(NEW YORK) — Advocates on both sides of the political fight over reproductive rights have spoken out, either in protest or applause of a draft Supreme Court opinion leaked earlier this month that, if it stands, would overturn the court’s landmark decision on Roe v. Wade.
While much of corporate America has remained quiet about the potential legal bombshell, some companies have taken a public stance and adopted new policies that expand employees’ access to abortions.
Several corporations including Amazon and Starbucks have announced expanded health benefits to pay for travel fees incurred by workers seeking an abortion if the procedure is unavailable near where they live, as employees in states like Oklahoma and South Dakota face the prospect of stronger abortion restrictions.
“Like many of you, I’m deeply concerned by the draft Supreme Court opinion related to the constitutional right to abortion that was first established by Roe v. Wade,” Sara Kelly, Starbucks’ acting executive vice president for employee resources, said Monday in a memo to employees.
“When actions impact your access to health care, we will work on a way to make sure you feel supported,” she added.
Meanwhile, rideshare companies Lyft and Uber have vowed to provide legal support for drivers if they face lawsuits for driving passengers to get an abortion.
Experts on corporate responsibility told ABC News that companies are often reluctant to take a position on such a polarizing issue.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of management at Yale University who convenes meetings with top CEOs on social issues, told ABC News many of the corporations that introduced policy changes are in the tech sector, where employees tend to be young and liberal.
“Companies that take a stand on a highly divisive political issue like this one can get in trouble with some stakeholders,” Sandra Waddock, a professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College who specializes in corporate responsibility, told ABC News. “But companies implementing these policies don’t want their employees to be harmed, and it probably makes sense to make sure their employees are happy.”
An analysis from the Guttmacher Institute in October found that 26 states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. On Thursday, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill that would ban abortion at conception, making it the most restrictive abortion ban in the country if it becomes law.
In addition to Starbucks and Amazon, Yelp, Tesla, Citigroup, Apple and Salesforce in recent weeks expanded abortion coverage for employees to include costs for travel when necessary.
Mastercard on Wednesday joined them as the latest major company to say it would cover the travel costs of employees leaving their home state to seek an abortion, which Bloomberg first reported and the company confirmed to ABC News.
In a message to employees shared with ABC News, Mastercard warned of the prospect that the court will overturn previous rulings on access to reproductive health care. The company added: “We will continue to offer employees access to the same health care, including family planning and reproductive benefits, that is available today wherever they live.”
The new company policies drew support from abortion rights advocates and criticism from those who are anti-abortion.
Nadia Khamis, director of corporate engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told ABC News that the organization is “really encouraged to see a large influx of companies publicizing how they’re responding to the potential threat to Roe.”
The need to ensure access to reproductive services for employees is not only a human rights imperative but a business one, Khamis said.
“If you’re a company that cares about being competitive and wants to recruit diverse, smart, productive people,” Khamis said, “they need equal access to health care, and abortion is essential.”
But the new policies drew sharp rebuke from David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion organization. O’Steen said the policies would help employees at the companies pursue abortions. Further, in contrast with Khamis, he said the moves would undermine the companies’ business objectives.
“These companies are formed to produce a product and make a profit for investors,” O’Steen told ABC News. “Not to fly people across the country to have abortions. It’s a terrible business decision.”
The corporate policy changes following the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion mark the latest effort by companies to respond when a major political development embroils the country.
Three years ago, more than 180 CEOs — including those at Twitter and Warby Parker — signed an open letter that opposed restrictive abortion laws at the state level.
In the days following the death of George Floyd, in May 2020, companies across corporate America put out statements in support of racial justice and made donations to advocacy organizations that fight racial inequality.
Last April, as state legislatures pursued restrictive voting laws, hundreds of companies and executives signed a letter opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that limits access to the ballot box.
Sonnenfeld, the professor of management at Yale University, told ABC News that a comparatively small number of companies have spoken out in response to the draft Supreme Court opinion on Roe because they’re assessing whether employees, investors and other stakeholders want such a move.
“There has been a bigger stampede on other issues,” Sonnenfeld said. “Quite a number of CEOs are waiting to make sure they’re not getting out in front of their constituencies.”
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.