Sheryl Sandberg opened her next chapter as a full-time philanthropist Tuesday with a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union to fight state abortion bans across the country.
Sandberg, who officially left her position as Facebook's parent company Meta's chief operating officer last week after 14 years, donated $3 million to the ACLU Ruth Bader Ginsburg Liberty Center. The ACLU plans to use the funds to support candidates and ballot measures for abortion rights, as well as defending pregnant women's rights in state courts and legislatures over the next three years.
Sandberg told The Associated Press in an interview that it's "unthinkable" that her three daughters have fewer rights over "their own health care, their own bodies, their own destinies" than she did. She wanted to immediately start working to change that.
"As I'm leaving Meta and looking at the next phase of my life and what I want to do and dedicate myself to, this is an issue that I think is absolutely fundamental to who we are as women who we are as a society," Sandberg said. "The time is now. These state elections are now. And the next cycle is just two years away."
Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, said Sandberg's donation is the largest ever given to the ACLU's political arm for abortion rights. The funds will help support a shift in the organization's abortion rights strategy back to state legislatures following the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that found there is no constitutional right to an abortion.
"It will be decades before we can clean up this mess through litigation," he said. "We'll get back there. We will re-establish a fundamental right to an abortion at the federal level. There will be another case that overturns Dobbs. But that will take us decades."
Sandberg partnered with the ACLU because she believes fighting for reproductive rights requires a political component following the Supreme Court's overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision. The political donation was made by Sandberg personally and did not come from the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, which she says will remain the center of her philanthropic work. Political donations are not tax-deductible.
Though the ACLU donation is separate from her philanthropic work, Sandberg says the "connective tissue" is that it supports women, just as she does through Lean In and Option B, the nonprofit initiatives named after her two best-selling books.
"Lean In is about giving women the opportunities that men have - women of color, women of all backgrounds, women with less access to resources - giving them the opportunities to choose their own paths, chart their own courses, become leaders," she said. "Nothing's more fundamental than controlling our own bodies, our own reproductive rights and our own reproductive health."
"Option B is about overcoming tragedy and adversity," she added. "And what's happening here is that we are creating adversity that should not be created for the women in our country who need the most help."
Romero said the ACLU is already fighting legislation to further limit abortions in some states and bringing legislation to challenge abortion bans in others, as well as fighting to keep abortion clinics open in several states.
"The future battles have to be for the hearts and minds of the American voters," Romero said. "More of the American public agrees with us than with the Supreme Court, so we have to find a way to course correct the political process. If the court says, 'We'll let the states decide,' well, OK, let's let the voters decide - not these governors, not the state legislatures that are detached from their own constituents."
Sandberg, 52, has a net worth of about $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. She announced in June that she would leave Meta - though she remains on its board - to focus on her foundation and its philanthropic work. That remains her intent, focusing her efforts on gender equality, she said.
"A lot needs to go better for women," she said. "We need to do much better for women in leadership. We need to much better for women of color. We need to do much better for women everywhere in the country."
That work starts with abortion rights, Sandberg said, adding that "this issue is the one where we have taken the biggest single step backwards - a single step backwards that none of us could even believe could happen."
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