When the Supreme Court overturned the decision in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed abortion rights across the country, major US internet companies acted quickly, pledging to help their female employees in states that would begin banning abortions. In an implicit sign of support for abortion rights, the companies said they would help these workers seek the procedure in states where legality has been maintained.
However, in the years leading up to the bombastic decision over reproductive rights, the tech giants sponsored a controversial group that worked tirelessly to bring the Supreme Court under conservative control, setting the stage for a reversal of the Roe v. Wade.
The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) has its origins in the struggle to confirm the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. Since then, the group has expanded to promote a range of right-wing causes, such as climate denialism, immigration alarmism, and market deregulation, though their focus has remained on forming a conservative-dominated Supreme Court.
Public relations work plays a key role in the functioning of the group. With its adroit stance of selling itself as a pro-women organization, the group fought for the appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court. The IWF supported Bret Kavanaugh as a good feminist and accused any opposition to Amy Coney Barrett as sexism — despite the pertinent concern that her arrival in court would spell the end of Roe v. Wade. The IWF is responsible for an efficient array of media appearances, opinion pieces, television commentators and other contributions to the conservative content ecosystem.
The group also makes silent use of influence peddling. In 2020, IWF boss and Vick VapoRub heiress Heather Higgins bragged to a closed hearing of Virginia conservatives about how the group’s performance was instrumental in rallying congressional support for Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Higgins told the group that the IWF circulated a confidential strategy memorandum to Congress. “Most importantly,” Higgins said, “is that Susan Collins told me that without that memo, she wouldn’t be able to support it,” referring to the Republican senator from Maine.
The Independent Women’s Voice Forum and its sister organization, the Independent Women’s Voice, receive grants from financial pillars on the US right, such as the Koch brothers, but in recent years the groups have received financial support from the company- mother of Facebook, Meta, Google, and Amazon. In 2017, Google sponsored an IWF gala with “gold” donor status, according to flyers provided to the IWF. intercept by True North Research, a progressive observatory. Other flyers show that Meta (who at the time still used the name Facebook) sponsored the IWF galas in 2018, alongside Google, and in 2019. Honorees at IWF events have included well-known anti-abortion figures such as the Republican Representative. from Wyoming, Lynne Cheney; Kellyanne Conway, high in the Trump administration’s cabinet; and Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence.
Corporate data from Amazon shows that the company donated undisclosed amounts to the IWF in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Amazon, Google, Meta and the IWF did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
True North founder Lisa Graves characterized the IWF’s efforts as an attempt to gloss over its conservative ideology. “They act as legitimizers,” she said in an interview, “basically providing the face of a woman on the right, to criticize or attack progressives, and promote their extreme, oppressive and regressive proposals.”
Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Despite the perception publicity of Silicon Valley’s alleged alignment with progressive values and liberal causes, tech companies, particularly those fearful of state regulation, have long funneled money to right-wing groups like the IWF. At the same time, the group often promotes political positions that are very favorable to its corporate donors.
The IWF has always defended favorable positions for the technology industry on labor, antitrust and other issues, without disclosing the interests of its donors. Take, for example, an IWF blog post in April, warning that enforcement of antitrust laws against tech giants would be 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 Opportunities, and the leading advocate for powerful tech companies at the IWF.
Few tech issues have mobilized the IWF and Onwuka like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bipartisan antitrust proposal that would prevent tech companies from using their enormous reach to favor their own services over competitors. In a December 2021 article titled “Amazon Prime may not be around to save next Christmas,” Onwuka stated that “Senator Amy Klobuchar and others are about to shut down services like Prime’s free fast shipping, and others.” on which we depend.” Onwuka then linked to a blog post by the Chamber of Progress, an Amazon-funded coalition of tech companies, which dubiously claimed that the law would “ban Amazon Prime.”
In June, Onwuka wrote a critique of Congressional antitrust actions: “Conveniences that make life and work easier and faster and save consumers money may disappear.” Later that day, Onwuka appeared on Fox Business, again protesting antitrust law enforcement in the tech industry. “I’m most concerned about the impact on small business owners and the women and families who depend on the benefits that some of these big four tech companies offer,” she said.
Protecting the tech giants from antitrust scrutiny has proven to be a priority for the IWF, but the group also directly defends its benefactors. In 2019, Onwuka wrote an entire post dedicated to defending Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg after Politico reported that he had attended dinners with famous conservative commentators and congressmen. “Zuckerberg is an ordinary citizen who can dine with whomever he wants,” wrote Onwuka. “His dinner has a clear business purpose, and that’s part of the business.”
‘Institutionally, they have no position on abortion, and that is their stated position. But organizationally, they supported the most aggressive list of anti-abortion judges we’ve ever seen.’
Of course, cordial treatment of industry giants is a pillar of conservatism, and the IWF would likely be warning that antitrust measures would take us back to the Bronze Age, even without Google sponsoring its gala dinners. But nurturing the right-wing commentator factory is an important aspect of the tech giants’ political strategy, and one that is constantly expanding.
While there is no evidence that Zuckerberg or Google CEO Sundar Pichai has any personal opposition to access to abortion, there is no doubt that their companies benefit from supporting a broad and thriving ecosystem of conservative discourse in which any government regulation is abhorrent. . For tech leaders, the reality that this ecosystem drives not only the Facebook-friendly free-market economy but also climate denialism and abortion bans is seen as a side effect—perhaps unfortunate, but one that still worth it.
Silicon Valley’s sponsorship of right-wing research groups and campaigns occurs in such a way that there is a large viable margin for denial. When The Guardian reported in 2019 that Google was donating to some of the most famous climate-denial organizations in the country, a company spokesperson responded: “We are not the only companies that contribute to organizations, and at the same time we disagree. strongly in relation to climate policies.”
The sheer diversity of topics in which the IWF engages, and its care not to publicly oppose access to abortion, has helped to avoid a reputation as an anti-abortion group. “Institutionally, they have no position on abortion, and that’s their stated position,” explained True North’s Graves. “But organizationally, they supported the most aggressive list of anti-abortion judges we’ve ever seen.”
Translation: Antenor Savoldi Jr.