Access to comprehensive reproductive health care is central to gender equity and women’s full participation in the workplace. For businesses, restrictions on access to reproductive health care, including abortion, are not only at odds with stated corporate values, such as equity and inclusion, but they also affect the ability of companies to deliver on their value propositions.
The media coverage and subsequent corporate response to the introduction of restrictive bills and laws since 2019 demonstrates a new narrative that access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is a workforce and economic issue that companies need to acknowledge and address. Don’t Ban Equality with its 390+ signers underscores this. Surveys were shared with all of the signers; the overwhelming response from brands, workers, consumers, and investors was uniformly positive with no notable blowback. Many other companies spoke out and/or acknowledged the impact of the abortion bounty hunter (S.B. 8) law in Texas for instance, including Salesforce, Lyft, Uber, Bumble, HP, MotoRefi, Apple, Yelp, Reddit and Match. And more recently companies including Citi, Amazon and Levi Strauss & Company have adapted their workforce policies anticipating increased barriers to care.
More than 100 articles in the business-facing media have discussed the impact of and response to S.B. 8 and laws like it on the private sector. Fortune covered how companies are having to rethink state operations and talent impact, including out-of-state abortion care policies, in the months ahead. And companies whose political giving has enabled reproductive health restrictions to promulgate unchecked are also seeing a new level of scrutiny from stakeholders, including consumers and investors. With Roe hanging in the balance, many are turning to the corporate sector as the last firewall for abortion rights.
Why does the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case at the U.S. Supreme Court matter?
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is among the highest-profile decisions of the 2021-22 term because the state of Mississippi had specifically asked the court to overrule its landmark decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in upholding a 15-week ban.
If the court strikes Roe down, 24 states have laws on the books that could outright ban or severely limit access to abortion for tens of millions of women—with dozens more pieces of legislation underway—and only 14 states have passed laws that would explicitly protect the right to abortion. Among the many amici briefs submitted in the case was a landmark brief filed by over 150 economists and more than 500 athletes. The economic losses from existing abortion restrictions, including labor force impact and earnings, already cost state economies across the nation an estimated $105 billion annually. The full methodology is here.
A recent study confirms that for women who were denied an abortion, there was “an increase in poverty; a decrease in employment that lasts for years; a scaling back of aspirational plans; and years spent trying to raise a child without enough money to pay for food, housing, and transportation instead of pursuing other life goals.”
Recent research by Morning Consult also underscores by a 2:1 margin, employed adults, across all demographics, would prefer to live in a state where abortion is legal and accessible.
Why has there been an increase in abortion restrictions in the states?
Now, 6+ months after Texas’ abortion bounty hunter law took effect, antiabortion legislators across the country are newly energized, and actively working to pass bills that could reshape the abortion landscape in the United States by the end of the summer.
In states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Florida, Arizona, Idaho, and Wyoming, efforts to dismantle access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion, are in full effect, as a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, is pending, which could overturn or dismantle Roe v. Wade. If Roe were overturned, abortion would likely become illegal in 24 states, impacting 41% of women across the country. Nationally, the average distance a patient would need to travel to reach a provider would be 279 miles, up from 35 miles. Women of color as well as people in the South and Midwest will be disproportionately harmed.
Why should a company consider speaking out on reproductive health and access to abortion?
Increasingly, companies are developing an understanding that the workforce values abortion access and sees the issue as part of gender equity in the workplace. Companies that provide strong support for the constellation of needs facing workers that can become pregnant (including contraception + abortion coverage, maternal health care, parental leave, and more) are better positioned to attract and retain employees, build a strong pipeline of talent, and deliver on diversity and inclusion goals. These strengths can contribute to stronger bottom-line performance while helping companies prepare for increased scrutiny from stakeholders.
Notably, women of color as well as people in the South and Midwest are already disproportionately harmed by compounded economic and logistical barriers to accessing abortion care. And as access to abortion is diminished in states like Texas and elsewhere, it also has a direct impact on the availability of LGBTQ inclusive healthcare. The LGBTQ community is speaking out against bills like S.B. 8 as they are statistically more likely to seek out reproductive health services. And this law has traumatic consequences for trans and nonbinary people who are forced to carry out a pregnancy. Also as landmark court cases, such as marriage equality, rely heavily on the right to access contraception and reproductive health for precedent, diminished protections to reproductive health access are a harbinger of future restrictions on other issues companies care about.
It will be crucial for companies to use their voice and influence to address both restrictive social policies and efforts to limit voting so that avenues for countering extreme social policies through normal democratic channels are protected. Morning Consult data indicate that 67% of adults agree with companies speaking out against efforts to limit access to voting for eligible voters.
