In the months preceding the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24th decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the topic of conversation has been how companies should prepare for a post-Roe world. Now, it’s time for companies to take strategic action to mitigate the repercussions of overturning the landmark 1973 case on businesses across the country.
Changes to employee health benefits, complications with HIPAA, and the expected decline of mental health in the workplace are just a few of the impacts businesses need to address in the wake of this historic decision to end nearly fifty years of the constitutional right to abortion. Below, we’ve outlined three significant business implications—and strategies for responding to each.
Changes to health plan coverage and benefit policy
As mentioned in our previous blog post, Overturning Roe vs. Wade and the Lasting Impact on Health Care, businesses need to consider policy changes for travel, healthcare reimbursement, and benefits—especially companies that operate in multiple states. Companies that offer health plans with nationwide coverage may have the upper hand in ensuring that employees have access to abortion care, even if it means they must travel to obtain that care legally.1
Several large companies, such as Netflix, Citigroup, Apple, and Starbucks, have already announced how they plan to protect access to abortion services.2 These initiatives include ensuring that all abortions are covered under company health plans, paying for or subsidizing abortion-related travel costs (some offer this benefit to employees, their dependents—including partners, regardless of marital status, and even a support person to travel with),3 and establishing legal funds to support employees who face legal trouble due to seeking abortion care.
Beyond giving states the power to control abortion access, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has a ripple effect that will impact many areas of reproductive health, including contraception, IVF, and treatment for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.4 As such, companies need to revise parental leave and caregiving benefits to accommodate this expected influx of unwanted births.
How to take action on changing benefit policies
Companies can respond by, first, auditing their current benefit packages to identify and eliminate any obstacles to seeking medical abortion care, as well as other reproductive health benefits. Such obstacles may include health plan limitations and the distance required to reach providers in states where abortion rights are protected.
Then, businesses must decide whether the company will subsidize travel to access legal abortion services and who is eligible for this benefit. Other considerations include whether the company will set aside funds to support employees who face legal issues—such as fines or prison time—after seeking abortion care and which resources to offer to assist employees in their reproductive health journey.
Any changes to health benefits need to be implemented carefully to protect employee privacy and be communicated internally to show how policy changes align with the company’s values and commitment to supporting its employees. Businesses also need to consider HIPAA complications that accompany workplace conversations about health concerns, especially concerning people who might have to travel for a medical procedure–including discussions between the company and its employees, as well as between employees.
Legal and PR repercussions for both action and inaction
Businesses need to understand that abortion, though a socially and politically fraught issue, isn’t something they can hold at arm’s length any longer. Companies of all sizes will need to find a delicate balance between taking a public stance on protecting abortion rights and the legal risk of taking action.
Many influential companies have remained silent about the right to have an abortion.5 For example, companies in one of the 26 states with trigger laws that started to go into effect when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have stayed quiet due to fear of litigation from state governments if they help employees obtain out-of-state abortions.6 Legal action isn’t an unwarranted concern: conservative lawmakers in Texas have already threatened litigation to prevent companies from protecting their employees’ rights.7 Avoiding backlash, controversy, and harder, more stigmatized conversations at work are other reasons many companies continue to straddle the proverbial fence as millions of Americans have their reproductive rights stripped away.8
On the other hand, companies who decide not to take a public stand or offer resources to their employees that protect abortion access and coverage run the risk of being perceived as being on the wrong side of history by employees, shareholders, and the public. In addition to the well-documented benefits of abortion access,9 companies need to remember that abortion bans are only supported by 30% of Americans, while 70% oppose these restrictions.10 Similarly, Perry Undem’s recent survey of the top talent in the US workforce found that 7 in 10 employees believe that companies should take a stance on social issues, including abortion. Companies that neglect to do so will pay the price.11
How to take action that protects employee’s reproductive rights
In addition to the necessary revisions to health plan coverage and benefits policy, companies must take a solid stance to protect their employees’ rights to abortion care and other reproductive health services. Corporate advocacy is a powerful way to support employees and proactively help prevent other legal rights, such as marriage equality, that are now at risk of being overturned.
There are several ways businesses can advocate for employee rights. First and foremost, companies need to review their political donations to ensure that contributions align with the company’s commitment to healthcare equality and access for employees. Companies that support abortion bans through monetary donations have already been flagged as problematic,12 so it’s vital to stop the flow of funds going to anti-abortion legislators. Consider instead donating to independent abortion funds.13
Calling for state and federal legislation to codify abortion rights is also a good business move, especially for companies in purple states where intense battles between both sides of the issue are most likely.
Declining employee mental health and wellbeing
In recent years, employers across industries have made a concerted effort to expand employee access to mental health benefits. Today, mental health initiatives are more critical than ever as the nation reels from the prolonged after-effects of the pandemic, a pending economic crisis, and the injustice of taking abortion protections away from the people who need them most.
People without the right to choose if, when, or how they become a parent face significant mental health consequences. With the loss of bodily autonomy comes emotional distress, financial struggles, and social issues, such as the experience (or fear) of judgment, backlash, and shame.
The U.S. Turnaway Study, a longitudinal study examining the effects of unwanted pregnancy on women’s lives, reports that:
- Compared to having an abortion, being denied a wanted abortion is associated with a greater risk of experiencing adverse psychological outcomes in the short term.
- Women denied abortions experienced more anxiety than women who received one in the months after seeking an abortion.
- Abortion does not increase the risk of depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, or stress in the short term or over a period of five years.
In addition to the direct emotional, financial, and social consequences of being denied an abortion, employers can anticipate that employees who may become pregnant are likely to be less engaged and productive at work. And employees who do experience an unwanted pregnancy and can’t access abortion services will have to cope with becoming a parent along with the accompanying mental and physical health concerns and the distinct challenges mothers face in the workplace.14 It’s a no-win situation for many Americans, and businesses are responsible for supporting their employees subjected to the radical injustice of abortion bans.
How to take action to support employee mental health
Companies can mitigate the mental health impact of abortion restrictions on their employees through effective and mindful communication, inclusive workplace policies, and mental health benefits that help eliminate privacy concerns and stigma.
Conversations with employees about what to expect post-Roe will be difficult no matter what.
Now that the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade is no longer a possibility but a sad reality, businesses need to address these implications in meaningful ways. If you need support figuring out an appropriate response to these challenges, contact us.