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The Beauty Brands Backing Abortion Bans
From Amazon to Botox Cosmetic, these are the companies funding anti-abortion legislators.
Two weeks ago, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham introduced legislation for a national abortion ban that would limit nearly all abortions after 15 weeks in the United States, with no exceptions for fetal abnormalities that make pregnancy non-viable. This billjoins Republican Congressman Mike Kelly’s (misnamed) “Heartbeat Protection Act” — introduced in early 2021 — which proposes a national ban on abortions after six weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Graham’s bill has four co-sponsors in the Senate. Kelly’s has 123 co-sponsors in the House. Senator Graham has said that if Republicans gain control of the Senate and the House, they will vote on a national abortion ban.
Following the Senator’s announcement, Popular Information published a list of corporations financially backing the politicians sponsoring these bills via corporate PAC donationsfrom 2021 to present. Top contributors include two major players in the beauty space: Amazon ($112,000) and Walmart ($98,000).
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Ahead, a breakdown of how the beauty industry is complicit in funding forced birth legislation.
(EDIT: The vast majority of these funds are financing the 123 co-sponsors of Representative Kelly’s six-week abortion ban bill, which has no exceptions for rape or incest.)
Amazon is the number one online retailer for beauty products, with a remarkable 36% of the market share. It made $23 billion in beauty sales in 2020, nearly doubling its 2019 sales.
These numbers are made possible by the many, many cosmetic companies that sell through Amazon: L’Oreal, for instance, grew its Amazon business by 50% year over year in 2020, thanks to a large Amazon ad buy. Over the same time period, Urban Decay increased its Amazon sales by 394%, Estée Lauder by 82%, Clinique by 77%, and Benefit Cosmetics by 43%. The Jeff Bezos-owned operation continues to court celebrity brands (J.Lo Beauty) and indie brands (Peace Out Skincare, Alleyoop) alike, and recently added prestige beauty brands (Dr. Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics) to its “Luxury Stores at Amazon” section.
Walmart has expanded its beauty offerings over the past two years as well. In 2021, its beauty sales totaled $11 billion — for scale, that’s nearly two times the amount generated by cosmetics giant Ulta Beauty in the same time period, per Beauty Independent.
Walmart’s earnings — which, again, have made their way into the pockets of politicians proposing a national ban on abortion — are a direct result of strategic brand partnerships: It doubled the size of its Black-owned beauty section last year, through deals with UOMA Beauty, KINLO by Naomi Osaka, Flawless by Gabrielle Union, and more. It became a core retailer for legendary makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s wellness brand (Evolution_18) and the exclusive retailer for Halsey’s newest makeup brand (af94). The mega-corporation, traditionally known for its low prices, has even entered the luxury beauty space as of late: Its alignment with Space NK brings high-end brands like Lancer Skincare, By Terry, and Phillip B to Walmart customers.
Amazon and Walmart’s abortion-ban-backing profits are further padded by the digital beauty and wellness media, as both retailers are regular advertisers in the space.
According to analytics from Similarweb, the top 50 ad publishers driving clicks to Amazon at the time of writing include Well & Good (27) and Refinery29 (40). The top 50 ad publishers currently driving clicks to Walmart include Byrdie Beauty in the number 12 spot — ahead of Reddit and Facebook — and Cosmopolitan (47).
The digital beauty media also makes a significant portion of its income through affiliate sales, and makes a significant portion of these sales via Amazon and Walmart links.
When a publisher — Allure, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Glamour, The Cut, Cosmo, etc. — links to an affiliate product, and a reader clicks that link and buys that product, the publisher is paid a percentage of that sale. (This is why beauty publications feature so many articles with headlines like “The Best Under-$20 Beauty Secrets To Shop On Amazon” and “The 29 Best Beauty Walmart Deals That You Can Grab Right Now” — and why almost every makeup, skincare, haircare, nail care, and wellness story these outlets publish comes complete with a “Shop The Story” section.) Plenty of other retailers offer affiliate programs, but Amazon is an industry favorite and Walmart is quickly becoming one, too. The Zoe Report even has its own curated page of product suggestions on Walmart.com.
