Thanks to last Monday’s leaked draft opinion, we now know that the Supreme Court likely plans to officially overturn Roe v. Wade when it issues its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization next month, thereby dismantling the constitutional protections that have been recognized by the courts for nearly half a century since Roe. In the decades since that ruling, the positive impact on women’s well-being and the progress toward gender equality in the workplace are impossible to deny, and it’s undoubtedly why a majority of Americans are in favor of upholding the right to abortion. It is now up to Congress to codify Roe into law. In the meantime, it’s also up to business leaders to make it clear they support the health and safety of their employees, and step up to ensure they have access to the care they need.
This is part of a series of articles on the business case for abortion access. See the full package here.
In 2019, I signed the “Don’t Ban Equality” statement in support of reproductive rights, and Yelp signed on once again as a company to condemn restrictive policies such as SB8 in Texas. These statements sound the alarm on the potential economic losses from existing abortion restrictions, noting that these restrictions already cost states an estimated $105 billion annually in labor force impact and earnings. While I continue to support this statement, what is at stake far eclipses the economic argument. All people have a right to self-determination, and that means women have a fundamental right to choose the path their lives will take, to control their own bodies, and most important, to safely access the health services they need. Nearly half of Yelp’s employees are women, and it’s impossible to stay quiet while their rights are stripped away.
Today, serious complications from legal abortions are rare, but that was not always the case prior to Roe v. Wade. In the 12 years following the ruling, deaths from legal abortions declined fivefold. A recent study found that banning abortions will lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths, and a 33% increase among Black women in particular, who face far greater life-threatening risks related to childbirth than white women. Restricting legal access to reproductive care won’t stop women from seeking abortions, but it will tragically force them to resort to potentially unsafe options.
Beyond saving countless lives, Roe v. Wade was a singular moment that helped pave the way for women to pursue educational and professional opportunities at greater numbers over the past 50 years. In that time, the percentage of women in the U.S. who earned a bachelor’s degree surged by nearly five times, while the percentage of employees in STEM fields who are women nearly quadrupled and the percentage of managers who are women more than tripled. While there are still far too few women in leadership positions, the number of women in the C-suites and boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, as well as in Congress, has been steadily climbing over the past several decades.
Overturning Roe v. Wade won’t just cost us the societal and economic gains we’ve reaped as a result of women’s progress in the workplace; it will hinder the advancement of women of color, particularly those from marginalized communities. Research from American University found that when Black women can access abortions, it leads to increases in college entry and completion, and the likelihood of a professional career or managerial role. Abortion access also increases individual earnings and family income, and decreases the probability of living in poverty and receiving public assistance.
Ensuring that women can access the reproductive care they need isn’t a new issue for Yelp. For years, we have taken steps to mitigate misinformation on our platform so that users who are searching for abortion care have access to reliable information about the services they need. Additionally, the Yelp Foundation is double matching Yelp employee donations to select organizations that are fighting the legal battle against abortion bans, as well as those that provide reproductive health services and financial support to under-served women.
Even so, I never thought I’d feel compelled to speak out on this issue. For most of my time as CEO of Yelp, since cofounding the company in 2004, our employees were largely concentrated in California, which arguably goes farthest as a state to protect abortion access. However, the pandemic changed our geographic spread, and we are now a remote-first company with employees in every state across the country. As it became clear that our distributed workforce does not have equal access to reproductive health care, with some employees and their families standing to lose access altogether, I realized we needed to take action.
The well-being of our employees is our top priority, and we want to ensure that they have consistent access to the health services they need. That is why we decided to expand health insurance coverage to include out-of-state travel costs for Yelp employees and their dependents impacted by current or future action that restricts access to covered reproductive care. While this wasn’t a difficult decision, it’s one that I wish individual companies didn’t have to make. This is why I urge other business leaders who fundamentally understand that abortion bans negatively impact the well-being of employees and their families to speak out as well.
Companies who have for years claimed that diversity and inclusion is a priority must recognize that restricting women’s rights to decide when to have children will severely impact their well-being and limit their access to equitable opportunities for success in the workplace. When roughly 50% of the U.S. population faces greater barriers not only to participating in the workforce and advancing to leadership positions, but simply to exercise their right to self-determination, it undermines any corporate commitment to gender equity. Remaining silent on the issue of reproductive rights flies in the face of any public pledges professing a desire to create more diverse and inclusive companies.
Restricting women’s rights to decide when to start or expand their families impedes on their constitutional liberties, denies them their human rights, and jeopardizes the progress they have made over the past 50 years. We need more business leaders to use their platform and influence to help ensure that reproductive rights are codified into law, and that the wave of abortion bans and restrictive policies across the country are not allowed to stand.
Jeremy Stoppelman is co-founder and CEO of Yelp.