Behind the Supreme Court’s Abortion Decision, More Than a Decade of Privately Funded Research
Nina Martin reports in ProPublica:
Back in January, as the Supreme Court was preparing for its most important abortion case in a generation, some four dozen social scientists submitted a brief explaining why they believed key portions of Texas law HB2 should be struck down. The brief was a 58-page compendium of research on everything from the relative dangers of abortion vs. childbirth to the correlation between abortion barriers and postpartum depression. “In this politically charged area, it is particularly important that assertions about health and safety are evaluated using reliable scientific evidence,” the researchers declared.
Six months later, the material they submitted clearly helped shape Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which found critical elements of HB2 unconstitutional. Less noticed, the decision also handed a resounding victory to private donors who’ve spent more than a decade quietly pouring at least $200 million into the scientists’ work, creating an influential abortion-research complex that has left abortion opponents in the dust.
The research initiative dates back at least to the early 2000s and became more urgent after the high court suggested in 2007 that in cases of “medical and scientific uncertainty,” legislatures could have “wide discretion” to pass laws restricting abortion. Since then, a primary objective of abortion rights supporters has been to establish a high level of medical certainty — both about the safety of the procedure and about what happens when a woman’s reproductive options are drastically curtailed or eliminated.
There’s little or no publicly funded research on this controversial topic in the U.S., so for years basic information was lacking — from how often patients have complications to what happens to women who want abortions but can’t obtain them.
Into this breach stepped the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for the late wife of one of the richest men in the world. Established in the 1960s, the philanthropic behemoth (it ranked fourth among family foundations in 2014 in terms of giving) is known for its focus on abortion access, training and more recently, prevention. It’s also known for its secrecy, often appearing under grant acknowledgements only as “an anonymous donor.”
The Buffett Foundation helped financethe development of the abortion drug RU–486 back in the 1990s. From 2001 to 2014, it contributed more than $1.5 billion to abortion causes, including at least $427 million to Planned Parenthood worldwide and $168 million to the National Abortion Federation — a track record that led one foe to call Warren Buffett the “sugar daddy of the entire pro-abortion movement.” In the past 15 years, it has also made research a core part of its strategic efforts, funding such organizations as the Guttmacher Institute, a policy think tank and advocacy group that tracks demographic and legislative trends ($40 million), and Gynuity Health Projects, which focuses on medication abortion ($29 million), as well as work by academics abroad. Other foundations supporting research on a smaller scale have included the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the John Merck Fund, and the Educational Foundation of America. (Hewlett is also a funder of ProPublica.)
Buffett’s main academic partner (receiving at least $88 million from 2001 to 2014) has been the University of California, San Francisco, a medical research institution with a strong reproductive-health infrastructure. . .