Abortion ruling plunges 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 controversial corner of politics.

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

Some companies that remained silent last month – when a draft opinion from Judge Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico – spoke out for the first time on Friday, including The Walt Disney Company, which said it would refund employees who must travel out of state to obtain an Abortion.

Facebook parent company 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 action. similar. Outdoor apparel maker Patagonia went so far as to post on LinkedIn on Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those peacefully protesting for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

But of the dozens of big companies The Associated Press contacted on 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 chunk of its stores in states that will immediately trigger abortion bans after Friday’s Supreme Court ruling — also remained silent.

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

Much is at stake for companies, many of which have publicly committed to promoting equality and the advancement of women in the workplace. For those living in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face great challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.

Luis von Ahn, CEO of language app Duolingo, tweeted on Friday aimed at lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered: “If the Palestinian Authority makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we will have to develop our offices elsewhere.

The decision and upcoming patchwork of abortion bans also threaten the tech boom in places like Austin, Texas, as companies like Dell – which were already becoming more flexible for remote work due to the job market tense – have difficulty recruiting newly minted tech graduates. business clusters, said Steven Pedigo, a professor who studies economic development at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Rather than staying in Austin, are you going to New York or Seattle or the Bay Area? I think that’s a real possibility,” Pedigo said. “It becomes much more difficult, especially when dealing with a young and progressive workforce, which tech workers tend to be.”

Emily M. Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, said nearly a quarter of organizations in a recent survey agreed that offering a health savings account for covering travel for reproductive care in another state will improve 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 a third-party administrator to handle claims on their behalf — typically large employers — are subject to employee retirement income security law rather than state law. But businesses that must purchase their own health insurance for their employees — typically small businesses — are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in benefit design.

Offering to cover travel costs could also make the 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 it would propose legislation prohibiting localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits to employees seeking abortions.

In his concurring opinion released Friday, Judge Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would be unconstitutional for a state to bar residents from traveling to another state to have 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 always debatable, argues Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

“It’s not an interstate commerce issue per se,” she said. “So you would need the right applicant.”

Meanwhile, tech companies face tough questions about what they will do if some of their millions of customers in the United States are sued for having abortions. Services like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft routinely transmit digital data sought by law enforcement conducting criminal investigations. This has raised concerns from privacy advocates about abortion law enforcement officials exploiting menstrual apps, phone location data and other sensitive health information. line.

A letter from four Democrats to Congress on Friday 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. seeking to “track women who have obtained or seek abortions”.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes at a time when companies have become increasingly dependent on women to fill jobs, and all the more so as they face a nationwide labor shortage. national. Women now make up nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, up from 37.5% in 1970 — three years before the Supreme Court ruled abortions legal in Roe vs. Wade — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The denial of abortion access could hit low-income workers the hardest, as they tend to work in jobs with fewer protections that are also demanding, whether it’s loading groceries on store shelves or work as a caregiver.

“As a direct result of this decision, more women will be forced to choose between paying 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 people. janitors, healthcare workers and teachers in the United States “Working women are already struggling in poverty-stricken jobs without paid time off, and many also take on the usually unpaid care responsibilities for their families.”

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

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

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

“We are at a time when we expect business leaders to be leaders in the political sphere as well,” he said. “Many employees expect to work at companies that not only pay them well, but whose values ​​are aligned with their own.”

But the vast majority of leaders are likely to avoid the hot topic and focus on things like inflation or supply chain disruptions, he said.

This too carries risks.

“They can either cover travel for out-of-state care and risk lawsuits and the wrath of local politicians, or they can’t include that coverage and risk the wrath of employees,” Schweitzer said.

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AP business writers Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco; David Koenig in Dallas and Ken Sweet in New York contributed to the story.

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