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Companies now need to take action to protect employee abortion rights. Here’s how

Corporate action alone can’t make up for the loss of the constitutional right to seek an abortion, but employers must do all they can to blunt the impact of this historic and devastating policy shift.

Companies now need to take action to protect employee abortion rights. Here’s how
Protestors gather outside the Supreme Court, June 24, 2022. [Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

In a devastating blow, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping Americans of their constitutional right to seek an abortion and effectively banning the procedure in 26 states. The economic impacts of this decision will no doubt be astounding.

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For many people, particularly workers in low-wage jobs and people of color, access to safe and reliable reproductive healthcare can mean the difference between economic insecurity and economic advancement. Women who don’t have access to abortion care are three times more likely to leave the workforce and nearly four times more likely to have a household income below the federal poverty line. Furthermore, Black and Latinx people will be disproportionately impacted by Roe being overturned, further compounding economic inequities. In states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, which already limit abortion access, the majority of those receiving abortions are people of color.

With one in four women having an abortion in their lifetime, preserving abortion access is crucial to not only helping individuals and families stay on paths to economic advancement, but also to curb negative impacts on the broader economy. For companies, it just makes good business sense. Supporting greater access to reproductive healthcare allows organizations to better connect their values to their corporate purpose and to reaffirm their diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. In today’s competitive labor market, it also helps expand their pool of available talent: 64% of college-educated workers who participated in a survey last year said they would not even apply for a job in a state that has passed an abortion ban.

That’s why employers have a critical role to play in reducing the gaps in access that will now arise from Roe being overturned. At Jobs for the Future (JFF), we’ve taken action to address inequities in access to reproductive healthcare due to Roe v. Wade being overturned by expanding our medical benefits to include, among other things, reimbursements of up to $4,000 per year for our employees and their dependents who have to travel more than 100 miles for health services. JFF CEO Maria Flynn highlighted the urgent need for these and other actions in an essay published shortly after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that supported overturning Roe v. Wade.

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As the fallout of the decision unfurls, employers across the country must act now to ensure their employees still have access to reproductive healthcare. Here’s how.

Expand the scope of reproductive healthcare coverage. Companies should comprehensively review their healthcare benefits packages to identify what elements of reproductive healthcare they do and do not cover—such as types of abortion, timelines, statewide policies and shifts, reimbursement policies—and then develop strategies to address those gaps. They should also look more closely at the plans their insurers offer to see what types of coverage are available.

Companies should think holistically and consider adding benefits that help employees with the full range of challenges they might face when they’re in need of an abortion or other reproductive healthcare services. This might include coverage for travel expenses, relocation assistance for workers who choose to move out of states with restrictive abortion policies, more flexible paid time-off and remote work policies, expanded childcare benefits, emergency funds, and supplemental financial and administrative support for part-time workers and those in low-wage jobs or contract positions.

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A host of companies have started to take such steps. Citigroup recently announced a policy to offer financial support to workers who have to travel to receive reproductive health services. Many other companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, and Mastercard, have announced similar policies to cover travel costs for healthcare needs.

More strongly support employee well-being. Expanding benefits plans and adopting policies that more fully meet the needs of workers who are considering abortion are great first steps, but organizations should be doing much more to support the overall physical, mental, and emotional health of employees whose access to reproductive health services is under threat.

Companies should regularly check in on employees to get a sense of their psychological and emotional well-being, offer opportunities for workers to discuss issues and concerns in safe settings, and provide access to anonymous mental health services. Developing internal and external communications plans to ensure that employees and the public know where the company stands on these issues is also critical to ensuring workers feel safe, accepted, and supported. Organizations should make sure employees are aware of all the benefits covering reproductive healthcare that are available to them and that they understand how to utilize company resources.

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Encourage voting and civic engagement. Employers must be prepared to address the concerns of employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders who are increasingly aware of, and even directly involved in, debates over abortion access in Washington, D.C., and at the state level. As a start, they can ensure that their paid time-off policies accommodate the fundamental right of employees to vote in elections and engage in activities related to the public debate over issues that concern them.

Separately, employers can also assess how states’ policies align with their organizational values and, in cases where they’re in conflict, consider what, if any, adjustments they should make. Companies should also consider aligning their political donations, philanthropic investments, and corporate spending with their stated values, especially those related to access to reproductive healthcare. Engaging in government-relations activities to promote policies and legislation that they support has never been more important.

Overturning Roe v. Wade will immediately have a huge impact on not only half of the members of the U.S. workforce, but also on anyone who depends on them, the organizations that employ them, and the broader economy. Corporate action alone can’t make up for the loss of what has for decades been enshrined as a fundamental constitutional right, but employers must do all they can to blunt the impact of this historic and devastating policy shift.

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Cat Ward is managing director of JFFLabs, a unit of the nonprofit Jobs for the Future that designs and scales new approaches to promoting economic advancement. She founded and manages JFF’s Corporate Action Platform and Advisory Services practice. Megha Bansal Rizoli is director of organizational strategy at JFF. She also leads development and implementation of JFF’s Impact Framework to quantify and articulate the organization’s impact in driving equitable economic advancement for all.

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