In June, the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In a 6-to-3 ruling, the Court overturned prior decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, effectively abolishing the constitutional right to abortion. In the wake of this decision, many states have moved quickly to ban abortion. As of September 2022, 13 states have very restrictive abortion laws in place. Thirteen more have moderately restrictive abortion laws in place.
The states with laws that protect abortion are: Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. If you live outside these states, you may not be legally able to access a safe abortion. The decision may also set a precedent for further state regulation of reproductive rights.
Lack of access to abortion will have wide-ranging effects on many levels, most acutely for people who can get pregnant and are now at risk of being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. From a public health standpoint, pregnancy-related mortality rates are also projected to climb. The business community is in a unique position to help ensure rights for its employees. Many companies are providing travel expenses to employees who need to cross state lines to access an abortion. Should your company join them?
Two million women have left the workforce in the past two and a half years, in part due to increased caretaking responsibilities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dobbs decision will exacerbate these trends as more women are forced out of the workforce to care for unplanned children.
Additionally, more women will also take off more time for maternity leave. More men will take time off for paternity leave. In addition to time off from work, these policies will also increase turnover for women between the ages of 15 and 44.
According to The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), abortion restrictions in states cost state economies $105 billion per year due to the confluence of these factors.
With around half of the states keeping abortion legal, and the other half banning it, many women will be forced to cross state lines in order to access safe abortions.
“We have a really good idea of how women will respond to the resulting changes,” Economist Caitlin Myers told Aol.com. “Our best prediction based on ample evidence on the effects of travel distance, is that about three quarters of the women who want abortions will still find a way to get out of the states that ban.”
That means the remaining quarter of women will be prevented from accessing abortion due to travel costs.
Dozens of companies have enacted policies to cover travel expenses for employees who need abortions. Reddit said that it would give a stipend to employees who need to travel to other states to get an abortion.
As of August 2022, other companies that promised travel reimbursement to employees in need of an abortion include Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, Meta, Bank of America, Intuit, Conde Nast, Lyft, Uber, Buzzfeed, Vox Media, Adobe and Google. Google now offers employees the opportunity to relocate to a new state where abortion is legal.
“[The Dobbs decision] is a crushing blow to reproductive rights that have been protected for nearly half a century,” Roger Lynch, Condé Nast’s chief executive, told The New York Times.
“This ruling will have a disproportionate impact on access to care depending on where people live,” Jim Bankoff, Vox Media’s chief executive, wrote in a memo. “It puts families, communities and the economy at risk, threatening the gains that women have made in the workplace over the past 50 years.”
Amalgamated Bank was one of the first financial companies to offer to cover costs for out-of-state travel for an abortion back in June 2022. “This is a devastating and dangerous blow for millions of Americans, particularly underserved communities, people of color, rural families, LGBTQ individuals and immigrants,” the company said in a statement to CNBC.
“Seventy percent of Americans agree with us on this,” said Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims, referencing a January poll by CNN that found that 69 percent of Americans were in favor of Roe. “This is not an issue that is isolated to a particular party; this is an issue that is important to 70 percent of Americans.”
In addition to the populism of the policy issue, Sims also made it clear that this is a workplace equity issue.
“Women make up half the workplace,” she said. For women who care about reproductive health issues, it is a major factor in choosing what company to work for and even what state to live in.
“Women have a very special challenge and they have the right,” she continued, “It is a personal, reproductive issue that they have the right to make decisions around. And that’s important to them in the workplace. It’s important to us in retaining them. It’s important to us in hiring them. And it’s important to us because we want to have diversity for everyone in the workplace.”
Even before Roe was overturned, women in the United States faced unique health challenges. Women in the United States have the highest rate of maternal deaths among high-income countries, with Black women being three times as likely to die during pregnancy than white women. This is in addition to women in the United States facing higher instances of preventable death, chronic health conditions and mental health conditions. Intertwined with this issue is the high cost of medical care in the U.S.: people face financial hardship from medical bills, making the post-partum period even more stressful (even for those who have private health insurance).
All these issues compound and make it extremely difficult for women to achieve a work-life balance, with many, many women opting to leave the workforce rather than deal with the lack of support.
“We’re losing talented people in the workforce as a result of this,” said Sims.
According to Planned Parenthood, companies should “Assess workforce health care coverage and benefits, including travel stipend, paid time off, child care, abortion funds, etc.”
They also recommend, making sure your health plan covers abortions, especially in states where Medicaid and public funds are banned from covering abortion. Comprehensive insurance should cover access to safe abortion. Make sure your benefits package includes transportation to a state with clinics, childcare and Paid Time Off for women travelling, lodging, etc.
Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims-Brown said, “We will provide transportation, we will provide childcare – because many of these women have children at home – We will provide hotel[s] not only for them but for a partner to support them through the process.”
There are several ways to provide travel and lodging benefits. One way is to add travel and lodging benefits to an employer’s existing group health plan. With this approach, the travel and lodging benefits will only be available to those who are enrolled in the employer’s plan. You may also provide travel and lodging benefits through a reimbursement plan. This is called an integrated health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA. The HRA will be subject to ERISA requirements, and it cannot reimburse travel expenses over the limits set forth in Section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code.
Other options are to provide travel and lodging benefits under employee assistance programs or as taxable reimbursements.
Another thing companies can do is provide paid parental leave – this keeps more women in the workforce. A recent study showed that in states with paid parental leave, performance rose by one percent, employee turnover decreased, and productivity rose by five percent. Citi offers pre-tax dependent child care benefits. Cliff Bar now offers on-site childcare.
A 2020 survey showed that only 10 percent of new mothers had designated breastfeeding breaks, while only 17 percent had support from supervisors and coworkers.
UNICEF recommends redesigning the workplace in accordance with family-friendly policies that not only benefit the child but also promote gender equality and lead to higher productivity. These policies include: paid leave for all parents and guardians, including maternity, paternity and parental leave as well as leave to care for sick children; supporting breastfeeding; ensuring that all children have access to affordable, quality childcare and education; and providing child benefits along with suitable pay to help families provide for young children.
Planned Parenthood urges businesses to implement employee donations and matching gift programs to abortion providers. If you are looking for other ways to help, Planned Parenthood also suggests providing in-kind/core business contributions like products, services or staff time, such as transportation to health centers.
This sentiment was echoed by Sims: “We have to support financially the expansion of reproductive health care clinics that are [going to] be in states that border the states where there are onerous laws and laws that are harmful to women,” she said in an interview with CNBC.
Studies tie women’s health to long-term productivity. By investing in reproductive health, your company can reap the benefits of a healthier, more diverse work force.