Many CEOs may have read Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft opinion thinking the fall of Roe v. Wade isn’t their problem—but they’d be wrong.
Americans will suffer severely if the Supreme Court guts abortion rights—and so will companies. People will be punished for making personal, private healthcare decisions, forced into childbearing, and pregnancy-related deaths will increase. CEOs should remember: These aren’t abstractions, they’re your employees and customers. Five right-wing justices may want to see Roe overturned, but a whopping 72% of Americans do not.
This is part of a series of articles on the business case for abortion access. See the full package here.
As senior leaders of a policy communications firm, we help CEOs and corporate partners navigate complicated political issues every day. Historically, many business leaders have viewed abortion as the most complicated issue of all, and therefore have kept it at arm’s length—all the while engaging on issues like LGBTQ rights or climate change. Last week, we learned, some companies are getting shortsighted advice from PR firms telling them to remain silent on this issue because it could be a “no-win situation” for them “regardless of what they do.”
The risks of taking action are real: Conservative lawmakers are already threatening legislation aimed at preventing companies from taking action to protect their employees’ rights. Yet there are risks to inaction as well. It would be a mistake to ignore the well-documented benefits of abortion access, how devastating and terrifying this moment is for so many people, or that this is not a “50-50 issue”—it’s 70-30. And if right-wing politicians representing a minority of Americans try to punish companies for protecting their workers and standing up for their values, they may face their own consequences. Sixty-two percent of Americans—including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans—say they’re less likely to back a candidate who goes after companies for their stances on social issues.
CEOs should understand that abortion protections are good not just for workers and customers, they’re also good for business and the broader economy. Women’s participation in the labor force grew after Roe was decided—bringing increased profits, access to better talent, and more productivity. Existing abortion restrictions cost the economy $105 billion annually due to employee turnover and time off needed for travel. That cost will rise if and when Roe is overturned and additional restrictions in 26 states snap into effect.
This is going to be a major challenge at a time when companies are already struggling to recruit and retain talent. Women who don’t have access to abortion are three times more likely to leave the workforce than women who do. Two-thirds of college-educated workers (men and women) would not apply for a job in a state with abortion restrictions, and about half would consider moving away as a result of them. As we’ve seen repeatedly, employees want their employers to stand up for what’s right—and companies that neglect this responsibility pay a price.
For the many companies that have made commitments in recent years on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the end of Roe poses a stark test. Barriers to abortion disproportionately affect women of color, putting their health and economic well-being at risk and shrinking opportunities available to them. Abortion restrictions also exacerbate existing gender and racial disparities and disrupt diverse talent pipelines.
Even among business leaders who understand that they can’t sit on the sidelines, many aren’t sure how to respond. However, there’s a simple playbook companies should follow that begins with looking inward (where they have the most control), and then looking outward (where they can push for broader progress).
To start, companies should audit their benefit packages to identify obstacles to seeking abortion care, including health plan limitations and distance required to reach providers. Some companies have already started fixing these problems, ensuring all abortions are covered in company health plans, subsidizing costs for abortion-related travel, and even setting up legal funds to support employees criminalized as a result of seeking care. Any of these changes should be carefully implemented to protect privacy, and clearly communicated internally and connected to the company’s values. Internal communications also provide an opportunity to connect employees to resources to locate their closest clinic or coordinate and cover the cost needed to get there. Getting internal affairs in order is crucial to teeing up any successful external engagement, and stakeholders will be looking to make sure the two are aligned.
Then, companies that want to go beyond internal action can use their platforms to call on other businesses to join them in protecting their workforce or donating to independent abortion funds. Companies may also consider calling for state and federal legislation codifying abortion rights. It may not compel red states to reverse their restrictive bans, but they can make a real difference in purple states where fierce battles lie ahead. Corporate advocacy can also help ensure that the widespread support for reproductive rights is better reflected in mainstream values and culture.
Companies should also take a hard look at any political donations they’ve made historically or continue to make. Just as contributing to climate deniers undercuts companies’ sustainability pledges, continuing to fund anti-abortion legislators will make a mockery of uplifting statements about DEI, women’s rights, and reproductive freedom. (Some are already being called out for this.)
To be sure, corporate action isn’t a replacement for government inaction. But this crisis isn’t going away. The anti-abortion movement is planning for a federal abortion ban, and will seek more restrictions on rights that Alito might also find aren’t “deeply rooted in the nation’s history or tradition”—like access to birth control, emergency contraception, IVF, and surrogacy. The same logic could easily threaten marriage equality and other advances we now take for granted.
The post-Roe world is coming fast. The worst thing companies could do is bury their heads in the sand and pretend they don’t have the power—or responsibility—to play a part in shaping it.
Mackenzie Long is a vice president at Evergreen Strategy Group, and Caty Gordon is a director at Evergreen, a policy communications firm that helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations communicate their values.