The sweep of the ruling on abortion is staggering and destabilizing for business in America.
Abortion is now illegal in at least 13 states, and more will certainly follow. New restrictions in other states would make the procedure even more difficult to actually obtain, even in many places where it might technically remain legal. Chaos lies ahead, as some states race to the bottom with criminal abortion bans, forcing people to travel across multiple state lines and, for those without means to travel, carry their pregnancies to term—dictating their health, lives, and futures. Today’s decision will ignite a public health emergency.
This Supreme Court ruling will unleash months of intense pressure on business to mitigate harm and meet rising worker, consumer, and investor expectations. More importantly, women in some parts of the country, particularly the South, will have to travel hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider. This ruling disproportionately impacts lower-income women and women of color given existing structural inequities. In addition, women who don’t have access to abortion care are three times more likely to leave the workforce.
One in four working women will have an abortion at some point; this could be an unplanned pregnancy, a planned pregnancy where something goes tragically wrong or as part of fertility treatments. Americans broadly support the Supreme Court upholding Roe v Wade. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll finds 75 percent agree that such decisions should be left to the woman and her doctor.
Recent research by Morning Consult also underscores this broad support by a 2:1 margin: employed adults, across all demographics, would prefer to live in a state where abortion is legal and accessible.
There is a business case that connects how access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare impacts a company’s bottom line and the corporate workforce. One study found existing abortion restrictions already cause $105 billion in economic losses annually. We can expect additional impacts to the ability of business to attract, retain and support their workforce in a labor market that is already quite challenging. We also anticipate increased expectations for companies to respond to employee and consumer demands to take a public stand on this topic.
Top talent wants reproductive healthcare–including abortion access, to be part of corporate gender equity efforts. Roughly 7 in 10 respondents say access to reproductive healthcare should be an issue companies address when it comes to gender equity in the workplace. Further, companies in more restrictive states may be at a competitive disadvantage. The same Morning Consult research showed that adults want to understand the social policies in a state before deciding to move there, with 71% agreeing social policies should be considered in a decision to move.
There also is a tie-in with the childcare crisis: companies are already struggling to attract and retain workers due to a lack of affordable childcare and the COVID-19 pandemic; taking away women’s ability to decide when they can have children will only exacerbate this situation. An investment in accessible reproductive healthcare allows women to fully engage and advance in the workplace.
Furthermore, 7 in 10 consumers believe it is important for companies to take a stand on social issues, 86% of which want them to take a stand on reproductive health. This puts reproductive health in line with the demand for action on other social issues, such as gender equity (92%), racial justice (94%) and voting rights (92%).
While the situation continues to unfold rapidly, there are six key points for business to consider. Some point to immediate actions, and some relate to longer-term impact.
Companies can ensure equitable and inclusive benefits are available to support the spectrum of workers’ reproductive health needs. A self-audit can identify, and redress obstacles faced by employees who need to obtain abortion and other reproductive healthcare. The Society for Human Resource Managers recently provided a recommendation for employers along these lines. Beyond covering travel costs, companies can address gaps in their paid sick leave programs and provide support for time-sensitive care in a confidential way. Companies can also consider practices to support pregnant workers who travel to states where abortion is illegal and may need to access care in emergency situations. For workers who may not be eligible for benefits and therefore lack access to programs or policies that would support them in accessing abortion care, companies should increase or enhance programs centering the needs of non-benefits-eligible workers who need timely access, while protecting privacy.
Business also can create a supportive culture around reproductive health benefits by sharing clear information about coverage and finding ways to reduce stigma around comprehensive reproductive health in conversations about benefits. A previous BSR blog offers more in-depth advice on how companies can be prepared for workforce impact.
Companies can also highlight relevant and accurate information on healthcare services that continue to provide abortion access. Comprehensive directories such as I need an A, Abortion Finder, and the National Abortion Federation Hotline provide visitors with trusted individual, private, and non-profit clinics. Plan C also offers updated information on at-home abortion and medicine access based on location. The Pro Repro Playbook offers employers—especially small and medium sized businesses and non-profits—with strategies to protect the reproductive health of their workers who can become pregnant.
Engage in Relevant Public Policy at the State and Federal Level
Many large companies are members of business associations that could play a significant role when it comes to supporting federal policy priorities to protect abortion access. At the federal level, the Women’s Health Protection Act would codify Roe yet remains stalled. At the state level, where a historic number of abortion restrictions have already been passed, companies still have the opportunity to weigh in with elected officials. Companies have an opportunity and a powerful platform to make their voices heard with policy makers, local business associations, and other influential organizations about the workforce impact and economic costs of harmful abortion restrictions.
Align Political Contributions with Workforce Values, Equity, and ESG Commitments
It’s time for companies to align—once and for all—their public positions, their operational / workforce policies, and their political influence. They have to all be pointing in the same direction. In a world where Roe v Wade was settled law, companies could avoid taking a public position. We now expect that this issue will be legislated in every state, which means company’s public and internal commitments to women’s empowerment may directly contradict with how they spend their lobbying dollars; and that contradiction will be untenable. 65% of American adults agree that companies should cut back on political donations to elected officials who are working to limit access to abortion, according to the Morning Consult research.
Protect Voting Rights
The Court’s diminishing of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance powers means lawmakers can impose burdens on voting to narrow the electorate. 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 indicates that 67% of adults agree with companies speaking out against efforts to limit access to voting for eligible voters.
While most Americans support access to abortion, ending gun violence, and protections for LGBTIQ+ people, among other issues, public policy solutions are stalled. Business has been increasingly expected to take a public position—to show how support for these issues is important to the business community, to their workers, to their customers, and to the communities in which they operate.
This involves not only public statements of support, but aligned action such as decisions to reconsider locations of events, meetings, and future operations given a state's reputation, and climate on social issues. Recent prominent examples include Salesforce’s actions in protest of Indiana’s proposed anti-LGBTIQ+ religious freedom bill, Major League Baseball pulling the All-Star game out of Atlanta to protest Georgia’s restrictive new voting law.
Support Relief Efforts
Business can provide financial, logistical, and other support that can mitigate the current and anticipated harm incurred by workers navigating new burdens to access care. Support abortion funds directly and support advocacy organizations through awareness raising and other efforts unique to your business and expertise. Coalitions such as the Brigid Alliance and Midwest Access Coalition help with travel coordination and costs.
Grant Access to Remote Work
Companies can consider how overturning Roe informs their stance on remote work policies. For businesses with operations in states with trigger laws or that have old laws on the books, employees who would otherwise be expected to work in the office can leverage remote work policies to be based in states where their healthcare access is protected. However, for workers where remote work is not possible, additional support as mentioned above (i.e., travel, paid sick leave) needs to be made accessible.
At BSR, we are committed to working with member companies of all industries to promote women’s empowerment as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion—in the workplace and beyond. Without access to reproductive healthcare, women’s economic empowerment can only go so far. Business can meet this moment to address the workforce and economic impact and demonstrate commitments to equity and social justice.