As abortion bans loom in the U.S., companies step up or stay quiet

·6 min read
Protesters gather at the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday during a rally organized by Planned Parenthood Michigan in response to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. (Daniel Shular/The Grand Rapids Press via The Associated Press - image credit)
Protesters gather at the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday during a rally organized by Planned Parenthood Michigan in response to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. (Daniel Shular/The Grand Rapids Press via The Associated Press - image credit)

According to a leaked draft opinion, a majority of the Supreme Court of the United States has voted to overturn its landmark 1973 abortion decision, Roe v. Wade — and some of the country's largest businesses are under pressure to respond.

Overturning Roe v. Wade would mean abortion rights fall under the jurisdiction of individual states, which could lead to abortion bans in roughly half of the United States. Thirteen states have already passed what are known as "trigger" bans which automatically ban abortion if the 49-year-old decision is overruled.

It is unclear if the draft represents the court's final word on the matter. A decision will be ruled in June or July. But the report has prompted scrutiny over corporate ties and donations to anti-abortion lawmakers.

Some companies with U.S. employees are introducing new measures to protect their workers, or reiterating past commitments to facilitate employee access to abortion. Others have stayed quiet.

In many cases, only employees who are eligible under an employer-provided healthcare plan will qualify for abortion-related benefits — leaving the most precarious workers more vulnerable to restricted access.

Low-income, minority women will bear the brunt of abortion bans

This week, Amazon announced that it would cover up to $4000 in travel costs for U.S. employees seeking non-life threatening care, including abortions, starting Jan. 1 of this year.

However, the reimbursement is only available to those who have employer-provided health insurance, according to a company statement obtained by Vice.

That leaves thousands of Amazon employees, many of whom work in low-income positions, including drivers and warehouse workers, ineligible for the travel reimbursement.

According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy group, abortion is concentrated among those living below the poverty line with many patients stating that they chose to have an abortion because they could not afford to have another child.

As a result, eliminating the option for safe and accessible abortion will have serious economic consequences for low-income women and their families.

WATCH | There is little support for Roe v. Wade overturn, expert says:

"We're now making their lives harder, because the reality is wealthier women will probably find ways to get a safe abortion somewhere," said Jennifer Roberts, the CEO of Women Corporate Directors Foundation.

"People who don't have the means, who are less privileged and need this more than ever, are not going to be able to get that help and they'll end up pursuing very dangerous forms of abortion."

(Beyond travel, the procedure itself is often not covered by insurance, costing nearly $600 (about $730 Cdn) for an abortion in the first trimester or by medication, according to a study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco.)

Anti-abortion legislation in the U.S. also has a profound impact on people of colour, according to statistics analyzed by the Associated Press.

In states like Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, where a trigger ban is in place, people of colour make up a disproportionate percentage of those receiving abortions compared to population rates.

Disney, Walmart stay quiet

Many companies have stayed reticent about their views, including those who have reportedly given political donations to anti-abortion lawmakers in the past, like AT&T, Exelon and Walmart.

There is also a risk of retaliation. Last month, Disney's private governing system in Florida was dissolved by Governor Ron DeSantis after the company pushed back on the education bill critics have called the "Don't Say Gay" law. The media conglomerate has not issued a statement on a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Ringo Chiu/Reuters
Ringo Chiu/Reuters

Neither has Walmart, which is one of the United States' largest private employers with over 1.6 million employees in the U.S. and 2.3 million globally, according to their website. Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, also a trigger-ban state.

Companies that have spoken out against the decision may be concerned about retaining employees who live in states where access to abortion is threatened, said Sarah Kaplan, a professor and director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"They risk losing their employees because many people are going to move from those states or not come to those states for jobs, because they refuse to live in a state where women's reproductive rights are not protected," Kaplan said.

"And so I think companies are trying to respond by offering these additional benefits."

Clothing company Levi's announced in a statement that, in addition to a pre-existing benefits plan that covers travel expenses for services not available in an employee's home state, they were working on providing similar assistance to part-time hourly workers not included in the benefits plan.

Talent agency UTA announced that it would cover travel expenses for women's reproductive health services not available in their state of residence.

"I think companies will have to speak out," Reynolds said. "It's a very controversial issue, clearly."

"We know that CEOs today are expected to weigh in on this issue and a far greater array of issues than they were in the past."

Companies offer travel benefits for employees

CBC News reached out to several companies who had previously reacted to anti-abortion legislation.

Citigroup, the investment banking firm, declined to comment. After the state of Texas signed a law banning abortion in May 2021, the company said in March 2022 that it would cover travel expenses incurred for employees seeking an abortion.

Yelp, the online review aggregation company, said in a statement that reproductive health care decisions are between women and their doctors. In April, the company said that insured employees would be eligible for a travel benefit related to reproductive healthcare access starting this month.

A spokesperson for the dating app Bumble said that "the health and safety of our team is our utmost priority and that includes covering access to abortion care." Match, the parent company of Tinder, and Bumble set up a relief fund last year for those affected by Texas's abortion ban.

Apple also has a travel benefit in place for employees seeking abortions, including retail workers.

Steven Senne/The Associated Press
Steven Senne/The Associated Press

Ride-sharing company Uber did not respond to a request for comment. It pledged in September 2021 to pay legal fees for drivers who were sued for transporting someone to an abortion clinic. The Texas legislation allows private citizens to sue an individual for helping someone obtain the procedure.

Its competitor, Lyft, pledged to pay legal fees for drivers as well; and that insured employees would receive a travel benefit. It also said that it would work with healthcare partners to cover travel costs for Texas and Oklahoma women seeking out-of-state abortions.

To be fully covered under the company's health insurance plan, a driver would have to average 25 or more hours per week.

By facilitating abortion access only for employees under pre-existing healthcare plans, thousands of workers will be left vulnerable to anti-abortion state laws.

In Amazon's case, the benefits won't cover part-time or temporary employees who are brought on for seasonal work, or those working in warehouses without company benefits, Kaplan said.

"That's why we're seeing all of these efforts at unionization, because those jobs are marginalized. And this may be another way that those jobs will continue to be marginalized," she added.

"And of course, who's doing those jobs? It's racialized minorities, and immigrants, people who have less access to a lot of resources in any case."

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