In honor of International Women's Day, we are excited to present a special edition of our Inside Edelman series, dedicated to promoting gender equity and raising awareness of the challenges and threats that women still face today. By highlighting inspiring voices from across the business, we hope to spark meaningful conversations and inspire action towards a more equitable future.

Complacency threatens women's rights as gender disparity worsens worldwide. Katie Spring, U.S. President of Edelman Smithfield, shares her experience with reproductive healthcare and highlights the economic impact of restricting reproductive rights. She emphasizes the need to work with business leaders and policymakers to protect women's reproductive rights.

What do you see as the primary threat to women’s rights around the world?

The primary threat to women’s rights is complacency, and a failure to appreciate how fundamental gender equality is for a society to prosper, grow, and achieve safety and security for all.

Unfortunately, gender disparity is getting worse, not better. According to the United Nations, it will take 286 years before women have equal access to men in terms of healthcare, education, wages, or legal protections. We see the erosion of women’s rights all around us: Afghani women banned from participating in daily life and girls pulled out of school; Chinese women threatened and/or arrested for using terms like “female rights” or “#metoo” online, even as harassment and assaults on women in that country are on the rise. In Poland, sex education has been criminalized and abortion at any stage is akin to homicide with commensurate prison terms. And of course, in the U.S., women’s access to healthcare is being systematically eroded with recent announcements that Walgreens will preemptively stop providing even legal medication to women, and credit card companies could be banned from allowing the purchase of certain healthcare products, forcing women to carry pregnancies or risk going to prison. 

These tactical aggressions may appear small and singular in the moment, but they build momentum quickly, and if we don’t act, the aggregate impact is devastating to women and society at large.

Can you share a personal story about how access to reproductive healthcare has impacted your life?

I’ve been very fortunate to live in a time where safe, affordable access to birth control and the right to decide if I want to be pregnant or not was the norm. Neither my mother nor my daughters can say the same. That is why I feel personally motivated to stem this tide. Women’s reproductive rights are fundamental and when we don’t protect them, everyone’s rights are at risk. It’s not an issue of choice — it’s about personal human agency and the right to make decisions about your body. 

When I was 16 years old, I made myself an appointment at Planned Parenthood. I learned more about reproductive health in those 30 minutes than I ever had in school, or from my parents. At the end of the appointment, the doctor handed me a pack of birth control pills. I felt empowered as well as accountable; independent as well as responsible. I believe that is how true agency over one’s body and choices should feel.

Many years later, I felt that same agency when I found myself in an ambulance, racing to the hospital with extensive internal bleeding. I was 20 weeks pregnant with twins, and the emergency surgery I needed would likely terminate my pregnancy. My doctor — not legislation — guided my choices that dark day. Fortunately, the twins and I came through OK, and for that I thank a collaborative, patient-centric healthcare system — not an impersonal and overreaching law. 

How do you see restrictions on reproductive rights impacting the well-being of women, particularly from a financial and economic standpoint?

 In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court said: “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of a nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” 

New research from the National Women’s Law Center reaffirms the strong tie between reproductive rights and economic equality: 

  • People who want an abortion and are denied one are nearly four times more likely to live in poverty than those who were not denied an abortion. 
  • Women living in states with greater access to reproductive health services have higher median wages. 
  • States with strict abortion laws, e.g., Idaho, also rank lowest when it comes to women’s access to education and economic growth. 

Economic losses from existing reproductive care restrictions, including labor force impact and earnings, already cost state economies an estimated $105 billion annually. Women who don’t have access to abortion care are three times more likely to leave the workforce and four times more likely to live in poverty.

How can we work with business leaders, policymakers and other stakeholders to promote policies that protect and advance women’s reproductive rights?

Policies that restrict reproductive health care impair our ability to build a diverse and inclusive workforce, recruit top talent, and protect all the people who keep our businesses thriving.  

I’m proud of Edelman’s support for the group Don’t Ban Equality, a coalition of nearly 700 businesses making the case that public policies restricting reproductive health care are bad for business. Access to reproductive healthcare is a core business issue backed by bipartisan public opinion:

  • A majority of Republican (68%), Democratic (86%) and Independent (74%) workers think their employer should take concrete steps to protect abortion access.
  • More than half of young women are making plans about where to live based on whether abortion is accessible in a state.
  • 65% of college-educated workers say that they would be discouraged from taking a job in a state where politicians are trying to restrict access to reproductive care.

Abortion access and reproductive rights are foundational women’s rights, but they’re also core to a highly functioning society.

Katie Spring is U.S. President of Edelman Smithfield.