Many US companies move to pay travel costs for employees seeking abortions

Tech firms and banks, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, add ‘critical healthcare’ package

Many large US corporations have moved swiftly to provide support and financial assistance to employees seeking abortions in states that outlawed the procedure after the US supreme court’s decision on Friday to overturn its landmark Roe v Wade ruling.

With potentially millions of women soon looking to cross state lines for the procedure, many employers have added “critical healthcare” packages to employees’ benefit packages.

The measures reflect, in some cases, elevated responsibility that businesses now feel to respond to pressure from investors, customers and employees at a time when corporate values do not conform with the legislatures of states in which they or their workers are based.

Many banks and tech firms have announced they will cover travel expenses for US workers in need of abortions as part of their medical benefits. After the reversal was announced Friday, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs joined Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase in offering travel benefits.

“We will continue to provide benefits that support our colleagues’ family planning choices wherever we are legally permitted to do so,” Citi’s head of human resources, Sara Wechter, wrote in a memo to employees on Friday.

Tech firms have also moved to accommodate employees’ needs. Microsoft extended its financial support for “critical healthcare” after the draft version of the supreme court opinion overturning Roe was first leaked.

Apple has said the existing benefits package allows employees to travel out of state for medical care, and Facebook parent Meta has said it will offer travel expense reimbursement “to the extent permitted by law”.

In entertainment, Disney, Condé Nast, Warner Bros Discovery and Netflix are among those that have said they will offer travel reimbursements.

While large companies can mitigate the supreme court ruling, the measures may not address the concerns of employees at firms that have in recent years located to low-tax states that have either enacted restrictions or essentially banned access to abortion.

Texas, for instance, has been aggressively selling itself as a low-tax- and low-regulation home to companies such as Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Tesla. Facebook, Amazon and Apple have all increased their presence there.

But the commitment of Texas, like Missouri, to a near-total ban on abortion could now clash with those companies’ stated values and harm the state’s ability to attract new business, employees and investment.

Earlier this year, Texas state representative Briscoe Cain sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

The St Louis mayor, Tishaura Jones, said in a post to Twitter that she believes abortion bans at the state level are going to make it harder to attract businesses. Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas said one business has already backed out of setting up in the city.

But many large companies have stayed silent, including McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Motors, and Arkansas-based Walmart – the largest employer in the US with dozens of stores in states that have enacted abortion bans.

The Business Roundtable, an organization that represents some of the nation’s most powerful companies, has said it “does not have a position on the merits of the case”.

Perhaps a more pressing concern is that for millions of people not employed by a large international or national company, abortion restrictions present a more onerous challenge.

According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, abortion bans and restrictions don’t reduce unintended pregnancy or demand for abortion. Rather, they impose significant hurdles to obtaining care, causing stress for people in need of abortion and leading some to experience forced pregnancy and all its troubling consequences.

“Evidence also shows the disproportionate and unequal impact abortion restrictions have on people who are already marginalized and oppressed – including Black and Brown communities, other people of color, people with low incomes, young people, LGBTQ communities, immigrants and people with disabilities,” Dr Hermania Palacio, the institute’s president, said in a statement.

In response, regional governments and community organizations have started outreach efforts to help anyone in need of the procedure. Baltimore’s mayor, Brandon Scott, has announced that the city will provide $300,000 in grants to organizations that offer abortion and family planning.

Some left-leaning states have seen abortion procedures increase as surrounding states tightened access, even before Roe fell. In Illinois, abortion increased by 25% between 2017 and 2020. Guttmacher said in response “local and national abortion funds increased their capacity and helped even more people pay for their abortions”.

But with an increasingly fragmented and increasingly polarized abortion landscape, many companies are likely to find themselves forced to respond to both pro-choice and anti-abortion activists while promising to promote women’s equality and workplace advancement.

The issue of freedom to travel to other states for an abortion procedure issue has one notable, anti-Roe supporter. In his concurring opinion released Friday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said it would be unconstitutional for a state to impose travel restrictions. “In my view, the answer is no, based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Kavanaugh wrote.


Edward Helmore in New York

The GuardianTramp

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