Abortion ruling thrusts some companies into divisive arena

The Supreme Court’s decision to end the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion has catapulted businesses of all types into the most divisive corner of politics.

Some companies that stayed silent last month — when a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico—spoke up for the first time Friday, including The Walt Disney Company, which said it will reimburse employees who must travel out of state to get an abortion.

Facebook parent Meta, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs also said they would cover employee travel costs while others like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated previous announcements taking similar action. Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia went so far as to post on LinkedIn Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

But of the dozens of big businesses that The Associated Press reached out to Friday, many like McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Tyson and Marriott did not respond. Arkansas-based Walmart—the nation’s largest employer with a good portion of its stores in states that will immediately trigger abortion bans following the Friday’s Supreme Court ruling—also kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable, an organization that represents some of the nation’s most powerful companies, said it “does not have a position on the merits of the case.”

A lot is at stake for companies, many of which have publicly pledged to promote women’s equality and advancement in the workplace. For those in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face big challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.

Luis von Ahn, the CEO of the language app Duolingo, sent a tweet Friday aimed at lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered: “If PA makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we’ll have to grow our offices elsewhere.”

The ruling and the coming patchwork of abortion bans also threatens the technology boom in places like Austin, Texas, as companies like Dell—which was already becoming more flexible to remote work because of the tight labor market—struggle to recruit newly minted tech graduates to their corporate hubs, said Steven Pedigo, a professor who studies economic development at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Rather than stay in Austin, do you go to New York or Seattle or the Bay Area? I think that’s a real possibility,” Pedigo said. “It becomes much more challenging, particularly when you’re looking at a young, progressive workforce, which is what technology workers tend to be.”

Emily M. Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, said that nearly a quarter of organizations in a recent poll agreed that offering a health savings account to cover travel for reproductive care in another state will enhance their ability to compete for talent. But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of “the legal risks involved.”

Dickens noted that companies that use third-party administrator to process claims on their behalf—typically big employers—are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act rather than state law. But companies that have to buy their own health insurance for their employees—typically small businesses—are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in designing benefits.

Offering to cover travel expenses could also make companies a target for anti-abortion lawmakers. In March, Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain, a Republican, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

In his concurring opinion released Friday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would be unconstitutional for a state to bar residents from traveling to another state to get an abortion.

“In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Kavanaugh wrote.

But a corporation’s right to fund what would be an illegal act in another state is still questionable, argues Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

“That’s not an interstate commerce question, per se,” she said. “So you’d need the right plaintiff.”

Meanwhile, tech companies are facing tough questions about what they’ll do if some of their millions of customers in the U.S. are prosecuted for having an abortion. Services like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft routinely hand over digital data sought by law enforcement agencies pursuing criminal investigations. That’s raised concerns from privacy advocates about enforcers of abortion laws tapping into period apps, phone location data and other sensitive online health information.

A letter Friday from four Democrats in Congress called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the phone-tracking practices of Google and Apple, warning that location identifiers used for advertising could fall into the hands of prosecutors or bounty hunters looking “to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion.”

The Supreme Court ruling comes at a time when companies have become increasingly reliant on women to fill jobs, and especially as they face a nationwide labor shortage. Women now account for nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, up dramatically from 37.5% in 1970—three years before the Supreme Court ruled abortions to be legal in Roe vs. Wade—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Denied access to abortion could hit low-income workers the hardest because they’re typically in jobs with fewer protections and that are also demanding, from loading groceries onto store shelves to working as a health aide.

“As a direct result of this ruling, more women will be forced to choose between paying their rent or traveling long distances to receive safe abortion care,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million janitors, health care workers and teachers in the U.S. “Working women are already struggling in poverty-wage jobs without paid leave and many are also shouldering the caregiving responsibilities for their families, typically unpaid.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants told The Associated Press that the ruling was “devastating.”

