In a matter of months, the guaranteed right to a safe, legal abortion in the U.S. could be relegated to the history books. In response, a handful of tech giants--among them, some of the country’s largest employers--are rolling out abortion care benefits for some workers.
These new benefits are primarily designed for employees working in the 26 states where abortion rights are most at risk if Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that enshrined the universal right to abortion, is overturned. That risk became an imminent reality on the evening of Monday, May 2, when Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the nine-person judicial body planned to overturn the fifty-year precedent.
“We've been warning companies for three years now that this was probably going to happen, but it's been hard to catch their attention, because the last three years have been filled with other national calamities,” Shelley Alpern, director of shareholder advocacy at Rhia Ventures, a seven-person operation advocating for stronger reproductive and maternal healthcare policies at U.S. companies, told The Org. “Unfortunately, I think it takes something like this Supreme Court leak to serve as a wake up call.”
Tech companies’ rollout of abortion care benefits
Employers are springing into action. Most of the new company policies hinge upon reimbursing employees who must cross state lines for an abortion--costly journeys that could average 125 miles if Roe is overturned, according to the Myers Abortion Facility Database.
On Monday night, Microsoft became the latest company to say it'll help pay for employees' travel for abortion (and gender affirming) care, Reuters reported. Hours after the Politico story published last week, Amazon, which employs one in every 205 U.S. workers, told corporate staff it will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses each year for non-life threatening medical treatments including abortions. Last Friday, Austin-based Tesla quietly expanded its health insurance coverage to include “travel and lodging support for those who may need to seek healthcare services in their home state.” Yelp said it’ll add travel expenses to the abortion coverage already in its healthcare plan. Lyft and DoorDash have also introduced such benefits for U.S. employees on the companies’ medical plans.
Some tech giants with Texas offices had already unveiled abortion care policies prior to the Supreme Court leak. That’s because, in September 2021, a Texas law went into effect banning abortions after any cardiac activity can be detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy--before most people know they're even pregnant. Apple, which is building a new $1 billion campus in Austin, reportedly said it’ll cover medical expenses for Texas workers who travel out of state for an abortion. Salesforce will aid Texas-based employees and their families who want to move out of the state. HP’s Houston-based Enterprise arm said its medical plans cover treatments, including abortion, obtained outside of the state, per Wired.
Beyond tech giants, some big banks have come out with abortion care policies too. Union-owned Amalgamated Bank announced a sweeping policy for employees and dependents covering plane fares or gas money, hotel and meal expenses and up to five days of childcare for employees seeking abortions. Citigroup said it will begin travel coverage this year through its health insurance policy, and it has faced hostility from a Texas lawmaker as a result. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are also reportedly weighing similar policies.
Scores of other employers may still be quietly rolling out abortion benefits. Rhia Ventures has fielded increased inquiries from companies and investors in recent months. “I expect there's probably many more companies that are strengthening these benefits without making a public announcement about it,” said Alpern, who runs Rhia’s corporate engagement program.
Could employer abortion benefits face legal pushback?
It’s yet to be seen if these corporate policies can withstand legal challenges. The bombshell leaked draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, which the Supreme Court’s chief justice has since confirmed as authentic, could become legal precedent this summer. If this happens, 26 states--including tech hubs Texas, Georgia and North Carolina--are likely ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization that supports abortion rights. Half of these states have so-called “trigger laws” on the books designed to immediately take effect upon a Roe reversal.
The restrictions could range from stricter limits on how late a person can terminate a pregnancy to exceptionless bans, even in cases of incest or rape. Some state legislatures may become increasingly aggressive in their attacks on abortion-seeking individuals, said Emily Martin, the vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based legal nonprofit. Texas’ 2021 bill empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy for up to $10,000; Oklahoma passed a copycat bill in April.
Similarly, other states want to punish individual residents who travel to another state for an abortion. Missouri lawmakers will debate a new proposal that would outlaw “anything from driving women across state lines for abortions to internet providers allowing access to certain abortion-related websites” NBC reported.
Companies should consider offering legal defense for employees who might find themselves in those situations, said Martin, who oversees NWLC’s advocacy, policy and education efforts. Ride-sharing upstarts Lyft and Uber, for example, said they would cover 100% of legal fees for Oklahoma and Texas drivers if they are sued for transporting someone for abortion care while driving with their companies.
“Laws like the Texas law could lead to employees facing legal liability if, for example, an employee is helping a family member or spouse obtain an abortion,” Martin told The Org.
