US Companies Struggle to React to Potential State Abortion Bans

In the days since the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and allow individual states to outlaw abortion, U.S. corporations have been largely silent on the issue. But experts say that behind the scenes, corporate leaders are scrambling to figure out how to respond.

The court’s opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, would change the law in huge swaths of the United States, primarily in the South and Midwest.

If the opinion takes effect, access to abortion would be sharply curtailed or effectively eliminated in up to 26 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization. Those bans will apply immediately in states that have passed “trigger” laws that take effect as soon as Roe v. Wade is struck down.

For business leaders, deciding how to react is a complex calculation, involving challenges such as how to address the concerns of employees who live in states poised to ban abortion; what sort of public stance, if any, to take on the divisive issue; and how to plan for a future in which a state’s social policies — beyond the control of corporate executives — can affect potential employees’ willingness to take a job.

Difficult subject

“I think we can kind of start off by saying that this is an issue that corporations would really, really rather not touch with a barge pole,” Alison Taylor, executive director of the business advisory organization Ethical Systems, told VOA.

Taylor said that if the ruling takes effect, she has little doubt that companies are going to have to address it through changes to their benefits packages that, for example, cover the expenses of women who have to travel to a different state to obtain an abortion.

Many companies will eventually have to take a public stand, she said, because of the increasing expectation, particularly among younger workers, that corporations ought to have positions on important social issues.

Given the current uncertainty, however, it is understandable that many companies would prefer not to take a public stance right now, she said.

“People are not really saying anything yet,” she added. “I think they are trying to get their ducks in a row. But I am not convinced that speaking up is a very advisable idea given the current context.”

Retaliation worries

A real concern is that any company response that seems implicitly critical of the court’s decision leaves that business open to the possibility of political retaliation.

On Wednesday, for example, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida harshly criticized companies that offer to pay for employees to travel to different states for abortion care. He introduced a new bill that would make it illegal for companies to claim that spending as a business expense. Rubio’s bill also would target companies that pay for parents to take children out of state for treatment of gender-identity conditions.

In a statement, Rubio said, “Our tax code should be pro-family and promote a culture of life. Instead, too often our corporations find loopholes to subsidize the murder of unborn babies or horrific ‘medical’ treatments on kids. My bill would make sure this does not happen.”

Retaliation has also occurred at the state level. In March, Citigroup said it would pay for employees in Texas to travel out of state for an abortion, circumventing a new law in that state. In response, a state lawmaker announced he would introduce a bill that would prevent the company from underwriting municipal bonds in Texas.

Silence not total

While most major corporations have been silent on the draft opinion, social media firms appear to be an exception. While not speaking expressly for her company, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Meta, formerly known as Facebook, criticized the opinion on her own Facebook page.

“This is a scary day for women all across our country,” she wrote. “If the leaked draft opinion becomes the law of the land, one of our most fundamental rights will be taken away. Every woman, no matter where she lives, must be free to choose whether and when she becomes a mother. Few things are more important to women’s health and equality.”

The social media site Yelp issued a statement that said, in part, “Overturning Roe v. Wade will jeopardize the human rights of millions of women who stand to lose the liberty to make decisions over their own bodies.”

Bumble, which owns online dating sites, issued a statement that said, “At Bumble, we believe strongly in women’s right to choose and exercise complete control over their bodies. The safety, privacy, and freedom of family planning are critical to equality for all.”

Benefit changes likely

Past actions suggest many companies will alter their benefits packages to allow employees in states that ban abortions to access services in states that do not.

Last year, when the Supreme Court allowed a controversial Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks to stand without ruling on the merits of the case, a number of companies were quick to promise support to their employees in Texas.

Apple offered to cover medical expenses for its workers who had to leave the state for abortion services. Salesforce offered to help employees relocate to a different state if they wanted to. On Monday, before the draft opinion leaked, Amazon announced that it would reimburse Texas employees up to $4,000 for travel expenses related to out-of-state abortion care.

Jen Stark, senior director for corporate strategy at the Tara Health Foundation, told VOA that in the short term, she would expect to see more of the same.

“We’ve seen examples of companies beginning to roll out programs to provide some travel support, update their paid sick leave programs and other wraparound benefits and existing policies and practices that can be adapted to meet the moment,” she said.

Stark said that corporate leaders she has spoken with are also beginning to consider how to address public policy issues such as this one in the future.

Against public opinion

The anti-abortion movement in the United States is large and well-organized. However, the elements of the movement that seek total or near-total bans of the practice represent a minority of the population.

Survey data have demonstrated again and again that a broad majority of the American public does not want Roe v. Wade overturned. Belief that access to abortion ought to be maintained is even more popular among younger workers than it is across the population in general.

This presents potential problems for businesses operating in states likely to sharply restrict access to abortion.

“Eight in 10 college-educated knowledge workers — top talent — view access to abortion and reproductive health care as part of gender equity in the workplace, no more, no less,” Stark said. “Employers that want to attract top talent into states that have social policies that don’t align with their values will have to do more to make up for this.”

In some cases, that might well involve locating operations elsewhere.

Said Taylor, of Ethical Systems: “If I had expansion plans in states that are going to be enacting these laws, I’m going to be revisiting them now because of the expense and the hassle, and because of the noise that a lot of these lawmakers are making about ‘If you put in place protections, or if you try and do something to help women, we’re going to retaliate against you.'”

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