This issue is perceived as divisive, why should companies engage on abortion?
Recent polling underscores broad support for reproductive health, including abortion:
- A Post-ABC poll finds broad agreement that women and their doctors should make decisions about abortion rather than being regulated by law. Overall, 75 percent say such decisions should be left to the woman and her doctor, including 95 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Republicans.
- 67% of the general public agrees with Roe. Quinnipiac notes that is “one of the highest levels of support” for abortion since the pollster began asking the question in 2004.
Top talent wants reproductive health care, including abortion access, included in corporate gender equity efforts.
- Roughly 7 in 10 respondents (69%) say access to reproductive health care, including abortion, should be part of the issues companies address when it comes to gender issues in the workplace, according to a recent poll by PerryUndem.
- Also in the poll by PerryUndem 68% of top talent say it’s important to them that their company take a stand on social issues, while 51% say they’d consider leaving their current job for an employer with a stronger viewpoint on social issues. Respondents were three times more likely to say they’d be disappointed if their company made a public statement but did not take action on issues related to gender equity and empowerment.
- However, Americans are not knowledgeable about the state of abortion rights and access. The Supreme Court case has not broken through to most voters (only 19% have heard “a lot” about it). Most do not know the laws on abortion in their state. Despite elected officials in every state proposing restrictions on abortion in the past year; just 22% of those surveyed say they’ve heard about this in their own state.
The majority of consumers say Reproductive Health Care is extremely/very important
77% of consumers consider reproductive health care (i.e., access to contraception and abortion) an important issue; 91% of Gen Z and 86% of Millennials say it is important. 7 in 10 consumers believe it is important for brands to take a stand on issues. And of those who do, 86% want brands to take a stand on reproductive health (RH). This puts RH in line with the desire for action on other social issues, such as gender equity (92%), racial justice (94%), and voting rights (92%).
More than half of Gen Z (56%) and Millennials (55%) would be more likely to buy from a brand that publicly supported RH. It’s also the case that 41% of all consumers would choose the brand that publicly supported RH over a cheaper alternative and 38% would choose the brand over their very favorite brand. Importantly, this positive reaction overwhelms the potential negative: only 8% would be less likely to buy from a brand taking this type of stance. Even among Conservatives, the “less likely” share is only 14%.
How can companies/employers respond leading up to and upon a Supreme Court decision?
(1) Mitigate the harm of restrictions by ensuring company benefits support the full spectrum of workers and their reproductive health care needs, centering those who will face the greatest barriers to accessing care. In line with this, companies can:
- Conduct a self-audit to identify and redress obstacles faced by workers who need to obtain abortion and other reproductive health care, including plan limitations, limitations in services offered by network providers, and the distance of providers who offer comprehensive care.
- Customize coverage if self-insured, without respect to state mandates or abortion restrictions. Companies that currently extend health insurance covering abortion care should affirm their intention to continue doing so. Those that do not offer this coverage, but have the ability to do so by virtue of being self-funded, should begin to offer it.
- Subsidize travel costs for workers who need to go out of state to obtain abortion care along with providing accessible paid sick leave
(2) Understand and engage on reproductive health public policy at the state and federal level.
- Corporations should communicate to lawmakers that public policies that limit access to reproductive health care threaten the health and wellbeing of their workers, negatively impact the talent pool, make it more difficult to recruit workers from out of state, and alienate consumers
(3) Align political giving with workforce, equity, and ESG commitments.
- Companies should discontinue political giving to elected officials at all levels who work to undermine access to reproductive healthcare, as well as political committees, and review criteria used in making these allocations in the 2022 cycle.
Who is most impacted by state-level abortion restrictions and Supreme Court decisions?
All pregnant people and their families, but especially Black women and Latinas due to structural economic barriers leading to lower economic well-being, are disproportionately affected by abortion restrictions. Economists provide clear evidence that overturning Roe would prevent large numbers of women experiencing unintended pregnancies—many of whom are low-income and financially vulnerable mothers—from obtaining desired abortions.
Texas is already one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid and maternal health outcomes are poor. Additionally, Texas has already enacted 25 abortion restrictions in the past decade. During this time, the number of abortion providers in the state has been reduced by half. This new ban is effectively a near-total ban on abortion, due to logistical, legal and financial hurdles that patients would have to navigate in such a small window of time. As legal abortion care in Texas is drastically limited, the average one-way driving distance to an abortion provider has increased from 12 miles to 243 miles, 20 times the distance. Existing restrictions to abortion care as of 2020 in Texas already cost the state over $14 billion annually in economic losses. The NAACP also recently called on free agents in five major North American professional sports leagues not to sign contracts with Texas-based teams, citing restrictions to voting and abortion rights.
