In the wake of the Dobbs decision, prominent organizations in the entertainment industry were quick to vocalize their criticisms of the Court’s decision. The major Hollywood unions and production companies have been lockstep in condemning the ruling and likewise have taken steps to ensure that workers have access to any necessary healthcare going forward. The unions, including the Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild of America East and West, IATSE, and Actors Equity, all issued individual statements. The Writers Guild of America stood out as the lone group in the industry to call for a boycott of filming in all jurisdictions that have passed bans, “urging employers to consider the laws of each state when choosing production locations.” The Writers Guild of America East and West and Directors Guild of America both expanded their health plans and policies, incorporating new benefits to cover travel and common action costs for participants seeking to cross state lines for abortions. IATSE, a labor union representing over 168,000 technicians, artisans, and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, called for lawmakers to “defend reproductive healthcare and Americans’ fundamental freedoms immediately, or face being replaced by those who will” in a statement titled ‘The Supreme Court is Wrong.’ IATSE further noted that “SCOTUS has abandoned a 50-year precedent, and the will of 70% of the American people, to impose one of the worst contractions of freedoms in modern US history.” SAG-AFTRA and the Actors Equity Association echoed similar sentiments in their respective statements. As for the production companies, major Hollywood studios, including Disney, Netflix, Comcast, Paramount, and Warner Bros, have expressed their discontent with the Court and promised to cover the travel costs for all employees who need to go out of state for abortions.
Noteworthy is that other than the Writers Guild, no organization has conveyed any inclination towards boycotting states over abortion access. This absence of any real financial threat to pull investments from offending jurisdictions stands in stark contrast with their responses in 2019, after Georgia had passed legislation banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat had been detected. Following the 2019 ban, most of Hollywood collectively mobilized in protest, as major studios, including Netflix, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal, AMC, Sony, CBS, and Viacom, all threatened to pull projects from Georgia if said law went into effect. This approach was not adopted by all at the time. Directors J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, both shooting projects in the state at the time, opted to stay put and said they would donate proceeds to organizations working to overturn the state’s heartbeat bill. This continuation of production was supported by gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, noting that taking jobs out of the state primarily harmed the people on the ground working in the film industry, most of whom were opposed to the legislation.
This recognized disconnect could partially be why Hollywood has been less visceral in their reaction this time around. However, it is also the case that enforcing a production boycott in all the states now imposing restrictions would come with significant financial hurdles, such that it may not be feasible. Over time, states outside of California have grown to establish film hubs of their own, as they have invested billions in available tax credits and production infrastructure. Thirty-six states now offer some form of film-tax breaks to studios. Georgia issued a national record $1.2 billion in tax credits in 2021, far surpassing any other state. Georgia now imposes a ban on abortion at about six weeks after conception, a period before many will even be aware that they are pregnant. Thirteen other states now impose complete bans on abortion services in response to Dobbs, nine of which offer some form of tax credit for film production. Such states include Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
The appeal of these state tax incentives has been compounded by the inflationary pressure driving up production costs for studios. In 2022, studio executives and stage operators reported that sets were at least 15% more expensive to build than the year prior. Bloomberg reporter Kelly Gilblom has suggested that there is not much Hollywood unions can do to slow down or alter current investment plans, as “the cold economic reality facing celebrities and filmmakers, many of whom have hosted roundtable discussions, attended protests urging action to protect abortion rights… [t]heir economic fates are tied to those of states that have been successful in both luring major film-and-television projects with generous tax incentives, and restricting access to abortion.” For these studios, it really is just a matter of not conflating business with politics.