Here’s A Silver Lining In The Anti-Choice Dark Cloud – But Will That Silver Lining Survive?

Back in mid-April I started drafting a blog post triggered by a story that was short, but full of what I considered to be very good news.

It had to do with some employers recognizing the potential impact of the then-expected Supreme Court overturn of Roe vs. Wade, and what those employers were doing in terms of helping their employees with regards to freedom of choice and other abortion-related issues.

I did a lot of research and a lot of writing, and what I was learning was admirable, upbeat and encouraging.

I put the post aside for awhile, distracted by other things.

The Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade was leaked to the public on the evening of Monday, May 2. As currently written, it gives states the power to severely limit – and outright ban – a woman’s right to choose.

I was, and still am, angry, disgusted and discouraged.

Then on May 5, this story caught my attention – for all the wrong reasons:

Let’s go back where my post was, back in mid-April:

This Was Then

It was only a three-inch article in my newspaper, but it caught my eye. And it heartened me.

That short article led me to this April 13 story:

“Yelp, the app for crowd-sourced business reviews, says it will pay for employees’ travel costs if they need to go out of state to receive an abortion. 

“Yelp’s health insurance already covered abortion care, but next month the company will also provide travel benefits for U.S. employees and their dependents who need to travel out of state to access these services.”

I had no idea that companies were considering this, much less actually doing it.

Hurrah!

Hallelujah!

And how hated by some:

Further research told me that Yelp is not alone.  Here are the companies I’ve found so far that are responding in some way to the massive effort by Republicans to deprive women of their right to choose:

CitiGroup:

“‘In response to changes in reproductive health care laws in certain states in the U.S., beginning in 2022 we provide travel benefits to facilitate access to adequate resources,’ the bank said in a filing on Tuesday.

“About 8,500 of Citigroup’s 65,000 U.S. employees are in Texas.”

And sure enough, on April 12 we heard from Republicans, according to a different New York Times article:

“A Texas legislator warned Citigroup that he would introduce a bill to prevent the bank from underwriting municipal bonds in the state unless it rescinded its expense policy.”

Here’s hoping CitiGroup hangs tough.

The New York Times story is dated March 17, and I don’t know how I missed something of such importance to me.

I guess the important thing is that I learned, and learned more:

Apple:

“On Friday, CEO Tim Cook spoke about the iPhone maker’s plans to support Texas employees affected by the state’s new abortion law, known as the ‘heartbeat’ bill.

“During an all-staff meeting broadcast to 160,000 Apple employees worldwide, Cook noted that Apple’s medical insurance would kick in to help cover the costs incurred by workers who need to travel because of Texas’ abortion access restrictions.”

A March 24, 2022 article in the San Jose Mercury News noted that

“Apple’s abortion travel benefits cover retail workers…”

Where that leaves Apple’s corporate employees is a question I’ve been unable to resolve.

Levi’s:

This article noted that the Levi’s benefit:

“…applies to any employee who participates in their healthcare plans.  A spokesperson for Levi’s said, ‘part-time hourly workers can seek reimbursement for travel costs incurred under the same circumstances.’”

Hewlett-Packard:

“Two companies with employees in Idaho will cover travel expenses for workers who seek abortions after one of the most restrictive laws in the nation takes effect April 22.

“Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Citigroup Inc. say they already provide reimbursement for workers needing medical procedures that aren’t available locally.  That benefit will ‘extend to abortions when the new Idaho law takes effect.’

“‘The benefit is not specific to abortion or a response to any state law,’ Adam Bauer, spokesperson for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which has 120 employees in Idaho, said by email.  ‘Our insurance plan has historically covered out-of-state medical care, and will reimburse lodging expenses depending on distance traveled.’”

I think Mr. Bauer is equivocating here, wanting to steer clear of the abortion association.

Which is fine, and long as Levi’s pays.

QuestionPro:

QuestionPro is a survey software company that Vivek Bhaskaran founded in Seattle in 2005.  He moved the company to California, and then to Austin in January 2020.

Bhaskaran said his company has hosted town hall discussions about the new [abortion] law and is prepared to “cover the costs” for employees in need of abortions as those situations arise.

“‘Every tech company knows attracting and retaining talent is becoming extremely challenging, extremely difficult – and this is not helping,’ Bhaskaran said.

“‘From our perspective, clearly this is not necessarily very conducive to our business, conducive to hiring.  On a personal level, as well as a company level, actually, we are obviously against it.’”

Ah – the difficulties of “attracting and retaining talent.”  More about that below.

Offering abortion-related travel benefits isn’t limited to huge companies – a six-year-old tech company was mentioned in this article:

“Laura Spiekerman, co-founder of New York-based startup Alloy, told Bloomberg News that reimbursing workers for abortion-related travel is the ‘low bar’ of what companies should do.  ‘I’m surprised and disappointed more companies aren’t doing it,’ she said.

“The company – which has a handful of employees in states with restrictive abortion laws like Florida, Arizona and Mississippi – in January said that it would pay up to $1,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners needing to travel out of state for abortions.  Alloy also said it would cover 50% of legal costs up to $5,000 if any employee or their partner had to deal with legal issues due to anti-abortion laws.”

These two companies are addressing the issue in a different way from those described above:

Match and Bumble:

“Companies behind the U.S.’s largest dating apps are reacting to Texas’ restrictive abortion law that was allowed to go into effect this week by the Supreme Court.

