In the Wake of the Roe v. Wade Reversal, Companies Provide Abortion Benefits - But Do They Go Far Enough?

 

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federally recognized right to an abortion that a generation of women have had a medical right to for 50 years, when the Court overturned the landmark case, Roe v. Wade.  Since the Court’s ruling in Roe, reproductive rights advocates have watched as political action committees, elected officials, and religious organizations have strategically attacked a women’s birthright to self-determination and bodily autonomy.  Today, in America, the professional and personal lives of over 6 million women will be impacted by the Court’s retracting of a women’s ability to decide when to become a mother, pursue a career, and control her health.

In response to new abortion restrictions, companies of all sizes, are revising workplace policies to include benefits so that women and their families can continue to access reproductive and healthcare rights.

Just two days after the Court’s ruling, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it will reimburse its employees for travel-related costs used to secure an abortion. Dick’s is not alone in creating new corporate policies that support reproductive rights. According to a statement released on Twitter, Dick’s executives Ed Stack and Lauren Hobart provided a glimpse into the company’s policy by stating in sum, “…Dick’s Sporting Goods will provide up to $4,000 in travel expense reimbursement to travel to the nearest location where that care is legally available.  This benefit will be provided to any teammate, spouse, or dependent enrolled in our medical plan, along with one support person….” 

Similarly, Disney promised to extend family planning benefits to workers unable to access reproductive care where they live. Amazon will pay up to $4,000 in assistance to help its workers obtain abortion care. In a further show of corporate allyship with employees, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Meta, and Warner Brothers also promised to reimburse costs related to reproductive care-related travel.

Not surprisingly these companies and their employees have felt empowered to push back against the Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, with newly expanded employee benefits, however, these benefits should be carefully drafted to ensure the intended objectives are achieved. Namely, while sympathetic employers may want to assist employees, is the reimbursement of travel costs an effective way to truly support reproductive freedom?

In the statement issued by Dick’s Sporting Goods, qualified employees can anticipate reimbursement of travel related costs, however, employees must first pay for that cost, out of their own pocket, which for hourly wage earners or low-income employees may be tantamount to not obtaining an abortion.  In the end, while employees may feel supported by the new benefits, some company policies may be limited to only women with financial means.  

In the book, I co-authored with several reproductive rights activists, War on My Body, A War on My Rights,” Gloria Allred, crystalized the point of the costs attenuate to accessing abortion when she wrote that in 1966 before she was a well-known lawyer she“… took the little savings that [she] had and met the man [who would perform the abortion] in a room where he said that he would do it, but [she] had to pay him first…At the time, [she] had no idea that [she] was taking a risk that could cost…my life.”

Aside from an abortion’s financial expense, companies should also be sensitive to the heavy emotional price employees will pay due to the judgment and shame that often accompanies this procedure.  Ethically and legally, companies must ensure that employee confidentiality is not breached when their workers seek abortion related reimbursements.  Thus, each step in the reimbursement process should consider the following:

  • company official that employees must seek approval from;
  • forms and the language required to apply for the company benefit; and
  • reimbursement documentation is required from the employee after the procedure is completed.

Businesses must also consider whether new benefits will extend to only full-time employees and not part-time employees.  Additionally, companies should explicitly state whether new policies cover a support person, partner, and/or spouse of the employee.  Equally important, human resource departments and in-house counsels should be familiar with the push by some states to impose criminal and civil penalties on individuals who cross state lines to obtain an abortion.  Companies should consider whether they will be exposed to liability for company policies that fund or support abortions.  Currently, no state has banned or criminalized the crossing of state lines  to obtain an abortion, however, conservative lawmakers have openly discussed the possibility.

Undoubtedly, the vast majority of companies will stand mute on the highly charged issue of abortion, preferring to not take sides and risk alienating workers or potential customers.  However, for businesses that understand the importance of a fully liberated female workforce, supporting reproductive rights is possible with well-crafted benefit policies.