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How startup CEOs are destigmatizing abortion conversations

July 11, 2022, 12:21 PM UTC

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade at the end of last month—reversing a nearly 50-year precedent—women and pro-choice activists have been stepping out at a fast clip to share their personal stories with the public. Oftentimes, in business, it’s female founders at the forefront of the conversation.  

My colleague Emma Hinchliffe, who recently documented the abortion experiences of 14 people for a Fortune feature story, says that startup founders and CEOs were more likely to talk about their own abortion experiences than business executives within larger corporations. “I believe that speaks to the stigma unfortunately still attached to discussing abortion, let alone sharing a personal experience, in corporate America,” Hinchliffe tells me. “Founders who work for themselves can do what they think is right, without worrying about what a boss will say.”

Abortion has been a highly emotional, and often very polarizing, topic of conversation as long as I can remember. It’s a personal, and sometimes religious, matter. It’s also an economic one, which has encouraged businesses to play a more hands-on role. Right now, we are seeing companies continue to fund abortion procedures through health care plans or offer to cover the cost of travel for workers in states that are banning the procedures.

Whether women feel they can discuss it in the office or not, nearly one in four have an abortion before the age of 45 in the U.S. Here are three of the stories women shared with Hinchliffe. You can read the full feature here.

Kat Cole, president and COO, Athletic Greens

I have two beautiful babies, but I had several miscarriages before and in between those pregnancies. One of them was not smooth sailing. I went in to my ob/gyn in late 2018, and they confirmed that I had had a miscarriage. I needed a D&C to make sure the remaining tissue was gone so I wouldn’t end up with complications that would threaten my health or my ability to get pregnant again. The procedure is very similar to surgical abortion.

I was in Atlanta, where I was working as president and COO of Focus Brands and where a six-week abortion ban is likely to soon go into effect. Now I’m thinking about the number of providers who will be nervous to perform those procedures or worry about losing their license and their ability to practice, or even jail time. Providers who might say, “Look, you need this. But we don’t do that here anymore.”

Leslie Schrock, angel investor and author

I have two sons, and I’ve had five pregnancies: the first an early miscarriage that resolved naturally at five or six weeks. But with the next, we had to end the pregnancy. During prenatal testing in 2018, we found out the fetus had Trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome. It’s a fatal chromosomal abnormality that results in miscarriage or stillbirth the vast majority of the time. There is no good life for the few babies that are born with it. Most die within days.

In our case, there was no life. It had stopped growing. The ultrasound at 12 weeks told us that this was not a pregnancy that was going to progress and was weeks away from ending on its own. We asked our OB and our genetic counselor if there was any hope, and they said, “Absolutely not.” My OB advised us to get a D&C while I was healthy and nothing else had gone wrong, like developing sepsis.

I had to go through all the same questions and protocols as for anyone choosing to have an abortion. I remember being asked, “Is anyone forcing you to do this? Is this what you want?” I remember saying, “Absolutely not, this isn’t what I want. I wanted a baby. But I have to do this.” Not much time goes by when I don’t think about it.

A year later, I had my first son. In between my first and second, I had another miscarriage and needed a second D&C. Because of complications during the birth of my second son, medically, I’m not supposed to have any more children. I could die trying to carry another pregnancy. I think about what I would do if faced with that decision now as a mother of two young children. I live in San Francisco, in a state where abortion is still legal, but so many women don’t. Doctors in states that restrict abortion won’t be trained in these procedures, and the ability to deliver timely care is already changing because they’re scared of being reported.

I am a strong believer in women’s right to choose, but I want everyone to know: Abortion is not always a choice. It is also a necessary, sometimes lifesaving medical treatment.

Suneera Madhani, founder and CEO, Stax

I’m such a public person. I share almost everything about my life. And this is something I never shared. This is the only secret I’ve carried.

It was 2005. I was 20, in college in Gainesville, Fla. Planned Parenthood was the only resource I knew of. That’s where I went with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. He and my best friend were the only people in my life who knew. I didn’t tell my parents or my closest friends.

My fear was that I wouldn’t get to do all the things I wanted to do. I just wasn’t ready. I went on to complete college—I was super ambitious. If I hadn’t made those choices, my life would have taken a completely different path. It’s not that it would have been a bad path, but it would have been different.

I started Stax in Orlando when I was 25. I have 300 employees today and we’re a unicorn company. There is zero chance any of this would have been possible if I didn’t make those choices. None of this would be here if I was forced to enter motherhood when I wasn’t ready. I got to make that choice for me. We had our first daughter when I was 30—when I was ready.

The Supreme Court decision inspired me to share this for the first time. I told my mom, and she asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” But I want other people outside my personal life to know too. I’m respected as a fintech CEO by leaders and politicians in Florida, where lawmakers have advanced an abortion ban. It’s important for them to see that all this would not be possible if I were enslaved by choices they made for me.

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


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