“It cuts to the core of all the work that our union has done for 75 years,” she said. “This decision is not about whether or not someone supports abortion. That’s the distraction … This is about whether or not we respect the rights of women to determine their own future.”

Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said the handful of companies are taking a stand on the court’s ruling because their customers and employees are expecting them to speak out.

“We’re in this moment in time where we’re expecting corporate leaders to also be leaders in the political sphere,” he said. “A lot of employees expect to work in companies that not only pay them well, but whose values are aligned with theirs.”

But the vast majority of executives will likely avoid the thorny topic and focus on things like inflation or supply chain disruptions, he said.

That, too, comes with risks.

“They can either support travel for out-of-state care and risk lawsuits and the ire of local politicians, or they can not include this coverage and risk the ire of employees,” Schweitzer said.

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17 thoughts on “Abortion ruling thrusts some companies into divisive arena

  1. It doesn’t “thrust” companies into anything. It does, however, give them another avenue to virtue signal their Democrat politics, if they so choose. Bail money? Seriously?

    1. “Virtue signaling” would be a symbolic gesture that has no real tangible impacts. This is not that.

    2. Good point. Virtue signaling is changing the corporate logo to the flavor of the month. Bail money and plane tickets go far beyond that.
      Private organizations are compelled to do neither

    3. Private companies are allowed to do whatever they want as long as they do what you want, huh, Chuck?

      If you don’t like what they do, boycott them and spend your money with another company. Just like companies can look around at the laws in play in the states they’re housed in and decide to stay or decide to leave.

      That’s how the free market works… and it’s how free speech for companies works in a post-Citizens United world.

  2. Quote: “As a direct result of this ruling, more women will be forced to choose between paying their rent or traveling long distances to receive safe abortion care,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union.

    Hmmm, why not recast that more succinctly, “…more women will be forced to choose between paying their rent or traveling long distances to kill their babies…”

    Decisions decisions…

    1. Speaking of decisions, Bob, you ready to pay for all these babies?

      And, oh yeah, you’re going to pay. Churches aren’t going to be able to help. Their attendance is dwindling while the needs are rising. Besides, throwing some diapers at the problem is an insult.

      More women who need prenatal care and the costs associated with birth on the government dime. More government assistance. More free school lunches. And, guess what, the cycle generally repeats.

      You know that’s what you’re signing up for, right Bob? More people who need government assistance?

    2. Joe B uses the specious argument “you ready to pay for all these babies?”

      By Joe’s logic, if lack of funds for care is a justification for abortion, you could apply it to senior citizens to justify euthanasia as social security teeters on insolvency . Really want to go there???

    3. I’m not the one who is pushing for social polices that will lead to more people on welfare. The lack of funds for care is a reason people get abortions. It’s unfortunately cheaper to get an abortion than to have and care for a baby.

      Strikes me that we could have had a lot fewer abortions if we’d have spent money earlier. The statements out of Huston and Bray – “we’ll couple any action with expanding resources and services to support pregnant mothers, and care for their babies before and after birth” makes my point for me, and is so much garbage. Why not do that 20 years ago if you actually cared about life, fellas, as opposed to any number of tax cuts? Maybe actually care about life as opposed to just throwing some bucks around to fool some voters?

      And, funny you mention senior citizens since Indiana allows county hospitals to divert Medicare funds from caring for the old to building shiny new hospitals while the elderly rot to death in bad facilities. Strong pro-life attitude here in Indiana, indeed.

    4. Joe B – Under your scenario why not advocate for as much abortion as
      humanly possible!?!? That would solve our problems right??

      Churches are dwindling and not helping as much because the federal
      government is taking over more and more of the family financial
      obligations that the church used to step in to help provide.
      .
      The government is destroying traditional family formation by taking the father
      out of the house pholds. People are now looking to government to subsidize
      them.

      The church didn’t treat poor people that needed help like crack dealers trying to
      get people hooked. The church offered community fellowship along with
      spiritual up lifting that enabled people to be strong and better their conditions.

