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  5. An abortion or a job? Companies and investors are forced to weigh in on the Roe v. Wade debate.

An abortion or a job? Companies and investors are forced to weigh in on the Roe v. Wade debate.

Lisa Rabasca Roepe   

An abortion or a job? Companies and investors are forced to weigh in on the Roe v. Wade debate.
  • Saturday will mark the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.
  • With abortion rights being considered in the US Supreme Court, some companies have taken a stand.

Saturday will mark the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the US. Yet at least 26 states are poised to ban abortion if the US Supreme Court upholds a Mississippi law that seeks to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, a Texas law that allows private individuals to sue abortion providers and anyone who aids in an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy was sent to the state supreme court this week.

With both these cases in limbo and the US Supreme Court ruling not expected before June, some companies are beginning to recognize that access to reproductive healthcare and abortion is an economic issue, and that providing it should be part of their DEI efforts.

"Access to reproductive health is an equality issue," Miriam Warren, Yelp's chief diversity officer and chair of the Yelp Foundation, told Insider. "If women can't decide whether and when to extend their family, that makes other decisions difficult."

Reproductive healthcare services, including contraception and abortion, are used by nearly all women — 99% have used contraception and 25% have had an abortion by age 45, according to "Hidden Value: The Business Case for Reproductive Health," a report by Rhia Ventures, which invests in reproductive and maternal-health solutions.

Abortion restrictions impact the labor force

Abortion restrictions fall the hardest on women that already face obstacles accessing healthcare and economic opportunities — including Black women, Hispanic women, and LGBTQ+ individuals, according to a report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

State-level abortion restrictions cost state economies $105 billion per year by reducing workforce participation and earnings and increasing turnover and time off from work among women ages 15 to 44 years, the IWPR report also found.

If a woman can't get an abortion, she might be forced to quit her job, Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement at Rhia Ventures, said. "But an abortion is so taboo that the employee will never tell her employer that was the reason why," she said. "These state restrictions will create a lot more turnover that will add to the Great Resignation."

Last year, states enacted more than 100 restrictions on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. These restrictions don't just impact women, some experts said.

"Regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status, inclusive reproductive health benefits should provide family-forming options to all employees," Annette Alexander, chief people officer at WP Engine, a WordPress technology company based in Austin, said.

The LGBTQ+ community also has a strong need for supportive and tailored sexual and reproductive care because historically, they've been overlooked for this type of health benefit, she added.

In fact, most employees agree that access to reproductive healthcare is an equity issue. Roughly seven in 10 respondents said access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, should be part of the issues companies address when it comes to gender issues in the workplace, according to a national survey by nonpartisan research firm PerryUndem.

Some companies are taking a stand

After the Texas law was passed, a number of companies made headlines with their plans to support employees. Salesforce promised to helping employees relocate if they have concerns about access to reproductive healthcare, and Lyft and Uber said it would pay legal fees of drivers sued under the Texas abortion law.

Several other companies are responding to the Texas law by reevaluating their benefits. Although Lush Handmade Cosmetics is based in Vancouver, a majority of its stores and workforce are US-based, so the company is reviewing its healthcare coverage to make sure all US staff has access to abortion services, said Carleen Pickard, Lush's ethical campaigns specialist.

Lush has 213 US shops and 1,200 US employees, including 124 stores in Texas.

Although the company's healthcare plan provides access to abortion, employees in Texas can no longer obtain these services. The company is working on ways to provide equal coverage, she said. "We actually have women and women-identifying staff in Texas that don't have the same rights as their colleagues in Washington State, and that is a real conundrum for us," Pickard said.

Yelp is also looking into ways to provide equal access to reproductive healthcare for all its employees, Warren said. "If someone is residing in a state where abortion is banned and needs to go to another state for healthcare, we want to ensure that will be covered," she said.

Both these companies are also helping to educate consumers on this issue.

Yelp is using its social-media platform to help consumers tell the difference between crisis pregnancy centers, which offer counseling services, and centers that provide reproductive healthcare services, Warren said. Since 2019, the company has reviewed approximately 8,000 businesses and updated 2,000 listings, she said.

Yelp took this step after its CEO Jeremy Stoppelman saw an episode of "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver that explained the dangers of this type of mischaracterization, Warren said. "Someone might want to go to a crisis pregnancy center, but consumers have a right to know the difference," she added.

Meanwhile, Lush is using its store windows and employees in select states to educate customers about the need for comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion. Lush began talking to Texas customers last year and using messages from the Don't Ban Equality campaign, which explains the economic impact of restricting access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Staff members were trained to speak about the issue and encourage customers to take action by contacting their local state representatives, Pickard said.

On Saturday, Lush employees at its 12 stores in Florida and six stores in Ohio, where state legislators have introduced bills similar to Texas's law, will begin the same customer education campaign through February 14. "We will move to other states in quick succession," Pickard added.

Investors also play a role

Some investors are also taking a more critical look at companies' political donations.

In the past, companies have given equally to both Republicans and Democrats in their state and haven't considered the long-term impacts, Rachel J. Robasciotti, founder and CEO of Adasina Social Capital, a San Francisco-based investment firm that focuses on social justice, said.

When Adasina learned that one of its portfolio companies, UnitedHealth Group, was a major contributor to Texas lawmakers supporting SB8, it called on the company to review its political spending or be excluded from the Adasina Social Justice Index. "We're seeing that companies are very open to engaging in these discussions," Robasciotti said.

Investors are also engaging with corporations about reproductive rights by filing shareholder resolutions. Trillium Asset Management in Portland, Oregon, filed a shareholder resolution with TJX Companies, which owns TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls and employs thousands of employees in all 50 states.

"If Roe is overturned, that will affect 40% of their stores and employees," Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer for Trillium, said. More than half the employees are people of color and 75% are women, he added.

The resolution is asking TJX to issue a report on how it'll manage its risk if Roe v. Wade is overturned, what it'll do about employees in states where abortion is banned, and how it'll think about executive recruitment and its ability to staff stores in those states.

How other companies can get involved

Before taking a stand, it's important to take a deep look at company values and talk with your employees, Warren said.

"While this has historically been a topic that people don't talk about at the dinner table, if it is consistent with your values to consider the issue of equality and how important it is for every person in your company to have solvency over their own bodies, start to think about how you can get involved," she said. One step is to sign the Don't Ban Equality Letter.

"I believe companies have a responsibility to be good to the people who they employ," Pickard said.

While there are many ways to support your staff, Pickard added that companies should speak out in a way that's sensitive to their brand. "Then you are stepping out into a world where your staff feels supported and customers feel like they are in safe spaces," she said.


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