More and more employers are giving serious thought about how they can safeguard their workers’ ability to get an abortion following the May 2 leak of the draft ruling first reported by Politico.
Last year, a number of companies with employees in states already facing restrictive abortion laws had pledged to pay for their workers to travel out of state to get the procedure done. And just ahead of the leaked draft, Citigroup in March angered Republican lawmakers in Texas when it pledged to cover travel expenses for its staff.
Following Citigroup’s disclosure, Apple and Levi Strauss were among other large companies that stated their health plans would pay for employees to travel out of state if they face restrictive abortion laws where they live and work. Amazon, Yelp and Microsoft recently put out new policies to reimburse employees for abortion-related travel cost as well, Politico reports.
“I give credit to the business community that stepped up and said, ‘We’re not going to allow our workers to struggle with something that is fundamentally health care,’” said Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
The 6-3 conservative majority court is set to rule on a Mississippi case in late June or early July that many fear could spell the end of Roe v. Wade in many states. And despite pledges from some companies to financially support workers living in states where abortion may become outlawed or severely curtailed, pro-choice advocates worry that employers supporting reproductive rights may cave to pressure and abandon these efforts.
Corporations are “not an incredibly reliable and consistent support on any one issue,” says Noreen Farrell, civil rights attorney and executive director of Equal Rights Advocates. “It’s important to engage corporations where we can … but we can’t rely on corporations for our fundamental constitutional rights or our economic empowerment.”
Two days after the draft ruling leaked, Levi Strauss issued a statement noting that woman comprise nearly 60% of its global workforce of about 15,000 and that its employees over recent years have “expressed to leadership their growing alarm over the rollback of all forms of reproductive care.”
“As the pandemic has shown so clearly, public health issues are workplace issues,” the statement reads. “Business leaders are responsible for protecting the health and wellbeing of our employees, and that includes protecting reproductive rights and abortion access.”
The company also noted that there is a “process in place through which employees who are not in our benefits plan, including part-time hourly workers, can seek reimbursement for travel costs incurred under the same circumstances.”
In addition to the mental and emotional stress women employees will face should abortion be outlawed or severely limited, businesses are likely to see their financials hit hard. Abortion restrictions now lead to $105 billion in economic losses annually, a study by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research notes.
“We can expect additional impacts to the ability of business to attract, retain, and support their workforce in a labor market that is already quite challenging,” Laura Gitman, chief operating officer for BSR and Jen Stark, co-director, Center for Business and Social Justice, BSR, write for the publication. “We also anticipate increased expectations for companies to respond to employee and consumer demands to take a public stand on this topic.”
Employers in states with restrictive abortion policies may face a harder time recruiting talent at a time when they are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and when workers continue to have a hard time finding affordable childcare. “Taking away women’s ability to decide when they can have children will only exacerbate this situation,” Gitman and Stark write. “An investment in accessible reproductive healthcare allows women to fully engage and advance in the workplace.”
Gitman and Stark urge employers to push for abortion protection by actively engaging with lawmakers on the state and federal levels. It also is a good time to assess remote workplace policies.
“For businesses with operations in states with trigger laws or that have old laws on the books, employees who would otherwise be expected to work in the office can leverage remote work policies to be based in states where their healthcare access is protected,” they write. “However, for workers where remote work is not possible, additional support…(i.e. travel, paid sick leave) needs to be made accessible.”