The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Can Also Rock the Boat, How Prochoice Activists Turned Around the Dayton Foundation

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Can Also Rock the Boat, How Prochoice Activists Turned Around the Dayton Foundation

by Irene Davall

The Dayton Foundation — the giving arm of Dayton Hudson Corporation — announced last summer that its annual grant to Planned Parenthood was being withheld for the first time in 22 years. Executives said the decision stemmed from the foundation’s desire not to take sides in the national debate over abortion.

The decision, conveyed to Planned Parenthood last summer, was not made public until August 31, the same day the Twin Cities National Organization for Women rallied outside Dayton’s Minneapolis flagship store to call for a boycott of all stores in the Dayton chain.

Peggy Lucas, speaking for the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, said “I think the safest port Dayton had in the abortion storm was the one they abandoned. Donating money that was earmarked for teenage pregnancy counseling. Now, they’ve worked themselves into a no-win situation.”

Arvonne Fraser, Senior Fellow in Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute, and the Directorof the Women’s Public Policy and Development Project, wrote the store: “Your venerable old Minnesota institution has just destroyed its credibility with more than me.” Along with her letter, Fraser mailed her Dayton credit card, cut neatly in half.

Fraser is also married to the mayor of Minneapolis.

And Fraser’s act was not a solitary one. Abortion rights activists got busy, made a few calls to colleagues from the Minnesota Alliance for Choice and by midweek had 10,000 postcards in the mail.

“There really was a groundswell, an outpouring of protest,” reported Clare Gravon, chair of the Planned Parenthood board. “There’s no way we could have orchestrated this response. People read the article, they knew what they had to do and they did it.”

The company received letters and phone calls on both sides of the issue, but acknowledged that most disagreed with the foundation’s action. The Human Life Alliance of Minnesota had said it would be sorry if Dayton decided to revoke its decision. “There were a lot of us who had canceled our Dayton accounts. When the foundation withdrew funding our boycott was over. I think if they had waited a little longer, they would have been able to see the results,” said an antiabortion spokesperson.

Dayton executives said the foundation would continue to support other programs aimed at pregnancy prevention. The foundation and its divisions gave away $22.5 million in 1989, including more than $8 million in the Twin Cities.

According to the Women’s Consortium, if the foundation had not reinstated their annual contribution by Thanksgiving they planned to take out full-page newspaper ads advocating a Christmas shopping boycott aimed at Dayton and its subsidiaries, including such eminent emporiums as Hudson in Detroit, Marshall Field in Chicago and Mervyns and Target in California.

Market analysts estimate that retailers — the Dayton chain among them — do about 60 percent of their annual business during the Christmas-Hanukkah season. Twin Cities securities analysts declared the controversy probably has not harmed the company’s bottom line yet, but that could change. “If it becomes a national issue it can have repercussions that Dayton Hudson never imagined. It can cause a lot more than $20,000 worth of damage.”

The words seemed prophetic when New York City Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman notified Dayton of her concern that boycotts and other actions by abortion rights supporters would affect the company’s financial position. Her concern was justified; the New York City pension fund holds 438,290 shares of Dayton stock valued at $31.9 million.

On September 20, Dayton announced they were reinstating the $20,000 contribution. This does not mean that Dayton or its Foundation is taking a position on abortion or abortion rights. “We have never taken a position on abortion nor will we. The grant will be put in a restricted education fund and Planned Parenthood has assured us they will add a separate line category for it,” they said.

Peter Wilderotter, Planned Parenthood Vice President for Resources, said “We are pleased by Dayton’s decision to reinstate funding, thereby seeing their way to do something about reducing the need for abortion. We welcome anyone, including our opposition, who will join with us in providing education and prevention services.”

The Minnesota Women’s Consortium summed it up: “Dayton is considered a leader among corporate foundations. Other foundations would like to defund. We have an opportunity to have corporations realize they have more to fear from abortion supporters than opponents.”