It isn’t only legacy beauty publications padding the abortion-ban-backing profits of Amazon and Walmart; affiliate links are often utilized by beauty bloggers, editors, and influencers on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms.
Skincare enthusiasts like @skincarebyhyram earn a commission from products listed in their Amazon storefronts. YouTubers like @shea.whitney capitalize on content featuring “Amazon beauty products you NEED!” and Walmart best-sellers. When TikToker Carly Joy posted about her preferred shaving cream last year, personal care brand EOS saw Amazon sales of that product grow 171% from February to March. This is par for the influencer-Amazon course: The hashtag “#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt — “used by influencers to show off Amazon purchases they discovered on TikTok,” as Similarweb reports — can garner over four billion views in a single month. To take advantage of this social-media-to-sales pipeline, Walmart hosts livestream shopping events on TikTok and recently announced a new “innovation partner program” with the platform.
The issue of the beauty industry indirectly bankrolling government-mandated pregnancy bills goes beyond the brands mentioned Popular Information’s list, though.
Data from the Federal Election Committee show that since 2021, AbbVie Pharmaceuticals — the parent company of Allergan Aesthetics, the maker of Botox Cosmetic, Juvéderm filler, Kybella injectables, Coolsculpting, Natrelle breast implants, Latisse lash serum, and more — has donated at least $64,000 to politicians co-sponsoring bills for a national abortion ban.
On its site, AbbVie explains that decisions about allocating funds are made by its PAC Board, which is “chaired by the Vice President, Government Affairs and is comprised of at least twelve senior leaders representing a broad range of functions within AbbVie.”
AbbVie acquired Allergan and its aesthetic offerings in 2019. But before that, Allergan’s own PAC was also donating tens of thousands of dollars to anti-abortion politicians. “When selecting candidates to support, priority is given to candidates who understand business issues of importance to Allergan,” its site stated. “Input from Allergan employees who participate in the PAC is considered when selecting candidates to support, but all contribution recommendations must be approved by the PAC Treasurer” (Robert Lively, an Allergan executive).
To be clear about what’s happening here: The beauty industry — which makes its money by marketing its various products and procedures as pathways to health, wellness, empowerment, and bodily autonomy — is using its money to fund legislators intent on stripping people of their health, wellness, power, and bodily autonomy by restricting access to abortion.
Allergan is boasting about “empowering” people with “choices backed by science” while backing politicians working to disempower people by revoking the right to choose — a scenario that science shows will result in increased maternal mortality, murder, abuse, and unemployment, and will leave millions of people without necessary healthcare.
Amazon Beauty is claiming “beauty should be a source of confidence” while funding legislators who believe its target audience — women — to be legally inferior.
Walmart is capitalizing on Black-owned beauty brands while using that capital to finance co-sponsors of a bill that will disproportionately harm Black people and other people of color.
Amazon and Walmart are targeting poor communities with “affordable” and “accessible” offerings while subsidizing supporters of a bill that will disproportionately harm poor communities.
Allure is driving site traffic by publishing articles like “Does Your Favorite Beauty Brand Support Abortion Rights?” while neglecting to investigate how money from its own ad and affiliate sales indirectly jeopardizes abortion rights. It is using the promise of social justice and racial equality to advertise Botox without mentioning that Botox funds anti-social justice, anti-equality politicians.
ELLE is using the language of feminism (“the decision to get Juvederm in my lips … [shows] the type of feminist that I am: I own my body”) while promoting companies that finance gender inequality.
Byrdie is waxing poetic about how “our hair, our facial features, our bodies” can “reflect politics” while overlooking the political actions of its top advertisers.
To be fair, Byrdie isn’t alone in this belief: Beauty enthusiasts have long cried “Beauty is political!” as a way to justify participation in beauty culture — every purchase an act of economic independence, every injection an act of autonomy, every swipe of lipstick an act of Suffragette solidarity, every beauty standard adhered to an all-important act of choice. And they aren’t entirely wrong. Beauty is political. But the political power of beauty is rarely wielded by the people; it is most often wielded against the people.
I don’t know how to make this any clearer than by tracing the flow of money from cosmetic corporations to co-sponsors of a national abortion ban.