If this is how the court ultimately rules, abortion would immediately become illegal in at least 13 states, and more would almost certainly follow. New restrictions in other states would make the procedure difficult to actually obtain, even in many places where it might technically remain legal.
While before Monday’s night’s news, there seemed to be a chance the court would significantly constrain the right to an abortion without eliminating it completely, the draft majority opinion that Politico published says "Roe was egregiously wrong from the start."
This looming 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, would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider. This ruling would disproportionately impact 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 that existing abortion restrictions already cause US$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 percent 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 percent 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 percent), racial justice (94 percent) and voting rights (92 percent).
While the situation continues to unfold rapidly, there are seven 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. 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.
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.
2. 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 it 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.
3. 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 companies' 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 percent of Americans 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.
4. Protecting Reproductive Rights and Protecting Voting Rights Go Hand in Hand
The Court’s gutting 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 percent of adults agree with companies speaking out against efforts to limit access to voting for eligible voters.
5. Speak Out
While most Americans support access to abortion, ending gun violence, and protections for LGBTQI+ 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-LGBTQI+ religious freedom bill and Major League Baseball pulling the All-Star game out of Atlanta to protest Georgia’s restrictive new voting law.
6. 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.
7. 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.