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When the Supreme Court voted to strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on 24th June this year, the impact was seen immediately. Abortion is now banned in at least 10 states, as laws restricting the procedure take effect following the decision. More bans are due to follow in coming weeks as 26 states in total are likely to be affected by the ruling.
As people struggle to access healthcare, one obvious knock-on effect is the cost of accessing services out of state. “This decision will cause immediate economic pain in 26 states where abortion bans are most likely and where people already face lower wages, less worker power, and limited access to health care,” Heidi Shierholz, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement.
There are other, more serious consequences. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen addressed the Senate Banking Committee in May and said that restricting women’s reproductive rights would have very damaging effects on the economy.
“Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor force participation,” she said. “It enabled many women to finish school. That increased their earning potential. It allowed women to plan and balance their families and careers.”
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The workplace response
Right now, many companies both within the tech sector and other industries are getting behind their employees and preparing responses to help. Stix, a female-founded online marketplace for reproductive health products, helps women take control back in the first place, and has launched a product called Restart, an over-the-counter morning-after pill. It is also offering support with its Restart Donation Bank, which provides free doses, with no questions asked.
Yelp, the crowd-sourced review website, will offer support for its employees who might need to travel out of state for access to abortion. The company believes that its workers should have equal access to healthcare, but behind the scenes Yelp has been doing more to help too. It made a strategic effort in 2018 to ensure that users who are searching for abortion care have access to reliable information, and since then, it has taken steps to mitigate misinformation on the platform as well.
Amazon, which is the second-largest U.S. private employer, has told its staff that it will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for non-life threatening medical treatments, including abortions. Microsoft said it will support employees in accessing critical health care, including abortion services and gender-affirming care.
Within the financial services sector, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase are all offering travel benefits to employees who need to access abortions. “We will continue to provide benefits that support our colleagues’ family planning choices wherever we are legally permitted to do so,” said Sara Wechter, Citi’s head of human resources.
In the entertainment industry, Netflix is offering employees and dependents up to $10,000 in travel reimbursement for treatments which include abortion. Warner Brothers Discovery has expanded healthcare benefits to cover employees who’ll need to go to other states to access abortion and reproductive care. Its chief people and culture officer, Adria Alpert Romm said of the move, “our number one priority is the wellbeing, health and safety of our employees.”
Comcast and Disney, both of which own theme parks in Florida (where abortion is banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy), will offer employees a travel benefit to allow them to access care in another location.
Things are looking a little different in Big Tech, where companies are balancing differing priorities. At Apple, the company says employees can use their company benefits to travel out-of-state to receive medical care, including abortions. However, there are concerns over the period tracking data that the company’s Health app captures, and how this may be used in the future.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has confirmed that it will reimburse employees for expenses related to traveling out of state for an abortion. Separately, it has become embroiled in an internal wrangle with staff after it instructed them not to openly discuss the Supreme Court’s ruling at work.
Google is also taking a different tack, telling its staff in a memo that they are free to relocate. “This is a profound change for the country that deeply affects so many of us, especially women,” said its chief people officer, Fiona Cicconi in an email. “Googlers can also apply for relocation without justification.”
The company is already facing pressure from legislators and the public regarding how it will handle data privacy in the wake of the fall of Roe. It says it will delete the location history for people going to abortion sites and other medical sites, but it is also under scrutiny for misinformation. A new study from the Center for Countering Hate identified that one in 10 searches for abortion services in “trigger states”, where the procedure is likely to become illegal, are being misdirected to clinics known as “pregnancy crisis centers” that do not actually provide care.
While many will be glad of the financial cushion and support offered by their workplaces, there are obvious downsides: so far, benefits mainly extend to travel stipends. Having to declare your reason for that travel could be a barrier too far, as it may end up on your HR record.
Companies could think about adding extra paid time off (with no questions asked) to help, and for large tech companies with huge influence, their lobbying power is the big ticket item. Not supporting anti-choice lawmakers and speaking up on behalf of their employees builds trust, but could also move the dial on one of the most contentious issues in recent history.
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