Less than three days after she left her position as the No. 2 corporate officer at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is already remaking herself as one of the foremost philanthropists fighting the curtailment of abortion rights across the United States.
The donation, one of the largest supporting abortion rights to the ACLU, marks a new chapter for Sandberg — among the most prominent female business executives in America. During her fourteen-year tenure at Facebook, she shied away from politically controversial moves.
“Now, more than ever, we must keep up the fight to defend our right to choose and protect abortion access,” Sandberg said in a statement. “I am proud to work with the ACLU to educate voters and persuade more people who support rights for women to act — and restore rights that were taken from us.”
Following the controversial June Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, activists on both sides of the issue are waging fierce battles to pass or fight greater abortion restrictions in states across the country. At least 15 states have banned or mostly banned abortion following the ruling, according to a September analysis by The Washington Post. Some states had already passed “trigger bans” that were designed to take effect in the event that Roe was struck down. In other states, lawmakers are rushing to pass new antiabortion laws.
The abortion issue has abruptly transformed the 2022 midterm campaign season, giving Democrats what they hope will be an unexpected boost. But years of legal battles loom ahead.
Sandberg has long been a women’s rights advocate, championing her signature brand of corporate feminism in her best-selling book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” and her Lean In foundation. She is a major donor to Planned Parenthood and was known for promoting women to leadership positions during her 14-year tenure at the social network.
But she was also criticized during the Trump years for political timidity. She did not publicly comment when former president Donald Trump, as a candidate, made disparaging remarks about women, including bragging on tape that he would grope them against their will. She was called out for not publicly supporting or attending the Women’s March, a global gathering of millions of people in protest of Trump’s stance on women, in 2017. Facebook then spent years making extensive efforts to curry favor with the Trump administration, even going so far as to rewrite and interpret its policies to avoid conflict with the president and his followers.
In this next chapter, Sandberg, 53, is likely to take bigger risks in public. She indicated as much to The Post in June, saying that one reason it was a good time for her to resign from Meta, as Facebook renamed itself, was that it was a “really important moment for women that I really want to be part of.”
The landscape for women is shifting quickly.
Last month, South Carolina Republicans did not pass a near-total abortion ban that did not carve out exceptions for victims of rape or incest after two days of contentious debate. The state already bans abortions after cardiac activity in the fetus can be detected, which occurs around six weeks. In August, Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure that would have set aside abortion protections in the state’s constitution, paving the way for additional restrictions or even a total ban.
“As the resounding victory in Kansas showed us, extremist policies on abortion don’t stand a chance when voters have the final say,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in a statement. “With Sheryl’s support on abortion rights, we can kick it into overdrive and redouble the fight for abortion access in the states.”
Romero said the ACLU plans to educate voters about politicians’ records on abortion, and invest in ballot measures “to ensure voters are heard loud and clear when legislatures and governors need to be overridden by the voices of the electorate.” Planned Parenthood, already a Sandberg beneficiary, plans to spend $50 million on the November midterms in an effort to elect abortion rights supporters across the country.
Sandberg has sought to position herself as a champion of women’s rights at work and home. In a 2010 TED Talk, Sandberg encouraged women not to hold themselves back in the workplace and to pick spouses who embrace equal partnership to reach the same heights as men in corporate America.
Later, Sandberg released her book and started the Lean In foundation to study sexism and help women form networking groups.
Upon announcing her decision to leave Meta, Sandberg said in a June Facebook post that she planned to focus more on her foundation and philanthropy, “which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.”
In recent months, Sandberg has become more outspoken on her Facebook page about reproductive rights. In August, she touted a study from her foundation about how younger employees prefer to work for a company that supports abortion access. In May, Sandberg made the unusual move as a high-ranking corporate executive to harshly criticize the leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, arguing it deprived women of vital health-care access.
“This is a scary day for women all across our country,” she wrote in a public post on her personal Facebook page. “Every woman, no matter where she lives, must be free to choose whether and when she becomes a mother. Few things are more important to women’s health and equality.”
Those comments arrived days before the company sent a memo to employees reminding them of an existing policy not to discuss controversial topics such as abortion on widespread company channels because it might create a hostile environment.