The Supreme Court’s decision to end the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion has made 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, 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 said they would cover employee travel costs, as well as others. On Friday, the outdoor clothing maker posted on its website that it would provide training and bail for people who peacefully protest for reproductive justice and time off to vote.
McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, General GM, Tyson and Marriott did not respond when The Associated Press contacted them on Friday. Arkansas-based Walmart, the nation’s largest employer with a good portion of its stores in states that will immediately implement abortion bans following the Supreme Court ruling, kept quiet.
The Business Roundtable, which represents some of the nation’s most powerful companies, doesn’t 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. The states with restrictive abortion laws could face challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.
If Pennsylvania makes abortion illegal, Luis von Ahn, the CEO of the language app, will have to grow his offices elsewhere.
The technology boom in places like Austin, Texas, which was already becoming more flexible to remote work because of the tight labor market, is at risk because of the ruling and the patchwork of abortion bans.
Do you go to New York, Seattle or the Bay Area instead of staying in Austin? I think it is a real possibility. When you look at a young, progressive workforce, which is what technology workers tend to be, it becomes more challenging.
According to Emily M. Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly a quarter of organizations agree that offering a health savings account to cover travel for reproductive care in another state will enhance their ability to compete for talent.
Employers should be aware of the legal risks involved in how these policies interact with state laws, she said.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act applies to companies that use third-party administrator to process claims on their behalf. Smaller businesses that have to buy their own health insurance for their employees are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in designing benefits.
Companies that cover travel expenses could be targets for anti-abortion lawmakers. In March, a Texas State Representative sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.
It would be unconstitutional for a state to bar people from going to another state to get an abortion, according to the opinion released Friday by Justice Kavanaugh.
In my opinion, the answer is not based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.
Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, believes that a corporation’s right to fund an illegal act in another state is questionable.
She said that the question was not an interstate commerce one. You would need the right person to take on your case.
Tech companies are facing tough questions about what they will do if some of their customers in the U.S. are prosecuted for having an abortion. Digital data is handed over by services like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Privacy advocates are concerned that abortion laws may be tapping into period apps, phone location data, and other 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 data 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 are increasingly reliant on women to fill jobs and as they face a nationwide labor shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now make up 50% of the US workforce, up dramatically from 37.5% in 1970 before the Supreme Court legalized abortion.
Low-income workers are more likely to be in jobs with fewer protections and that is also why they are more likely to be denied abortion access.
Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million janitors, health care workers and teachers, said that more women will be forced to choose between paying rent or traveling long distances to receive safe abortion care as a result of this ruling. Working women are already struggling in poverty-wage jobs without paid leave and many are also shouldering the responsibilities of their families, typically unpaid.
The president of the Association of Flight Attendants told The Associated Press the ruling was devastating.
She said that it cuts to the core of the work the union has done. This decision isn’t about whether someone supports abortion. It is the distraction. It’s about whether or not we respect the rights of women to determine their own future.
According to Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a handful of companies are taking a stand on the court’s ruling because their customers and employees are expecting them to speak out.
He said that they are expecting corporate leaders to also be leaders in political sphere. A lot of employees want to work in companies that pay them well and have their values aligned with theirs.
He said that the majority of executives will avoid the topic and focus on things like supply chain disruptions or inflation.
That comes with risks as well.
Schweitzer said they can either support travel for out-of-state care or risk lawsuits and the ire of local politicians.
AP business writers in Providence, Rhode Island, Detroit, San Francisco, Dallas and New York contributed to the story.
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