What does the overturning of Roe v. Wade entail for the workplace?
On June 24, the US Supreme Court announced the horrifying decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, the constitutional basis of the right to abortions for women and people who can get pregnant. Medical authorities, public health, and reproductive rights specialists have expressed their rightful disappointment, outrage, and worry about the outcomes of the court ruling.
In the short timeframe after the decision was announced, more than 20 state governments and legislatures have already taken action to ban and criminalize abortion, some with exceptions and some with almost none. In Oklahoma, for example, abortions are now considered a felony with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $100k.
The Supreme Court decision is especially devastating for women and people who can get pregnant as it threatens their education, participation in the labor force, and earnings. According to a 2021 paper by professor Kelly Jones of the American University, Black women who had access to abortion before age 24 went to school on average for 2.5 to 3 years longer and were two to three times as likely to finish college.
A great responsibility falls upon the shoulders of companies in how they navigate the post-Roe workplace. Are they making a statement and standing up for reproductive healthcare as a basic human right? Are they “walking the talk” by expanding their health benefits and extending help for their employees to access reproductive healthcare? Before we delve into how some of Corporate America’s giants are responding to the legislative shift, let’s go over what Roe v. Wade is, and what the implications of it being overturned are.
What is Roe v. Wade?
Roe v. Wade refers to the 1973 case which yielded the US Supreme Court ruling which recognized that it is a fundamental right (rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution) for individuals to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy. For the first time in US legal history, reproductive decision-making was placed among other fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion and granted a federal Constitutional basis of protection.
According to the Roe v. Wade ruling, the government cannot ban abortion for any reason prior to viability. Even after the point of viability, the patient’s life and health are prioritized when it comes to restricting access to abortion.
The implications of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court decision announced on June 24, in Dobbs v. Jackson, reverses the constitutional framework that Roe v. Wade had drawn for reproductive decision-making, and leaves access to abortion to the provision of individual states.
In simpler terms, states can now ban abortions and even implement criminal penalties to restrict abortions. The criminalization can extend to healthcare providers (medical professionals, physicians), care-seekers themselves, and even individuals who offer guidance and help for self-administered abortions on the basis of “aiding and abetting” the “illegal” procedure.
Banning abortions = unsafe abortions
As it has been proven throughout history, banning abortions means banning safe and convenient abortions and access to holistic healthcare. It has never been a matter of banning abortions, but a matter of restricting who gets access to safe abortions. Hence, the burden of the decision will be felt most heavily by women and people who can get pregnant who are dealing with economic and social structural difficulties in accessing healthcare.
Research estimates suggest that within the first year, the abortion ban could result in an overall 21% increase in pregnancy-related mortality, and a 33% increase for the Black population. Whereas those who have the economic and structural means to access quality healthcare will continue to receive maternal and abortion care, demographic groups with low income and ethnic and sexual minorities will suffer the toll of restricted access and criminalization of abortions.
World Health Organization research cites the following among the results of restrictive abortion regulation:
- loss of household income due to long-term disability related to unsafe abortion
- financial burden related to forced travel for legal healthcare
- hindrance of education and participation in the labor market
- added financial burden on health systems due to complications of unsafe abortions and post-abortion treatments
- negative impact on children’s educational outcomes and success in life (related to unwanted and unplanned pregnancies)
Which civil rights are next?
In addition to the dire potential consequences for health, pregnancy-related mortality, as well as direct economic and social effects, the Dobbs v. Jackson decision has also awakened deep concerns regarding the future of other landmark cases for civil rights.
In his concurring opinion to the ruling, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the Court “should reconsider all substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell”, which respectively guarantee the right to contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriages, calling them “errors” to be “corrected”.
How are companies offering support after the abortion ruling?
Restrictions on abortion access is not a brand new topic for US companies. Some have already announced their support on this sensitive issue back in September 2021 when Texas lawmakers passed the bill banning abortion at six weeks.
The inclusive stance of large corporations has also sparked attempts to penalize such incentives, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s “No Tax Breaks for Radical Corporate Activism Act” which aimed to prohibit companies from deducting their employees’ healthcare expenses related to abortion and gender-affirming care for trans employees or those of their immediate family.
Let’s look at how companies are responding to the post-Roe environment and some examples of policies aiming to support employee wellbeing in the midst of a healthcare and civil rights crisis.
Travel reimbursements for reproductive care
The immediate response of most companies was to announce that they would cover the travel expenses of their employees who need to travel out of state to receive reproductive care. Some companies’ (e.g. Microsoft and Apple) travel assistance also extends to gender-affirming care.
Amazon has pledged to cover up to $4,000 (€3,782) in travel expenses for medical treatments for employees who are forced to travel 100 miles (161 kilometers) or more to receive care. Starbucks said it would reimburse travel expenses for employees enrolled in its healthcare plan in case a legal care provider for a certain treatment is not available within 100 miles of their home (though it added that it could not “make promises of guarantees about any benefits” for unionized stores).
In addition to travel reimbursements for its employees, Airbnb has also said it would offer financial support to any Airbnb host that faces legal action and expenses as a result of the Texas law criminalizing abortion care.
Facilitating relocation applications
Google announced to its employees that those working in affected states could apply for relocation “without justification”, in addition to offering an extended health benefits plan, following the decision to strike Roe.
Extensive healthcare benefits
Companies such as Google, Apple, Netflix, and Microsoft have stated that their health benefit plans cover out-of-state medical procedures in case they are not available where the employee lives and works.
Others such as JPMorgan Chase, Under Armour, and Warner Bros. Discovery have announced that they would be expanding their existing medical benefit plans to include travel coverage to access medical procedures regarding reproductive health.
Bereavement leave policies
Another way in which companies are revising their policies to accommodate their employees’ reproductive healthcare needs is by extending leave policies. An emerging common practice related to the issue is bereavement leave, which is granted in case of the loss of a family member.
In September, Bumble and Airbnb extended their bereavement leave policies to cover up to respectively 15 and 20 days of paid bereavement for the loss of a pregnancy. There are currently also state-wide and city-wide legislative efforts across the country to extend bereavement leave for reproductive losses.
Relief funds and donations
Following the abortion ban in Texas in September, Bumble announced that it was setting up a relief fund to support reproductive rights organizations. Airbnb has similarly said it made donations to organizations including Planned Parenthood.
If you’re an organization or solopreneur looking for ways to support reproductive rights funds, we encourage you to opt for donating to local, grassroots organizations that work towards closing the gap of reproductive injustice, such as Black feminist collectives and state-based abortion access funds.
Where does this leave us?
The end of Roe v. Wade and its effects in the long term goes way beyond the surface. However, even in the immediate aftermath, it is a low blow to the basic human rights of women and people who can get pregnant. It threatens women and queer people’s participation in the workforce, their education, and their income. Moreover, it’s merely part of a wider problem of politicians threatening the autonomy and basic human rights of women and queer folks.
As a response, many companies have publicly announced statements condemning the Supreme Court decision, stating that they would offer help for their employees with access to reproductive healthcare. Most have opted for travel reimbursements for out-of-state medical procedures as well as extending existing health benefits, while some have revised their bereavement leave policies to include reproductive losses, and others set up relief funds and donated to local abortion funds and organizations.
Where will the US go from here? Time will show for certain. For now, this much is certain: Abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. Queer bodies and women’s bodies are not a playground for political stakeholders.
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