Netflix Speaks Against Georgia Abortion Law as Hollywood Mulls Action

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
May 29, 2019

By Rebecca Heilweil

Updated at 3:19 p.m. ET on May 30

News that Netflix may ditch its film operations in Georgia should the state’s new abortion regulation go into effect has turned attention toward other major studios that appear to be waiting on legal challenges to the legislation.

Earlier this month, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a controversial “heartbeat bill” which would ban abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or approximately six weeks into a pregnancy and about two weeks from when a woman would first miss her period.

Georgia has joined other conservative states, including Alabama, Missouri, and Kentucky, in passing new restrictive abortion regulations. The new laws are expected to face a slew of legal challenges in lower courts, and the American Civil Liberties Union has already initiated lawsuits in several states.

But in Georgia, the heartbeat bill is threatening the state’s thriving film industry, which Georgia has worked to solidify through extensive entertainment tax breaks. Last year, there were more than 450 film and television projects in the state, creating more than $4.5 billion in wages for Georgia residents, according to the state.

Individual projects, including those from Reed Morano and Kristen Wiig, have already been pulled from Georgia in protest. And back in April, prominent actors also signed a letter stating that they will no longer recommend filming in the state.

Netflix, which films popular shows like "Ozark" and "Stranger Things" in Georgia, has also signaled that it would consider leaving the state altogether.

“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told Variety on Tuesday. “It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there, while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to. Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”

Netflix is the first major studio to indicate that it would leave the state. A full boycott could impact more than 92,000 jobs and the film and television industry’s nearly $10 billion worth of economic impact on the state. Most of the major studios contacted by Cheddar did not immediately respond. WarnerMedia directed Cheddar to a statement from the Motion Pictures Association of America, a trade organization that represents major American studios, as well as Netflix. The organization says it's "monitoring developments" and notes that these laws often do not survive legal scrutiny.

NBCUniversal, echoing Netflix, released the following statement on Thursday: “We fully expect that the heartbeat bills and similar laws in various states will face serious legal challenges and will not go into effect while the process proceeds in court. If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future.”

Women in Film and Television Atlanta, an association for women in the film industry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment either.

Meanwhile, pro-choice Georgia constituents — as well as former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — are pleading with studios not to shut down film production in the state. They argue that forcing them out will only hurt the Democratic presence in the state.

“In the pursuit of justice, economic boycotts have long been successful tools. Georgia has witnessed the good effects here and with our neighbors. I strongly support the right of every American to exercise their values through economic protest,” Abrams tweeted earlier this month. “However, I know the perpetrators of #HB481 — most of them men — will not be moved by protest. In fact, they want the ability to demonize the film industry while profiting from its presence.”

It’s not clear what impact a boycott would have on the law itself, and many studios might be hoping that a court strikes down the law before they have to comment. “In terms of the people backing the abortion law, I don’t think it makes them rethink their position one bit,” New York Times culture reporter Cara Buckley told Cheddar.

“Their fear is that they will alienate vast swaths of their audience. Abortion is highly divisive, as we know in this country, and they don’t want to come down on either side. They’re also hoping that lower courts strike down the law — as has happened in other states — and so they don’t want to be premature out of the gate,” said Buckley. “The truth is there are profits at stake. There are jobs at stake, and they’re not willing to be perceived to stick their necks out.”