Showrunners Behind Abortion Safety Protocols Letters Speak Out for the First Time, Reveal Second Letter to the Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

The coalition of television showrunners and creators who’ve mobilized in recent weeks around the pressing issue of abortion safety protocols on set have now sent a second letter to the studios.

The letter was blasted out Monday afternoon to each studio president, as well as to the members of the studios’ boards of directors — and copied to the Motion Picture Association, which on Aug. 10 collectively had answered on behalf of eight of the recipients of the original letter: AMC Networks, Amazon Studios, Apple TV+, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Discovery.

That response by the studios is of particular concern to the showrunner coalition. Their second letter — which was obtained by Variety, and is included in full below — begins by thanking studios for answering by the Aug. 10 deadline set by the first missive from the 411 showrunners, sent on July 28, and subsequently backed up on Aug. 1 by an additional 594 male creatives. But the coalition asserts that their original demand for specific protocols to be put into place in states for pregnant employees in states where abortion has been or soon will be outlawed was not sufficiently addressed.

“We appreciate your stated mutual concern for safeguarding employees’ health, safety, and privacy, but your assertions fall far short of a response sufficient to ensure workplace safety and prevent inevitable gender discrimination within our industry,” states the second latter. It goes on to outline what systems the showrunner coalition believes must be put in place to avoid post-Roe v. Wade production in the  United States becoming a de facto discriminatory environment. “Travel reimbursement, while necessary coverage, is not an adequate remedy,” the letter reads, citing examples of the kinds of medical care pregnant women might be denied in states where abortion is illegal because of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June.

The new letter requests a response from the studios by Labor Day.

On Monday, three members of the coalition spoke with Variety over Zoom under the condition that they not be named. And why that requirement for the interview? The answer, one of the creators said, is that women showrunners “have been historically pitted against each other,” and this movement has felt like they’re “in cahoots with each other.”

“We were afraid that the power of this movement was going to dissipate as soon as it became a public thing,” she said.

The coalition of showrunners, which includes the top creators in the entertainment business, began to form as soon as the widely forecast (and leaked) Dobbs decision came down. If the first email had 12 people on it, this showrunner said, “three days later, we had 100 people.”

Another focus, a second showrunner said, was to immediately begin raising money for the National Network of Abortion Funds, a nonprofit that helps individuals overcome the barriers to obtaining abortions. On Monday, the campaign went public, with J.J.. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Ava DuVernay and others posting on behalf of the NNAF, with Showrunners for Abortion Relief having already raised $2.5 million in seed money.

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The charity was chosen, the showrunner who’d made it her focus said, because it would have “the most immediate impact on people who are in states where they could really be in a lot of trouble, and really need assistance.”

The first showrunner added, “There are people who’ve been working on abortion rights in states that haven’t had abortion access for a really long time,” and they wanted to support those groups already on the ground.

The new letter has taken out the demand that the companies stop political contributions to anti-choice candidates, based on feedback the group got from the executives they work with and know. “We learned from talking to studios that was going to be one of the hardest things to get them to do, because of their own reasons for needing to give,” said the third showrunner. Instead, the coalition is forming a “watchdog group” to monitor those contributions, and then they’ll “call them out on it.”

As far as what they thought about the studios’ Aug. 10 letter, they didn’t want to speak for others in the group. Some of the coalition members, they said, felt gratified that they’d gotten an answer by the stated deadline, and felt that was a hopeful signal for future engagement. But in their individual conversations with executives they knew, they had thought the studio response would be stronger and more specific, and not put so much responsibility onto the individual union health plans. (And as their new letter points out, “the current travel reimbursements do not extend to non-union employees like PAs who are not covered under a union health plan.”)

One of the showrunners called the studios’ response “underwhelming — there’s such an urgency and immediacy that we feel in our group.” Another called it “patronizing,” and added that “I think we were pretty disappointed as a group.”

“I think as studios and networks sometimes do to scripts, it got slightly watered down with the process of too many notes,” the third showrunner said. “And it somehow became a group letter that was maybe over-noted and wasn’t as strong.”

All three showrunners said that Lionsgate’s promise on Friday to mandate safety protocols around abortion was more of the kind of allegiance they’re seeking — a strong commitment to fix this problem. They pointed to the massive industry response during the early days of COVID to come up with safety protocols in order to get back into production: “There is a model there to see them very quickly snap into focus around something which involved the life and death and safety of their workers,” said one of the showrunners.

