September 24, 2021 10:00am

Austin Power Poll: New Abortion Law is Bad for Business 

A majority of Austin’s influencers oppose Texas’ new abortion law, but that’s not the part that's surprising. 

Photo of Andrea Zelinski
Austin, TX Correspondent

The vast majority of Austin’s Power Poll members were none too happy with the new anti-abortion law, a restriction that bans ending a pregnancy once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected at roughly six weeks gestation. Even more members are against deputizing citizens as bounty hunters to sue anyone who helps an abortion-seeker break the law.

It’s no surprise three out of four Power Poll members who responded oppose the abortion ban given how much Democrats are favored here. Democrats tend to support women’s choice to have an abortion. However, Republicans are no monolith, especially on this issue. As recently as February, just a bit more than half of Republicans wanted to see stricter abortion laws. Even Power Poll members who support the new abortion ban found the new law went too far by deputizing citizens as bounty hunters to sue for $10,000 people who “aid and abet” an abortion-seeker. This mirrors national polling out this week showing 81 percent of Americans agree, including 62 percent of Republican voters and 82 percent of Independents.

Three out of four Power Poll members who responded oppose the heartbeat ban and 83 percent oppose giving citizens the power to sue. Asked what they would do if they were the CEO of Tesla, Google or any number of companies locating or expanding here, nearly 40 percent would publicly speak against the law if asked about it. More than half of Power Poll members would use political contributions to send a message to lawmakers, either by reducing or stopping donations to those who made this bill happen or by actively supporting their political challengers.

What does this law mean for Austin? Power Poll members were clear: despite the theory that Austin’s wild job growth is resilient enough to continue unabated, more than half predict the law will mean fewer businesses investing here or others packing up their offices and moving away.

Here are the exact questions we asked in this month’s Power Poll:

QUESTION: The state of Texas this month enacted SB 8, a law making abortion illegal once a heartbeat is detected, which happens at roughly six weeks gestation. The law was met with much media attention, most of it negative. Do you agree with the Legislature's decision to ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected?

Yes: 20%

No: 74.8%

I don’t know: 5.2%

QUESTION: The new Texas law deputizes ordinary people to sue for $10,000 anyone who "aids or abets" someone getting an abortion. This includes anyone who performs the procedure, helps fund the abortion or drives the abortion-seeker to her appointment. Do you agree with the Legislature's decision to deputize the public to enforce the law?

Yes: 12.2%

No: 82.6%

Don’t know: 5.2%

QUESTION: Let’s say you’re a top executive at Tesla, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Oracle or any of the other companies relocating or expanding here. Which of the following best expresses your thoughts?

This was a wise move by the Texas Legislature and governor. A beating heart represents life within the womb and we need to protect that innocent, unborn life. 5.2 %

I am agnostic about this. My company made a dollars-and-cents decision about moving to Austin. It was not a decision based on how the state deals with abortion or other public policy. 25.2%

This is not smart policy. It threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our employees and customers and will discourage talented potential employees from moving here. I’m not going to comment publicly and we’re committed to Austin but the Republicans in the Legislature are not acting wisely. 27%

This is awful. It is bad policy. If asked, I will publicly say our company is opposed to this development. I may contact state officials and encourage them to eliminate this abortion law in the next Legislative session. 39.1%

No opinion. 3.5%

QUESTION: Some politically active businesses have caught heat for donating to lawmakers who led the push for this law. Imagine if you or your company were a political contributor. How would this law affect your or your company's political generosity?

I support this law and would contribute more to those who led the push. I suspect they'll get pushback from the other side of the political spectrum and could use my support. 7%

I focus my or my company's political support on Texas politicians who affect issues that directly affect my business. That won't change in the next election cycle. 24.3%

My company can't afford to stop donating to these Texas politicians, but I and my company will probably give them less than we usually do. 6.1%

There's no way my company or I can continue to support these lawmakers. The optics are too bad. We will stop giving to those who were behind this law, regardless how much power they have. 18.3%

Not only will my company and I not spent a dollar to support these candidates, we will actively support their challengers. 33%

No opinion.

QUESTION: Will this law affect attracting businesses to Austin?

Even more businesses will relocate and grow here. .9%

Growth will remain steady, regardless of this policy. 38.3%

Fewer businesses will grow or relocate here. 28.7%

Some businesses will move away from Austin because of this policy. 24.3%

No opinion. 7.8%

This survey was sent via email to 896 Power Poll members in the Austin area, where 115 responded for a response rate of 12.83%. The Power Poll is not a scientific poll and is instead a fascinating glimpse into the minds of those making things happen in our community, including publicly elected officials, CEOs, small businesses owners, community activists, restaurant masterminds and others.

On its face, reactions to the heartbeat law track with what we know about Austin’s politics, roughly mirroring the divide between Democrat and Republican voters in the 2020 election. It’s worth noting that nearly 40 percent of those who support the abortion ban found its enforcement tool, the $10,000 lawsuit, went too far.

If such a high percentage of Austin’s influencers dislike this law and are willing to publicly oppose it, why did it pass in the Legislature without much of a whimper from the business community? When it was enacted Sept. 1, it lacked the vocal pushback from businesses that came in 2019 when other states passed their own, albeit, less legally resilient heartbeat bans. Only this week have a host of companies organized to respond. Reaction to this year's abortion law paled compared to business’ fight this year with the Legislature over banning transgender girls from participating in girls sports, or the bathroom bill of 2017, which businesses killed.

Some say the lack of response reflects “bandwidth and capacity” during a period when the Delta variant and vaccine usage rates dominated the news cycle. Dating sites, however, jumped in quickly on this issue, with Austin-based Bumble establishing a relief fund to support reproductive advocacy and support groups. Dallas-based Match Group, which also operates dating websites, vowed to help employees and their dependants seek abortion care in other states. Lyft and Uber, both based in San Francisco, could potentially see their drivers sued under this law for unknowingly dropping an abortion seeker at her appointment. Both quickly denounced the law and vowed to cover their drivers’ attorney fees should they be sued under the law. But neither are Austin companies.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick doesn’t make speaking up any easier. When American Airlines’ voiced opposition to a major voting bill early this year, saying it was “standing up for the rights of team members and customers who call Texas home,” the Republican blasted back, warning Texans that corporations like American Airlines don’t share their values.

It’s noteworthy that more than half of Power Poll members said they would cease donations to lawmakers responsible for this law, with one-third saying they would actively support their challenger. The 2022 midterms are around the corner in a state that flirts with going purple. Governor Greg Abbott and Patrick were key players in making this law reality, and those two are some of the only lawmakers Austinites can hold responsible.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear what effect this law will have on growth and development in Austin. Nearly 40 percent of Power Poll members say Austin’s growth will go uninterrupted by the new law, but more than half predict some negative impact.

Despite heavy opposition to the law, Austin’s business community is largely quiet about the law. According to the Power Poll, it sounds like they just need to be asked.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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