Companies say they will help employees access abortion. Are they serious?

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a slew of corporate America sent out a message to its employees: We’ll pay to help you get an abortion anywhere it’s still available.

From banking to technology to entertainment, executives have pledged to support access to the procedure, with some pledging up to $10,000 to cover employee travel for abortion care. But it wasn’t immediately clear how it would all work in practice.

Should a worker tell their employer that they need an abortion to get travel reimbursement funds? How would companies ensure worker privacy? What would they do to protect employees – and themselves – from potential legal attacks, such as those made possible by a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” abortion? Would part-time workers and contract workers be covered? And would corporations fight to restore the legal status of abortion where it has been lost?

So far, the companies making the promises don’t seem to have many answers.

“The worst thing you can do is promise your employees a benefit and have no plan to make sure you can actually deliver it,” said Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at Ultraviolet, a national gender justice advocacy organization. “Don’t wait for a law to be passed to find out what you are going to do. Begin to understand now.

Reproductive health experts and advocates have said that new internal travel reimbursement programs announced by many companies will require safeguards around employee privacy. Without the vouchers in place, some doubted the perk would be widely used – if at all.

“I don’t know if people would feel comfortable calling someone and saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to take advantage of this new abortion leave,'” said Jen L’Estrange, Founder of Red Clover, a human resources company. .

Airbnb, Reddit, Snap, Netflix, Yelp, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Rakuten, Starbucks and EBay are among the big companies that said they would offer a travel benefit as part of their healthcare plans.

L’Estrange said companies can do several things to make sure workers feel comfortable accessing reproductive care. One way would be the creation of what she called a “welfare policy” that would help workers access out-of-state health care in all forms, including but not limited to , abortion, and would include generous paid time off, including unscheduled sick leave to give workers time to travel and recuperate. Under the policy, L’Estrange said, companies could pay an allowance to workers at the start of the year, “whether they use it or not”.

“I would say take it away from the abortion issue,” L’Estrange said. “You want knee surgery and you want to do it out of state? Great, we’ll support you in that.

If companies are serious about providing care for out-of-state workers, several reproductive rights advocates have said, they will need to take action both inside and outside the office.

Then there’s the larger question of whether companies asserting their employees’ right to reproductive health care are prepared to treat politics as a cure, putting real money and force behind their promises. .

Many proponents of reproductive health care have called on corporations to use their powerful lobbying teams to fight to defeat anti-abortion bills in state legislatures and engage in other political pressure tactics.

“One thing that companies can and should do is try to fight back by saying we’re not going to have jobs in your state, we’re not going to have our conferences in your state,” said Cary Franklin, professor of law at UCLA and director of the faculty. from the Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy. “It’s not just states that have power over companies. Companies also have a leverage effect.

Supporters also said that companies’ political donations should be aligned with public statements of support for employee access to reproductive care.

Since 2020, corporate America has donated $195.4 million to anti-abortion lawmakers, according to Ultraviolet. In the South, where the top three Supreme Court abortion cases of the past decade have emerged, 79% of corporate political donations go to anti-abortion lawmakers, the group found.

“You can’t on the one hand fund these extremists and then apologize for your sins by paying for your parents to go out of state for treatment,” Spoo of Ultraviolet said. “Corporate American contributions to anti-abortion policy have led us to this moment. They are absolutely responsible for getting us out of this by taking funding away from politicians who are actively working to roll back our rights.

Political action such as supporting applicants who favor Medicaid expansion would have the potential benefit of improving access to health care for those who are not covered by their jobs – a group that includes many low-income workers. part-timers and contract workers at companies that have announced new benefits.

Providing reproductive care that includes abortion supports workers’ health and their careers, said UCLA law professor Franklin. “But 75% of the people in this country who have abortions are poor and low-income and don’t work for big corporations. They don’t have a job with Microsoft.

Companies paying for out-of-state reproductive care was “good,” but “that’s not the solution,” said Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Because so many women are left out of the equation, Appelbaum said, “the best solution [for corporations] is to contribute to a reproductive health fund.

The Times asked the companies if they had donated to these funds, but most did not respond. A Yelp spokesperson said in a statement that the Yelp Foundation has matched employee donations to organizations fighting anti-abortion legislation in Texas and elsewhere, as well as organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL. Pro Choice America, Lilith Fund, Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

At the same time, Yelp Inc. PAC has made political donations to anti-abortion Republicans, including US Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and John Boozman of Arkansas, Representatives Ken Buck of Colorado and Jerry Moran of Kansas and others, according to Open Secrets. .

Appelbaum thinks companies will have a harder time hiring women in states where abortion is illegal. Workers want to know they’ll get the health care they need in all sorts of scenarios — a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, for example, or an incomplete miscarriage that could lead to sepsis. It may not be clear until it is too late when the “mother’s life” exceptions to abortion bans apply. “Women will seek businesses in states where they don’t have to worry about it,” Appelbaum said.

Ultimately, laws banning basic reproductive health care will lead to a situation where “the economies of those states will really suffer,” Appelbaum said. “Educated women who have options will not stay in these states. There will be many people who will vote with their feet.

Starbucks is among the companies promising to help employees seeking abortions travel to states where they remain legal. But experts say employers need to do more than pay for travel to make reproductive care a meaningful benefit.

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