What they’re calling for in this new letter is a similar sort of urgency around the issue of reproductive rights, and safety for pregnant workers — not only those seeking abortions, but ones who might miscarry or have complications. One of the bullet points calls for “the appointment of a Reproductive Health Care Officer for every production in an abortion-hostile location,” much like the COVID protocol officers who are now on every set.

Along with immediate actions, the coalition is also calling for longer term ones, for which they “require the creation of a Reproductive Health Care Working Group” — detailed in the letter below — that will continuously work on these issues as a collective.

The showrunners know that none of this is easy. “It’s not going to be over in a couple of weeks,” one said. “It took 50 years to undo Roe, and it’s going to take another 50 years potentially to get abortion rights back for American women across the board.”

But what they want is to ensure that this ruling doesn’t stop the progress made in recent years for women working in production. “Inevitably, what will happen is that the people who can get pregnant are going to self-select out of working in jurisdictions like this because they’re not going to feel safe, and therefore they’re going to miss employment opportunities — which to us feels like a gender discrimination problem.”

As far as whether this group will eventually become an organization with a name (“We have, like, seven names,” said one of the showrunners), they’re not sure — nor do they necessarily foresee turning into a non-profit. They’re not ruling it out, though. One of the showrunners said she feels “a real hunger for the community that this has created.”

She went on to say that they want that community to extend to those at the studios, whom they see as their partners.

“We believe that entertainment has the ability to lead the way for other industries,” she said. “For the studios, we believe that they are concerned. And we understand these are complicated issues, and we would like to work with them.

“We don’t mean to be in a contentious relationship. And we would love to not be disappointed this time around.”

Below is the letter sent to the Walt Disney Company on Monday, collectively signed by the 1,425 showrunners, creators and directors:

August 15, 2022
To Whom It May Concern at The Walt Disney Company:

Thank you for your recent response regarding our grave concerns arising from the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We appreciate your stated mutual concern for safeguarding employees’ health, safety, and privacy, but your assertions fall far short of a response sufficient to ensure workplace safety and prevent inevitable gender discrimination within our industry.

Travel reimbursement, while necessary coverage, is not an adequate remedy for the denial of emergency reproductive healthcare that is an inevitable result of an abortion ban. In states where abortion is criminalized, an employee could be denied a lifesaving intervention in an ectopic pregnancy; a pregnant employee involved in an accident could be denied an X-ray on the grounds it may harm the embryo or fetus; and an employee suffering a pregnancy loss could be denied medically-necessary miscarriage management. Furthermore, the current travel reimbursements do not extend to non-union employees like PAs who are not covered under a union health plan.

Given that there are productions in abortion-hostile states right now, where protections are needed immediately, we request The Walt Disney Company’s answers regarding the following demands by Labor Day (11:59pm PST September 5, 2022):

  • A clear, detailed, and uniform plan of action to ensure all employees and other production workers have access to lifesaving healthcare in the case of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, placental abruption, sudden onset preeclampsia, etc. This plan should include a guarantee that all employees and other production workers in need of emergency reproductive healthcare can be transported expeditiously across state lines, to minimize the likelihood of injury or death.
  • Policies and procedures that guarantee privacy around abortion access.
  • Policies and procedures that guarantee job security and non-retaliation if a member of a production must take time off to travel for reproductive healthcare from states where abortion is criminalized.
  • Guaranteed coverage for attorneys’ fees, court expenses, and fines for any employees or other production workers who are prosecuted for abortion-related crimes.
  • The appointment of a Reproductive Health Care Officer for every production in an abortion-hostile location.

Without such protections as the above in place, only women and people who can become pregnant will be forced to assume an unacceptable level of risk when working in states hostile to abortion. This would constitute gender and pregnancy discrimination, as it forces women and people who can become pregnant to make decisions about their employment that a man who cannot become pregnant would never have to make.

To fulfill your stated commitment to continuing to evaluate ways to provide for employees and workers who support your productions, we also require the creation of a Reproductive Health Care Working Group.

This Working Group should include at least one C-Suite representative from each company (appointed by 11:59pm PST September 5, 2022), representatives from industry guilds when necessary, and experts from the reproductive health and advocacy organizations with experience in these issues. Members of our coalition also stand ready to partner with you in these discussions.

If the Working Group cannot provide specific solutions for continuing production in states where abortion is illegal and emergency reproductive healthcare may be routinely denied, such that safe and nondiscriminatory workplace conditions are ensured, the Working Group must issue a recommendation regarding whether production may continue in these states.

We look forward to working hand-in-hand with our colleagues across the film and television industry in responding directly, responsibly, and promptly to these urgent threats to our employees’ health, safety, and human rights.


Our Coalition of 1425 Showrunners/Creators and Directors

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