POLITICS

Despite Funding Anti-Abortion Candidates, Bloomberg Still Lauded By Pro-Choice Groups

Why did so many pro-choice advocates support the former New York City mayor when he was working against their goals?

Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has spent millions of dollars to support “anti-choice, right-wing” politicians, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told viewers during the primary debate earlier this week

But despite his substantial donations to Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Pat Toomey and Scott Brown (Warren’s opponent in her first Senate race), the billionaire is now seeking the Democratic nomination — and, according to polling averages, sitting comfortably in third place in a crowded field. 

That is at least in part because national pro-choice groups have heaped praise upon Bloomberg for his substantial philanthropic contributions, blurring the details of his donation record and contributing to the perception of the former mayor as a staunch social liberal.

Jill Lafer presents former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg with the Global Citizen Award at the Planned Parenthood Federat
Jill Lafer presents former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg with the Global Citizen Award at the Planned Parenthood Federation Of America's 2014 Gala Awards Dinner in March 2014.

In 2014, after he left the mayor’s office, Bloomberg received Planned Parenthood’s Global Citizen Award, after Bloomberg Philanthropies pledged $50 million for Planned Parenthood Global, the international arm of Planned Parenthood that seeks to expand sexual and reproductive health care in developing countries. On top of the Planned Parenthood donation, the Bloomberg Family Foundation has given nearly $14 million to the health care provider as well. 

“To say he’s one of the biggest champions for women in this country and all over the world would be an understatement,” Jill Lafer, a former national chairwoman of Planned Parenthood, told The New York Times last November. Lafer presented Bloomberg with the Global Citizen Award back in 2014. 

NARAL Pro-Choice America has also spoken highly of Bloomberg, throwing its support behind him during his reelection race in 2005 — despite the fact that he was a registered Republican.

Bloomberg’s stance on abortion access was “unparalleled in the city,” said then-NARAL NYC director Kelli Conlin in 2005. (Conlin was later sued by New York City for misusing charitable funds.)

“Reproductive choice is a fundamental human right, and we can never take it for granted,” Bloomberg told abortion rights advocates in New York in 2006

He also condemned pro-choice politicians who support those who are anti-choice: “On this issue, you’re either with us or against us,” he said.

By that metric, then, Bloomberg has often been “against” the pro-choice movement. As far back as 2004 and as recently as 2016, Bloomberg was supporting Republicans whose opinion on abortion access differed greatly from his own.

He supported former President George W. Bush, and even spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Bush signed extreme anti-abortion bills in his first term, including a controversial ban on so-called “partial birth” abortions. At a presidential debate with then-Sen. John Kerry, Bush compared abortion to slavery. 

Bloomberg also donated $4,000 to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in the early 2000s, despite Shelby identifying himself as “resolutely pro-life” and touting his long record of trying to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding. Similarly, Bloomberg donated $2,000 to former New York Rep. Vito Fossella, a Republican with a 0% rating from NARAL who supported a host of anti-abortion bills — and was chairman of Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign at the time. 

More recently, Bloomberg supported an anti-choice Republican instead of a progressive, pro-choice candidate in 2018, when Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley ran in New York’s 2nd Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rep. Peter King. 

She asked for Bloomberg’s support, but he refused to give it — and instead hosted a private fundraiser where he helped raise $10,000 for King’s campaign.

In 2012, King told Democracy Now that he thinks doctors who provide abortions should be put in jail, and he has consistently voted to defund Planned Parenthood. 

Bloomberg also threw his weight behind another New York Republican, former Rep. Dan Donovan who, like King, voted to defund Planned Parenthood and also supported a ban on late term abortions. (Donovan lost to Democrat Max Rose in a stunning upset in 2018.)

The billionaire’s support for Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, in 2016 has arguably haunted Bloomberg the most. Toomey has said in the past that he would support overturning Roe v. Wade, and has consistently voted to defund Planned Parenthood. (The campaign donations to Toomey were in support of his record of pushing bipartisan gun control, another issue upon which Bloomberg has focused his philanthropic efforts.)

And it’s not just campaign contributions — Bloomberg’s record as mayor wasn’t always on the side of reproductive rights. As HuffPost reported this month, in 2003, Bloomberg vetoed an emergency contraception bill over objections from advocates. 

But that didn’t stop the awards from coming in. 

Abortion access is “non-negotiable,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund executive director Kelley Robinson told HuffPost in a statement this week ― while not commenting on Bloomberg’s accolades.

“The vast majority of Americans ― nearly eight in 10 ― support access to safe, legal abortion. That’s more support than for any political party or candidate. The way 2020 candidates can win widespread support is to lift up people’s health and rights, and treat them as non-negotiable,” Robinson said. 

But not every group is eager to overlook Bloomberg’s past, whether it’s his donations to anti-choice candidates or the many allegations of sexism against him.

“It stuns me that groups that claim to believe in reproductive rights or any tenets of the reproductive justice framework can support a man who has such a history of racism, xenophobia and misogyny,” Calla Hales, executive director of four independent abortion clinics in North Carolina and Georgia, told HuffPost. The Charlotte branch of A Preferred Women’s Health Center, which Hales oversees, is a frequent target of anti-abortion harassment and threats of violence. 

“Any pro-choice group that’s supportive of him after reading any of the documentation about Bloomberg’s settlement with former employee Sekiko Sakai Garrison would give me serious hesitation about their organizational ideals,” Hales said.

In 1995, Garrison filed a lawsuit against Bloomberg for sexist and misogynist comments. Upon finding out that Garrison was pregnant, Bloomberg reportedly told her to “kill it!” 

His “with us or against us” rhetoric aside, Bloomberg has minimized the importance of anti-choice politicians’ abortion stances when it comes to campaign contributions. 

“If you cut out donations to everybody who disagreed with you on any one issue, you would support nobody,” Bloomberg said in 2005 when asked about his support for anti-choice candidates. “The people I agree with are people that are clearly pro-choice, but there are times there are other issues.”

Neither Bloomberg nor his campaign responded to HuffPost’s request for comment.