Companies scramble to work out policies related to employee abortions
By Emma Goldberg
There is no clear blueprint for corporate engagement on abortion. After numerous companies came forward to announce that they would cover travel expenses for their employees to get abortions, executives have had to move swiftly to both sort out the mechanics of those policies and explain them to a workforce concerned about confidentiality and safety.
Few companies have commented directly on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights. Far more have responded by expanding their health care policies to cover travel and other expenses for employees who can’t get abortions close to home, now that the procedure is banned in at least eight states with other bans set to soon take effect. About half the country gets its health care coverage from employers, and the wave of new employer commitments has raised concerns from some workers about privacy.
“It’s a doomsday scenario if individuals have to bring their health care choices to their employers,” said Dina Fierro, a global vice president at cosmetics company Nars, echoing a concern that many workers have expressed on social media in recent days.
Employers are scrambling to prepare for possible legal challenges to their health care policies, as well as responding to scrutiny of their past political donations to politicians who supported abortion bans. Match Group, for example, whose former CEO Shar Dubey announced a fund in September supporting abortion access in partnership with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, donated more than $100,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association last year, as was reported in Popular Information. Match Group declined to comment.
Among the companies that said they would assist employees who have to travel for abortions are Disney, Macy’s, H&M, Nordstrom, Nike, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Snap, which join a larger group including Starbucks and Yelp that had previously committed to doing so. Salesforce and Google both said they would move employees who want to leave states where abortion is banned.
These employers cover health care for only a fraction of the millions of people living in states where abortion is or will soon be banned. And other major employers have not made public statements regarding employee assistance. The country’s largest private employer, Walmart, declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling. Other large employers such as Target, Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines did not respond to requests for comment.
Some marketing experts note that companies that do weigh in will probably face some backlash. “Consumers and employees don’t want companies to ‘take a stand’ — unless companies take up their position and cause,” Kimberly Whitler, who teaches marketing at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, said in an email.
In an attempt to ease fears over potential confidentiality issues, many employers rolling out new benefits related to abortion are aiming to allow workers, and others on their health care plans, to get travel reimbursement without disclosing anything to their managers. In some cases, that means having people submit claims to their insurance companies as they would for other medical procedures. Yelp, for example, explained to its employees in April that its travel benefit is administered through its insurance provider.
“No one at Yelp will ever receive any information on who incurred a claim or received reimbursement,” a Yelp spokesperson said.
Aetna, one of the largest insurance companies, said it would “ensure our data practices comply with all applicable laws protecting the privacy of our members.” UnitedHealth declined to comment specifically on privacy issues. Anthem, Cigna and Humana did not respond to requests for comment.
Expedia said travel costs would be reimbursed through medical plan providers, and employees could use their time off without noting the reason. BuzzFeed said that instead of reimbursements for abortion-related expenses, it would offer stipends that would be approved by the head of its human resources department — someone, the company said, who was trained to handle confidential issues.
PayPal said it had an employee advocacy team that provided confidential information to employees on sensitive issues, including on using their health care benefits. Starbucks workers have third-party point people, called advocates, whom employees can anonymously approach with questions about health care benefits, ensuring they don’t have to disclose details about their medical needs to managers.
“That can be anything from ‘I’ve got knee surgery planned and want to make the right decision on a plan,’ to getting advice on what they should do if they intend to use the fertility benefit and everything in between,” said Reggie Borges, a spokesperson for the company.
Some employers have laid out the details of their new health care policies in memos to staff. Impossible Foods, for example, said that in addition to travel for abortions, it would also cover lodging, meals and child care. Wells Fargo said that as of July 1, its health care plans would include reimbursement for travel and lodging for “legal abortion-related services.” (Patagonia said it would also cover bail for employees who are arrested while peacefully protesting the Supreme Court’s decision.)
Currently, no states with bans try to prosecute women who travel out of state for an abortion, but some legal experts think that those laws could be possible in the future, as could attempts to use existing laws to prosecute abortion travel. Republican legislators in Texas have already said they plan to introduce legislation penalizing companies that pay for out-of-state abortion travel.
“We’re going to see creative attempts by people who are deeply committed to stopping abortion to use existing laws and pass new laws to stop as many abortions as possible, including those funded by companies,” said David Cohen, a constitutional law professor at Drexel University. “Companies are gearing up for a fight.”
And some executives seemed prepared for it. On Friday, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wrote in a tweet: “I believe CEOs have a responsibility to take care of their employees — no matter what.”