Abortion ruling could shake up media business

Roe v. Wade dissolution will have impact from New York to Hollywood, and from Washington D.C. to Chicago.

If you think Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion won’t have an impact on media…you’d better think again. The landmark decision to appeal the woman’s right to choose will have a ripple effect across the media business in terms of employment and companies are already responding. 

For one, numerous Hollywood studios – including Netflix, Comcast, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount Global all plan to join Amazon in reimbursing employees who live in a state where abortion is illegal and who wish to end their pregnancy, according to a message received by media reporter Matthew Belloni. Already, several states have “trigger laws” in effect once the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, including Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Other media and tech companies doing likewise include Disney, Apple, Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, and Google. 

Many of those companies own television stations in those states where abortion is now outlawed or soon to be outlawed. For example, Paramount Global and NBCUniversal both own stations in Florida: CBS-owned WFOR/WBFS and NBC’s WTVJ in Miami, where the procedure is certain to be banned. Many Hollywood studios produce films in Georgia, where abortion is also likely to be outlawed. NBC and CBS also own stations in Dallas, the largest DMA in Texas. So far, no pure-play television or radio station groups have made similar overtures.

Numerous media unions also condemned the ruling. Both branches of the Writers Guild, East and West criticized the high court’s decision, as did SAG-AFTRA, DGA, and IATSE. The WGA went a step further and is demanding studios pull their productions out of states where abortion is now illegal. Numerous  women in power positions in Hollywood are already issuing a call to action to restore abortion rights.  

Abortion is remaining legal in “blue” states where the nation’s most largest markets are located, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle. 

In terms of advertising, the way marketers advertise to women could change, too. According to Mediapost, privacy concerns may push female consumers away from Google and Microsoft’s Bing over surveillance, which could increase. 

The impact could also bring more money to local radio and TV stations, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling a few years ago as more and more candidates could decide to run for office on a pro-choice (or pro-life) platform.

The issue of abortion has been tackled in television with mixed results. Maude took the issue head-on in a 1972 two-part episode called Maude’s Dilemma and when it was repeated in the summer of 1973, CBS had trouble selling ad time and the episodes were rejected by forty of their affiliates. Maude’s Dilemma wasn’t even included in the show’s syndication package at first. Around the same time, an episode of Marcus Welby M.D. dealing with abortion was rejected by then-ABC affiliate XETV in San Diego because the station was located just across the border in Mexico, where the practice was illegal at the time. 

A made-for-TV movie titled Roe v Wade aired on NBC in May 1989, but the network lost a million dollars in ad time as many sponsors declined to associate themselves with the film due to pressure groups. The movie however, drew fifteen million viewers and won two Emmy Awards. 

The issue of abortion was hilariously used in a 1994 episode of Seinfeld (“The Couch”) where Elaine proudly proclaimed she was pro-choice and broke up with her boyfriend when she found out he was pro-life. However, no notable abortion storylines has appeared on broadcast television since, mainly for the reasons stated above. 

The Supreme Court had their hand in another controversial decision last year in a 9-0 decision to uphold the FCC’s 2017 ownership rules, eliminating all cross-ownership rules excluding the television ownership cap, which stands at 39 percent. However, the FCC is now a 2-2 split between Democrats and Republicans, making any kind of deal making unlikely for the moment as the fight over the rules are likely to return to court. The abortion issue is in a similar position, because the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t end the battle.

It’s just the beginning. 

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