      Government ( Dems in particular) are like crack dealers trying to get people
      hooked on as many goverprograms as possible to keep them dependent.
      The churches don’t do that.

    5. You’re missing my sarcasm.

      I’d rather pay the money and have less abortions. I wish we’d have invested in making contraception more available, better sex education, better funding of prenatal care, better access to affordable, decent daycare … 35 years ago. That, to me, is being truly pro-life.

      I’d rather we have more people who can get an IUD so they don’t have an unintended pregnancy, in a situation in which the father doesn’t want to be a dad and is going to stiff us all on child support. Less unintended pregnancies will lead to less abortions. Reduce the demand for people getting an abortion, not the supply of abortion clinics.

      There’s a study in Colorado which proved this out with IUD’s. Warren Buffett’s foundation paid for it. Republicans shut down more funding because they preferred abstinence be taught instead.

      But I’m the only one. Everyone else (seemingly) wants to ban abortion, but also cut social spending. We can’t have it both ways. We are signing up to spend more, not less, which even Huston and Bray acknowledge.

      As to churches diminishing, I think there are many factors and I’d put the government well down the list of reasons. Heck, the pro-life hypocrisy I point out … I’d put higher on the list.

      https://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/09/03/437268213/colorados-long-lasting-birth-control-program-for-teens-may-not-last-long

    6. The churches are their own downfall. Their endless lies and hypocrisy have encouraged people to leave in droves. The government didn’t do that, bad church leadership did that. The call is coming from inside the house.

  3. “For those in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face big challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.” In their zeal to put out a biased article, did the AP ever contemplate that some college-educated workers are not obsessed with killing their offspring?

    1. Some college educated workers also don’t like the idea that their daughter, if raped, should be forced to carry that child to birth by the government based on a religion’s idea of when life begins.

      Many of the same people who spent the past few months telling me that their sincerely held religious beliefs meant they couldn’t wear a mask or get a COVID shot, consequences to others be damned, are now telling me that, regardless of what the women may believes, those beliefs are irrelevant and they should be forced to carry the child to term. That the benefit to society outweighs the imposition against the individual … the exact argument rejected not that long ago.

      Can’t have it both ways.

    2. Dominic M – The legacy national news media are one big echo chamber
      advocating on behalf of the Dems. Don’t expect objective reporting.

      The legacy national news media went from liberal bias to leftwing activism.

      What happened to legal, rare, and safe???
      The pro abortion side over played their hand by demanding NO restrictions.

    3. Yes, because the anti abortion movement has stayed rational. They haven’t gotten more extreme with taking out provisions for rape and incest … and moving to banning any and all abortions from the moment of conception …. oh wait.

      They, like the pro abortion folks, are about to find out how much support there are for extreme abortion bans. The previous status quo was a decent compromise for most Americans.

  4. According to Pew, for the entire time since 1975:

    Americans who believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances has ranged between 48% and 61%
    Americans who believe abortion should be legal under all circumstances – 21% to 35%
    Americans who believe abortion should be legal under no circumstances – 13% to 22%

    Pretty clear where the plurality lies. Of course there will be outliers who demand no restrictions, just as there are outliers who demand no access whatsoever. Both are radical positions and those numbers are shown above. The objective of self-governance should be to deliver policies that are aligned with the liberties and objectives of the plurality – it’s really not harder than that.

    BTW, if you have a penis, better to ask your wife, girlfriend or daughter what your opinion on abortion should be.

  5. If the courts and politicians hadn’t made such an issue of legalizing KILLING of babies….

    Companies wouldn’t be faced with this issue in the first place!

    Because companies only care about making money. So whatever the political minority issues is. Which is whoever has enough money to make an impact. That’s what the issue will be right, wrong, or make any sense.

    Oh, I don’t understand why we even have them. They are only after their own agenda. Which to do what ever the public wants or the bolters their ego.

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