Companies will have a harder time recruiting top talent as increasingly mobile college-educated talent considers what restrictions signal about the culture of a state. For current and prospective employees and customers—working moms, sisters, cousins, and friends among others—their healthcare access will be harmed and their economic stability will be impaired. Companies as employers are having to navigate a confusing landscape of providing support to workers and balancing legal vulnerability and HR implications.
In Texas, large majorities of top talent:
- Support abortion access and consider the issue part of gender equity in the workplace
- Two-thirds say the Texas ban would discourage them from working in the state
- 64% say they would not apply for a job in a state that passed a ban like Texas
- About half say they would consider moving out-of-state if their lawmakers passed a similar ban
- Large majorities of top talent support abortion access and consider the issue part of gender equity in the workplace
- The economy and health care are the most pressing issues for top talent in Florida. Restricting or banning abortion falls to the bottom of a list of issues
- Nearly half of Florida women in the survey (45%) say they’d consider moving out of the state if their lawmakers passed a similar ban to Texas
- Abortion restrictions may mobilize top talent in Florida against anti-abortion elected officials
- 59% say they are more likely to vote against an elected official if he or she tries to restrict or ban abortion, including 67% of women
- Large majorities of top talent support abortion access and consider the issue part of gender equity in the workplace
- 55% of Ohioans, and 62% of Ohio women, say the Texas ban would discourage them from taking a job in Texas
- 53% of Ohioans, and 62% of Ohio women say they would not apply for a job in a state that passed a ban like Texas
- About 40% of Ohioans, including 45% of Ohio women, say they would consider moving out-of-state if their lawmakers passed a similar ban
How will people get the care they need?
In the pending SCOTUS case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state of Mississippi sought to make the case that women have progressed enough economically since the 1970s to make abortion unnecessary. Before Roe v. Wade, “there was little support for women who wanted a full family life and a successful career,” Mississippi’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch, said in a statement summarizing a brief filed to the court. Now, parental leave, flexible work setups, and other policies mean that “women have carved their own way to achieving a better balance for success in their professional and personal lives,” she wrote. The New York Times’ Dealbook considered this argument and concluded that while some progress has been made, the idea that the benefits Mississippi describes are available to most women is still a stretch.
Providers of comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, go further and liken providing services in states with draconian laws to providing care in a war zone. Patients go to extraordinary lengths to get the procedure—traveling hundreds of miles, sleeping in cars, figuring out childcare, choosing between food and healthcare. Patients are confused and worried already as providers navigate constant battles to keep doors open. Already providers fly in from out of state to deliver care where health care capacity is limited. Even flight delays cause appointment delays—yet patients are deeply appreciative for getting the care they need.
ABC News profiles Dr. Shelly Tien, one of 50 or so doctors who regularly travel to 20 states to perform abortions for patients who would otherwise not have access to the essential procedure. The WSJ talks to abortion providers in Illinois, which are preparing for a surge in patients from surrounding states with trigger laws that could spring into place after if Roe is overturned.
No patient should have to travel hours across a state or across state lines, in addition to other logistical burdens as a result of unnecessary, dangerous, and unconstitutional healthcare restrictions. If the Supreme Court were to overturn or diminish Roe v. Wade, the average American could have to travel 125-200 miles to reach an abortion provider, compared to the current average of 25 miles.
How does lack of abortion access impact people financially and economically?
Mississippi has made the case that women have progressed enough economically since the 1970s to make abortion unnecessary. Before Roe v. Wade, “there was little support for women who wanted a full family life and a successful career,” Mississippi’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch, said in a statement summarizing a brief filed to the court. Now, parental leave, flexible work setups, and other policies mean that “women have carved their own way to achieving a better balance for success in their professional and personal lives,” she wrote. The New York Times’ Dealbook considered this argument and concluded that while some progress has been made, the idea that the benefits Mississippi describes are available to most women is still a stretch.
Restricting, or outright eliminating, abortion access by overturning Roe v. Wade would diminish women’s personal and economic lives, as well as the lives of their families. Economists provide clear evidence that overturning Roe would prevent large numbers of women experiencing unintended pregnancies—many of whom are low-income and financially vulnerable mothers—from obtaining desired abortions. Restricting, or outright eliminating, that access by overturning Roe v. Wade would diminish women’s personal and economic lives, as well as the lives of their families.
Contact: For questions, updates, or specific corporate-facing needs, feel free to contact Susan McPherson at McPherson Strategies.