When Planned Parenthood approached John Abbate to lease out space in one of his commercial office buildings, the California-based real estate entrepreneur initially agreed to work out a deal. But Abbate, a Catholic who is pro-life, soon had a change of heart.
“I said thanks, but no thanks,” Abbate recalled in a speech he recently gave to The Catholic University of America. “We’re a Catholic family and Planned Parenthood will not be in our office building.”
Abbate, who owns 23 McDonald’s franchises in California, urged those in attendance to incorporate religious beliefs into their business decisions. “We have to live our faith in society, and in business you have to do that to be successful,” Abbate said. “That’s brand stewardship.”
As he tells it, Abbate had been searching for a tenant to fill his vacant property for months, and was somewhat relieved when Planned Parenthood expressed interest in the space. "I kind of chuckled to myself and said, 'Boy, at least they have a strong balance sheet,'" he recalled. "See I'm pro-life, and I've always been unwavering on that issue -- at least that's what I thought."
After Abbate agreed to the deal, and mentioned it to his wife, "she went nuts," he said. "She was embarrassed for me and embarrassed for the family. She then called my Mom and Dad and they reacted the same way: they were aghast." In response, he told his father, "I made a mistake and I'm gonna fix it."
Abbate’s comments come as a wave of U.S. business executives and corporations voice opinions on social issues this election season.
In July, Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s president and chief executive, publicized the restaurant chain’s opposition to gay marriage. And leading up to Tuesday’s election, prominent CEOs around the country, including the Koch Brothers, Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegal and ASG Software Solutions Arthur Allen, have warned employees that their jobs are at risk if President Obama gets re-elected.
Such efforts have followed Mitt Romney's statement in June encouraging business owners in the U.S. to advise employees on how they vote.
As part of his promise to be a “pro-life” president, Romney has said he will defund Planned Parenthood. Critics of Romney’s plan say the clinics serve as an important source of healthcare for women, arguing that abortions account for just three percent of what the group does.
Nevertheless, Abbate suggested in his speech to Catholic University that leasing space to Planned Parenthood would have violated his beliefs. "Dynamic change is going to come from us; it’s not going to come from the priests," Abbate told the audience. "If we're going to change the Catholic Church into the future...it's because the people in this room grabbing a hold of their Catholic faith and bringing it to the world."
"We're in missionary territory today," he added.