Workplace

Tech companies are grappling with employee access to abortions

Abortion care is about to become a critical tech company health insurance issue.

The front façade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.

Health and work are inextricably tied in the U.S.

Photo: Ian Hutchinson/Unsplash

This isn’t the first time tech leaders have been forced to think about abortion rights. Companies that took part in the “Texodus” have been weighing their responsibilities to employees seeking abortion since Texas passed a ban on abortion after six weeks in September 2021. But if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will likely be banned in 26 states, greatly expanding the scope of companies and workers who will be impacted, despite the fact that many polls find that most Americans want Roe to be upheld.

POLITICO released a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on Monday indicating the court will vote to strike down Roe v. Wade. Undoing Roe would deal abortion access a devastating blow, and in the past few days, the draft has prompted tremendous concern about public health and digital surveillance. At a basic level, overturning Roe kicks decisions on abortion to the state and corporate level.

“In one fell swoop, this ruling not only can move decisions to states and municipalities, it moves it to corporations,” said Renee Morgan, social justice director at financial activism firm Adasina Social Capital. “Every corporation should be against this ruling that has been leaked.”

Health and work are inextricably tied in the U.S.: Workers are reliant on how companies define and select their health care policies. To be clear, low-income people are in a far worse position than corporate tech workers when it comes to abortion access. But tech companies wield an enormous amount of power and money. How they choose to respond, either by expanding health care reimbursement or even ceasing operations in a restrictive state, may set the tone for other industries.

Deciding what to do about abortion coverage

Most big tech companies choose to self-insure their health care, allowing them the flexibility to design employee health plans. They won’t be impacted by state laws limiting insurance coverage of abortion because they fund their own plans. But covering abortion in your health care plan doesn’t mean much if employees physically cannot receive one in their state. Covering abortion-related travel is the real question for companies.

Lately, a growing number of tech companies have decided to expand coverage by reimbursing employees for abortion-related travel. Last month, Yelp announced it would cover expenses for employees and their dependents who need to travel out-of-state for abortion access. Citigroup, Apple, Match Group and Bumble have similar policies. Most recently, Amazon announced it would pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses for procedures including abortions.

Employee benefits consultant Jessica Du Bois pointed out that large companies may be the only ones willing to take this step because of the legal risk. Citigroup has already been threatened on a federal level as well as by lawmakers in Texas, and could be sued because of the “aiding and abetting” clause in Texas’ abortion law.

“We are only going to see these large companies speak out,” said Du Bois. “Some of these mid-sized, smaller companies are going to wait it out to see what happens legally.”

It’s easier to commit to covering travel costs when abortion is restricted in a handful of states. But if Roe is overturned, over half of the states will be impacted. Du Bois said the best move for employers is to provide employees with a list of high-quality, lower-cost facilities in their area. Individualizing care on this level helps save money in the long run.

“Smart employers should be navigating or directing employees to those facilities and say, ‘Hey, we’ll pay for it at this facility,’” Du Bois said.

It’s also a good time to revisit how you cover abortion in general. Eliminating qualifications or criteria is critical in expanding abortion access for employees, according to Morgan.

“You provide abortion benefits in full, or you don't have abortion benefits,” Morgan said.

Mass exodus

If Roe is overturned, companies might be inspired to help employees evacuate permanently. Figma CEO Dylan Field tweeted an internal Slack message saying the company will “provide relocation assistance to any US employee who feels targeted or unsafe due to changes in state law.” Marc Benioff also used Twitter to signify his support for employees in Texas back in September, promising to help them leave after the state passed its restrictive abortion law. Salesforce did not respond to Protocol’s request for comment, so it’s unclear if any employees took the company up on its offer.

It’s too soon to tell whether company relocation is a real option for tech companies more broadly. Abandoning business in a state can be a powerful statement, though the political impacts are unclear and the economic impacts are controversial. Texas Monthly reported in October that there were “no signs yet of a tech Texodus”. While some more liberal-leaning tech workers might individually decide to leave, it’s unlikely that a company’s entire workforce will up and relocate.

“There are very few companies that can just pack up and leave within a year,” Megan McHugh, a medical professor and corporate social responsibility expert at Northwestern University, said. “I think the threat is potentially all that may be needed for states to reconsider.”

And some may not see the need to take any action based on abortion restrictions. While Hewlett Packard Enterprise (based in Texas) covers out-of-state medical expenses including abortion, spokesperson Adam Bauer said the company has never taken a position on abortion. HPE has no plans to leave Texas, Bauer confirmed.

Other tech companies are reluctant to commit to a strategy based on a draft decision. Dell told Protocol it would not comment on a draft opinion, and that its focus is on its “team members and supporting them with the benefits they need.” Match Group also offered no comment. Apple, Paycor, Ancestry.com and a score of other tech companies with significant presences in restrictive states did not respond to requests for comment. Companies like Yelp and Bumble condemned the draft opinion and reiterated the belief in a right to choose, but did not answer specific questions.

The role of company culture

Recruitment and retention might be a key motivator for offering relocation options, particularly for companies looking to diversify their workforce. Candidates may not want to work for companies that don’t make up for the gap in health care left by politicians. They may not want to work in a state with laws that limit their freedoms or laws that they fundamentally don’t believe in.

“Millenials and Gen Zs right now are a real target for the tech industry,” said Yuvay Ferguson, a marketing professor at Howard University. “Gen Z is notorious from a consumer behavior standpoint for not picking companies just because they provide money: They're picking companies more so because they find a value alignment.”

Even with unqualified abortion access and travel reimbursements, some people might be unwilling to disclose their abortion procedure with their employer. McHugh said covering abortion costs is a reasonable first step, but isn’t enough on its own.

“My concern is that if a woman is going to have an abortion, she's not going to necessarily want to submit a reimbursement claim through her employer,” McHugh said.

Ferguson echoed this, noting that employees want to work for companies that line up with their set of values. If you’re looking to expand employee access to abortions, considering how you talk about abortion and the openness of your company culture is important.

“You’re going to start hearing stories of people waving the red flag and saying, ‘Hey, women, don’t come to this company,’” Ferguson said.

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