Martin also hopes the legal pressure will compel companies to act, just as they have in other times of civil rights attacks--lest they face difficulties recruiting talent in states with abortion restrictions.
“This is really a critical moment for corporate America to speak out,” Martin said. “If anything like that opinion is issued as a final decision of the Supreme Court, this is a full-scale emergency, and we need those voices.”
Why companies are adopting these benefits
Good press aside, the financial incentive to recruit and retain talent in today’s tight labor market is fueling companies’ abortion benefit outlay. (Microsoft, for example, lists nearly 1,500 open Texas-based roles on its job site.)
“In the past, clients thought a lot about consumers and customers, and now I'm seeing them really paying attention to their workforce instead,” said Aiko Bethea, founder of RARE Coaching & Consulting, a five-person firm that helps organizations develop diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
Women constitute more than 57% of the workforce, and a recent ABC/Washington Post poll found that 70% of Americans believe the choice to have an abortion should be left to a pregnant person and their doctor--not lawmakers. Workers might be less likely to relocate to or remain in states with abortion bans, especially when New York, California and other blue states are positioning themselves as abortion safe havens.
“This is a diminishment of the talent pool that they have to draw from,” said Alpern. “It's just terrible for business at the level of the firm, at the level of the state economy, and when you add it up, at the level of the national economy.”
Bethea advises business leaders to remain aligned with their company’s values when designing any policy, including abortion care. (Her consultancy currently works with about 25 large corporate clients, including four tech giants--she won’t say which.)
“Your company values aren’t going to be anything that's going to surprise your employees or your shareholders,” Bethea told The Org. “Thinking long-term, what does your company stand for? What are your company’s values and mission?”
The limits of abortion care benefits
Big Tech’s abortion benefits can only go so far. They primarily extend only to their own employees, many of whom tend to have higher salaries. But the majority of people who get an abortion are already struggling to make ends meet, according to the Guttmacher Institute: 75% of abortion patients are living below or near the federal poverty line, and nearly 60% already have at least one child at home.
Some companies have said they’ll use their resources to help underprivileged groups, even if they aren’t employees. In September, dating app startup Bumble announced a new relief fund supporting the reproductive rights of people seeking abortions across Texas.
“Bumble is women-founded and women-led, and from day one we’ve stood up for the most vulnerable. We'll keep fighting against regressive laws like #SB8,” the company said in a tweet at the time.
And earlier this week, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote in an op-ed that the company’s charitable foundation would double-match employee donations to groups like Planned Parenthood through the month of June.
But companies should also take political responsibility, experts said. “The most important thing they can do is to contact lawmakers in the states that they’re in and communicate to them that abortion restrictions really take a toll on on the workforce and on the economy as a whole,” Alpern explained. “It keeps women out of the workforce, it can drive women into poverty.”
Bethea said employers should take this a step farther by taking stock of their political donations and supporting candidates that align with company values. She also suggests managers encourage employees to vote by giving them the day off from work, helping them register to vote and secure proper ID or even setting up voting sites at the office, “so it's not so intimidating to have to go to a different space.”
“I think there are more shareholders, for public companies at least, who are making proposals and expectations around how companies show up in the space,” Bethea added.
The companies that haven’t created abortion care policies
Amid the flurry of the past week's press releases and CEO statements, some tech giants are keeping quiet. Google is building a new 35-story skyscraper in downtown Austin, but the company hasn’t publicly put out a statement or promised travel reimbursement. No word from Netflix or Twitter, either. Meta has also remained quiet on abortion policies, though the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke out in an Instagram post.
“This is a scary day for women all across our country. If the leaked draft opinion becomes the law of the land, one of our most fundamental rights will be taken away,” Sandberg wrote. “Few things are more important to women’s health and equality.”
Abortion coverage isn’t equal even within companies that’ve promised travel reimbursement and other protections. Some tech giants employ legions of contractors who typically aren’t eligible for healthcare coverage and other perks. Then there are the gig economy upstarts like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash that rely on part-time workers who often miss out on employer-sponsored health insurance. Amazon is leaving some of its most vulnerable workers in the lurch: The $4,000 travel reimbursement doesn’t extend to the company’s 115,000 delivery workers and Medicaid recipients, Vice recently reported.
“Every woman in her reproductive years is going to be turning to her employer now and asking what their coverage is,” Alpern said. “I think that will, on balance, lead to a great improvement of benefits…it’s going to be hard for employers, particularly corporate employers, to say no to closing loopholes in healthcare.”