By Ciara Linnane
The following article was first published in May, before Friday’s Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe vs. Wade
It’s a point of pride for the chief executive of Playboy parent PLBY Group Inc. to recall the role the company played in advocating for and funding the battle for abortion rights in the U.S. — and the letter it received from one Ruth Bader Ginsburg in August 1973.
“Our stance has not changed; we still believe in a woman’s right to choose,” Playboy CEO Ben Kohn told MarketWatch in an interview. The magazine this month republished the late justice’s letter , as well as other articles written over the years on the subject, Kohn said.
Ginsburg, at the time an attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project she founded , wrote to the magazine to promote the cause of equality and acknowledge the Playboy Foundation for its generous financial support leading up to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in January of the same year.
Playboy had long advocated for reproductive rights and for safe abortions for women through the 1960s, when many died from illegal abortions .
In a January 1964 installment, for example, the late Playboy founder Hugh Hefner wrote, “Abortion remains illegal in all states of the Union, although it is undergone by hundreds of thousands of women annually, under circumstances that seriously endanger not only their health and welfare, but their very lives.”
The magazine’s Playboy Forum letters-to-the-editor section later became a hub of protest against what it called “antiquated abortion statutes” and included many contributions from women, despite the magazine’s majority male readership.
Still, Kohn cautioned that the recent leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion showing a majority of justices in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade was not a final opinion.
“We need to be patient and see what the ruling is,” he said. “But we have supported women’s rights for 69 years, and that is not going to change.”
Kohn, a former private-equity executive at Rizvi Traverse, has been CEO of Playboy /zigman2/quotes/218881017/composite PLBY +1.19% since 2017, and took it back to public markets in 2020 via a merger with a special-purpose acquisition corporation, or SPAC.
The company had been private since 2011, when Hefner engineered a deal that was partly financed by Rizvi Traverse. That was after a collapse in magazine advertising revenue around the 2008 financial crisis and changes in the publishing business that made a lot of adult material available for free online combined to pressure the business.
Playboy is a very different company today from what it was during the peak years of the 1960s and 1970s, and has shut down most of its legacy media businesses. The company started as a magazine published out of Hefner’s Chicago apartment before growing to include a global licensing business and television networks.
The licensing business has remained a key part of the business, especially in China, where its iconic bunny-in-profile logo appears on myriad products.
The company now operates in four categories: sexual wellness; style and apparel; gaming and lifestyle; and beauty and grooming. Kohn is working on two priorities: to expand the company’s direct-to-consumer business by integrating various consumer products it has acquired, and to build out CenterFold, a new platform intended to be a digital home for creators and influencers to interact with fans and build their own subscription-based personal content businesses.
“We want to capture more of the ecosystem and leverage the power of the brand,” he said.