial content ecosystem.

The group also benefits from quieter influence peddling. In 2020, IWF leader and Vicks VapoRub heiress Heather Higgins bragged to a closed audience of Virginia conservatives about the group’s importance in rallying congressional support for Kavanaugh’s nomination. Higgins told the group that the IWF circulated a confidential strategy note on the Hill. “Most importantly,” Higgins said, “Susan Collins told me that without that memo she wouldn’t see how to support him,” referring to the Republican senator from Maine.

The Independent Women’s Forum and its sister organization Independent Women’s Voice draw on donations from right-wing financial stalwarts like the Koch brothers, but in recent years the groups have benefited from financial support from Facebook’s parent company, Meta; Google; and Amazon. In 2017, Google sponsored an IWF gala at the “gold” donor level, according to brochures provided to The Intercept by True North Research, a progressive watchdog group. Other brochures show that Meta (which at the time was still using the Facebook name) sponsored IWF galas in 2018, alongside Google, and 2019. Winners of IWF events have included notable anti-abortion figures like Rep. Lynne Cheney, R-Wy.; Kellyanne Conway, senior Trump administration official; and Vice President Mike Pence.

Amazon’s corporate disclosures show that the company donated undisclosed sums to the IWF in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Amazon, Google, Meta and the IWF did not respond to a request for comment.

True North founder Lisa Graves characterized the IWF’s efforts as an attempt to whitewash conservative ideology. “They act like a distaff,” she said in an interview, “essentially providing a woman’s face to the right-wing’s criticism or attack on progressives and its advance toward this extreme, regressive repressive agenda. “.

Patrice Onwuka, director of the Independent Womens Forums Center for Economic Opportunity, speaks at an event hosted by House Republicans on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Patrice Onwuka, director of the Center for Economic Opportunity at the Independent Women’s Forum, speaks during a town hall event hosted by House Republicans on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Despite the public perception of Silicon Valley’s alignment with progressive values ​​and liberal causes, tech companies, especially those fearful of state regulation, have long funneled money to right-wing groups like the IWF . At the same time, the IWF regularly defends political positions very favorable to its corporate donors.

The IWF has always taken pro-tech industry positions on labor, antitrust and other issues, without disclosing the interests of its donors. Take, for example, an April IWF blog post who warned that enforcing antitrust laws against Big Tech would prove disastrous. “Technological innovation has been nothing short of miraculous over the past few decades,” wrote Patrice Onwuka, director of the IWF’s Center for Economic Opportunity and a go-to advocate for powerful tech companies.

Few problems in technology have galvanized the IWF and Onwuka like the US bipartisan Online Innovation and Choice Act, which would prevent tech companies from leveraging their enormous reach to favor their own services over competitors. In a December 2021 post titled “Amazon Prime May Not Be Here to Save Coming Christmas Day,” Onwuka claims, “Senator Amy Klobuchar and others are about to end services like fast, free Prime delivery and other services we depend on.” Onwuka then linked to an Amazon-funded House of Progress blog post that asserted, dubiously, that the law would “ban Amazon Prime.”

In June, Onwuka wrote a jeremiad against congressional antitrust efforts: “Conveniences that make life and work easier and quicker and save consumers money may disappear.” Later that day, Onwuka appeared on Fox Business, again protesting the enforcement of antitrust laws against the tech industry. “I’m more concerned about the impact on small business owners and women and families who depend on some of the benefits that some of these big four tech companies offer,” she said.

While protecting Big Tech from antitrust scrutiny has proven a priority for the IWF, the group also directly defends its benefactors. In 2019, Onwuka wrote an entire article dedicated to defending Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg after Politico reported that he had attended dinners with notable conservative commentators and legislators. “Zuckerberg is a private citizen who can dine with whoever he wants,” Onwuka wrote. “His dinner has a clear business purpose and it’s part of doing business.”

“Institutionally, they don’t have a position on abortion, it’s their stated position. But organizationally, they backed the most aggressive anti-choice slate of judges we’ve ever seen.

The cordial treatment of industry giants is of course a mainstay of conservatism, and the IWF would almost certainly warn that antitrust will take us back to the Bronze Age even without Google sponsoring its gala dinners. But feeding the mill of right-wing pundits is an important and ever-expanding facet of Big Tech’s political strategy.

While there’s no evidence that Zuckerberg or Google CEO Sundar Pichai personally oppose abortion access, their companies undoubtedly benefit from it. their support for a large ecosystem of thriving conservative discourse in which any government regulation is anathema. For tech executives, the fact that this ecosystem drives not only Facebook-friendly laissez-faire economics but also climate denial and abortion bans is seen as a byproduct perhaps. unfortunate but valid.

Silicon Valley’s sponsorship of right-wing think tanks and campaigns is an arrangement in which there is enough plausible deniability for everyone. When the keeper reported in 2019 that Google was donating to some of the country’s most notorious climate denial organizations, a company spokesperson retorted, “We’re not alone among companies that contribute to organizations while being strongly at odds with them on climate policy.

The multitude of topics on which the IWF engages and the fact that it carefully avoids publicly opposing abortion access have helped it avoid a reputation as an anti-abortion group. “Institutionally they have no position on abortion, it’s their stated position,” said Graves of True North. “But organizationally, they backed the most aggressive anti-choice list of judges we’ve ever seen.”

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