Airlines, like many businesses, have become far more political in recent years – taking stances on controversial issues like voting rights, affirmative action, and gun control. But perhaps the most salient political topic right now alongside inflation is abortion – and airlines are staying silent even when asked about the issue.
Airlines Have Going All-In On Third Rail Issues
Sometimes the media has egged companies into political stances. Most often though it’s employees. And airlines haven’t shied away from hot button topics.
- Delta announced they’d stop doing business with the NRA and then donated charter flights to students traveling to protest guns.
- United dunked on the NRA too and supports affirmative action.
- Delta praised Georgia’s voting reform bill before condemning it.
- Airlines were being called on to become active on voting reform legislation by Democratic political operatives like 2020 Presidential primary candidate Julian Castro. American jumped on the bandwagon, attributing their involvement to getting questions from employees about where they stood. Reportedly they opposed Texas’ voting bill without reading it first.
- American Airlines vocally supported Black Lives Matter and then-CEO Doug Parker wore a Black Lives Matter wristband.
Yet not a single U.S. airline has mentioned the impending Supreme Court decision revisiting Roe vs. Wade or legislative efforts to codify abortion rights at the federal level that I have noticed.
Companies Across The Board Try To Avoid The A-Word
It’s not just airlines staying silent. Other companies have mostly kept quiet on abortion despite it being The Current Thing. Some companies have pledged to pay for their employees’ travel if they find themselves living in a state where abortion is criminalized and they decide to get one out of state. Nonetheless even video game companies have remained silent.
We may have reached peak Woke and it’s beginning to decline (but will remain at an elevated level). ESG investing is growing less popular in 2022 because portfolios without energy stocks are doing especially poorly (at least those not taking shorting seriously as a component of their strategy). Netflix is pushing back on employee political sensibilities and refusing to let them drive its business.
So perhaps the timing of the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization helps explain why companies are staying silent, but it’s also the nature of the issue itself.
Airlines Refuse Comment
I reached out to several U.S. airlines over the course of two weeks. Some ignored the inquiry completely while others declined to comment. Frankly that was the smart choice. It’s a Kobayashi Maru scenario where – at the risk of mixing film references – the only winning move is not to play.
Why This Issue Is Different
Despite the clarity with which activists on both sides see this issue, the vast majority of Americans find it to be morally complex – and also something they’d rather not think about. Surveys pointing to support for abortion rights usually really mean for support in the early months of a pregnancy and in difficult circumstances. Surveys pointing to opposition usually really mean late in pregnancy or when ‘used as birth control.’
Meanwhile restrictions on abortion are complicated because the harder it becomes to obtain an abortion – to the extent it is still possible – tend to push out the decision later into the pregnancy which is morally harder still.
Personally I find abortion to be a difficult issue. Because of my own uncertainty I’m reluctant to codify one answer in law. Legally-speaking the opinion in Roe vs. Wade never seemed strong. Stronger, it seems, would be a robust 9th amendment jurisprudence (which only Justice Gorsuch seems remotely interested in).
While unsatisfying to activists, the formulation that seems to match where most people are remains ‘safe, legal and rare.’ Every company is different but given the passion on both sides, and that the passionate sides diverge from where most people are, it seems like this is where any broad-based consumer-facing company would want to be. And that’s asking for trouble on Twitter.