“Bumble, based in Austin, said it was creating a relief fund supporting people seeking abortions in the state.

“Match Group CEO Shar Dubey also announced in a memo to employees that she would personally create a fund to support Texas-based workers and dependents who needed to seek care outside of the state, a company spokesperson confirmed to CNBC.”

Here’s another approach:

Lyft and Uber:

“Lyft and Uber said Friday they would cover legal fees for drivers on their respective platforms who are sued under Texas’ restrictive abortion law that went into effect this week.

“Patients may not be sued, but people aiding the procedure, including doctors, people paying for the procedure and clinic workers are at risk.  That includes rideshare drivers who can be punished for transporting women to clinics to receive abortions, where the drivers could be fined $10,000.”

While these companies are offering help with relocation:

Bospar and Salesforce:

“One such employer is Chris Boehlke, principal at Bospar, a San Francisco-based public relations firm.  She says she saw too many professional women who, upon giving birth, had to decide between being a hands-on PR professional or a hands-on mother, and feels strongly that women should have the option of choice.

“‘We’re appalled by what has happened in Texas,’ says Boehlke.  ‘It’s a giant step backward for everyone.’  So, the company recently announced it would cover the relocation expenses for any employee wishing to move from the state.  Six of its employees – or roughly 10 percent of the company’s staff – currently live in Texas, and the company is looking to increase its workforce by 20 to 30 percent in the coming months.”

“Salesforce told thousands of employees in a Slack message on Friday that if they and their families are concerned about the ability to access reproductive care in the wake of Texas’ aggressive anti-abortion law, the company will help them relocate.

“‘…if you have concerns about access to reproductive healthcare in your state, Salesforce will help relocate you and members of your immediate family.’”

The above Inc. article also noted this change:

“Solugen, a chemicals company in Houston, said it plans to open a new research and development facility outside of the state because its social policies are making it difficult to recruit employees.

“‘We’ve come to the conclusion after talking to lots of candidates that they want to join Solugen but they don’t feel comfortable coming to Texas, so for us it’s become a no-brainer to have R&D facilities elsewhere,’ CEO Gaurab Chakrabarti told Axios.”

I’m not naïve – I know these and other companies, whatever their size, aren’t taking these steps solely out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.

Yes, we hear company leaders saying things like,

“We’ve long been a strong advocate for equality in the workplace, and believe that gender equality cannot be achieved if women’s healthcare rights are restricted.”

And…

“The ability to control your reproductive health, and whether or when you want to extend your family, is absolutely fundamental to being able to be successful in the workplace.

And…

“I’m not speaking about this as the CEO of a company.  I’m speaking about this personally, as a mother and a woman who has fervently cared about women’s rights, including the very fundamental right of choice over her body.”

I’m glad company leaders are saying this, and I hope more company leaders will.

But for all this corporate goodness-of-heart, there’s an equal or bigger reason for these abortion-related benefits.

This graph of the U.S. unemployment rate from TradingEconomics.com and the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics says it all:

Jobless claims are at their lowest since September of 1969, more than 50 years ago.

This is an employee’s market, and employers are having trouble finding, and then keeping, qualified staff.

And those qualified people are looking for more than a salary and paid time off.

This Is Now

That’s as far as I got, back in mid-April, when I was celebrating the employers who said they would support their employees in various abortion-related ways.

And I can add another employer to that list, according to this article:

“Online retail giant Amazon.com took a firm stance Monday pushing against a prevailing Republican-led push to restrict access to abortion, telling its staff that it would pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses for non-life-threatening medical treatments that include abortion.

“In a message sent to employees, obtained by Reuters, Amazon told its employees that the new work benefit would apply to an employee if an operation could not be done within 100 miles of their home and virtual care is not accessible.  That will be put in place for all corporate and warehouse employees or covered dependents enrolled in the company’s Premera or Aetna health plans, according to the memo.”

Ironically, Amazon’s announcement was made on May 2, just hours before Politico announced the Supreme Court’s leaked Roe vs. Wade draft decision.

Then on May 6, Tesla entered the arena:

“Tesla is covering travel costs for employees seeking out-of-state abortions, joining the ranks of major companies who’ve introduced a similar policy to benefit workers affected by new restrictions in the past few months.

“The company said in its 2021 Impact Report released Friday that it expanded its Safety Net program and health insurance offerings last year to include ‘travel and lodging support for those who may need to seek healthcare services that are unavailable in their home state.’”

What’s The Future?

Going back to the May 3 Fortune article at the beginning of this post, it cited a number of companies that I’d included in this post – CitiGroup, Yelp and others.

And some of those companies talked mostly about benefits for people directly affected by Texas’ anti-choice law.

What will they say when this disaster spreads far beyond Texas, to those 26 states “certain or likely to ban abortion”?

Those companies were committed back when the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade was a possibility…

But only a possibility.

Now it’s a reality.

Will these companies stay strong?

Will others join them?

“Dozens of companies, including Walmart, American Airlines and Disney, have yet to issue statements or respond to CNBC requests for comment.  The Business Roundtable, a trade group that’s made up of top CEOs, said in a statement that it “does not have a position on this issue.”  Microsoft, JP Morgan and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce all declined to comment.”

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