By Megha Bansal Rizoli, Director of Organizational Strategy, JFF, and Cat Ward, Managing Director, JFF
Read our related op-ed published in Fast Company: Companies now need to take action to protect employee abortion rights. Here's how.
In a devastating blow, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, and now employers across the country must act immediately to ensure that their employees will still be able to access critical reproductive health care.
For many people, particularly women in low-wage jobs and women of color, access to safe and reliable health care, including abortion, can mean the difference between economic insecurity and economic advancement. Research shows that denying people access to a legal abortion has reverberating impacts on their ability to participate in and succeed in the American labor market—and that one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
Employers have a critical role to play in reducing the gaps in access that will arise with Roe overturned and when abortion bans immediately became the law as expected, in 22 states, and in the four other states poised to enact new bans. Employer action is essential—not only to help keep individuals and families on paths to economic advancement even as they wrestle with difficult decisions about abortion, but also to curb the negative impact on the broader economy and on their companies’ ability to thrive.
With Roe v. Wade overturned, 41 percent of women of childbearing age will see their nearest abortion clinic close, and they will need to travel an average of 280 miles to receive the service, up from 35 miles currently. By some estimates the rates of legal abortions will fall by at least 14 percent—while alternative methods such as pills by mail or illegal surgical procedures may rise, putting patients in potentially unsafe conditions without adequate medical care.
Developments like those will have the biggest impact on people in low-paying jobs with minimal health care benefits that offer limited paid time off and lack scheduling flexibility.
Why Employers Should Care
At Jobs for the Future (JFF), we’ve taken action to address inequities in access to reproductive health care that will arise with Roe v. Wade 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.
We believe that supporting access to reproductive health care not only reduces potential adverse impacts on employee health and economic well-being; it also makes good economic and business sense. We urge other employers to take similar actions because collectively their impact would:
- Strengthen the economy. Limiting access to reproductive health care would have immediate effects on the lives of individual workers and massive repercussions on the U.S. economy and the labor market. Women who don’t have access to abortion care are three times more likely to leave the workforce and four times more likely to have a household income below the federal poverty line. Being denied access to abortion is often linked with lower credit scores, increased debt, higher numbers of negative public financial records—such as bankruptcies and evictions—and greater reliance on public assistance. Employers must take these challenges facing their employees into account as they make decisions about health care benefits and other policies. Failing to address these issues could lead to consequences that reverberate throughout the economy.
- Provide access to more talent. In today’s competitive labor market, employers can’t afford to see skilled people leave their talent pipelines—and access to abortion services is an issue that affects people’s decisions about where they work. For example, in 2021, 64 percent of college-educated workers who participated in a PerryUndem study said they would not apply for a job in a state that passed an abortion ban like the one Texas enacted last fall. Furthermore, women who give birth after an unwanted pregnancy are more likely to face health conditions and disruptions in their careers that set them back in their professional development. Failing to address the impact abortion policies can have on the supply of skilled labor could jeopardize organizational competitiveness.
- Reaffirm DEI commitments. Overturning Roe v. Wade will have a bigger impact on people of color than it would on white people. In Mississippi, for example, 77 percent of the people who receive abortions are Black or Hispanic—and women of color are more likely than white women to be covered by Medicaid, which under the Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal funds for abortion except in rare instances. In a Winter 2022 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey, 41 percent of the CEOs polled said they feel that their organizations lack stakeholder trust on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—and failing to address an issue that disproportionately affects people of color would only further erode that trust.
- Connect values and corporate purpose. Increasingly, companies cite “corporate purpose” as a strategic imperative that’s critical to building a values-driven organization. Failing to address, or even acknowledge, an issue that affects at least 50 percent of the workforce would contradict any claims a company has made about having a purpose-driven culture or goals companies have set around closing racial and gender equity gaps.
What Employers Can Do
We’ve already seen encouraging examples of companies taking the lead to ensure that employees continue to have access to abortion services.
For example, several companies adopted new policies to support workers in Texas after that state enacted its abortion ban last fall. Notably, Austin-based Bumble and Dallas-based Match created special relief funds for people affected by the ban, and Citigroup announced a policy to offer financial support to workers who have to travel to receive reproductive health services. Many other companies, including Yelp, Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, and Mastercard, have announced similar policies to cover travel costs for health care needs.
But many employers have not acted and have been silent on the issue—possibly waiting until the decision or unsure of what action to take. It’s critical to act now to mitigate the outsize negative impacts of such a policy shift—and there are many steps employers could take to have a positive impact right away:
- Assess the current scope of their reproductive health care coverage. Companies should review their health care benefits packages to identify which elements of reproductive health care they do and do not cover, and then develop strategies to address gaps. They should also look at the plans their insurers offer to see what types of coverage are available.
- Expand benefits plans. Companies should think more 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 health care services. This could 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 child care benefits, emergency funds, and supplemental financial and administrative support for part-time workers and those in low-wage jobs or contract positions.
- Hold regular health care informational sessions. Companies should make sure employees are aware of all of the benefits covering reproductive health care that are available to them and understand how to utilize resources.
- Assess organizational legal resources. Companies should ensure that they’re prepared to defend themselves in liability suits or other cases of litigation they could face if their benefits are alleged to be in violation of the law.
How Employers Can Support Employee Well-Being and Meet the Moment
Expanding benefits plans and adopting policies that more fully meet the needs of workers who are considering abortion are good first steps. But to be an Impact Employer, organizations can do much more to support the physical, mental, and emotional health of employees whose access to reproductive health services is denied. Here are some examples of steps they can take to meet the moment:
- 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
- Provide access to anonymous mental health services
- Develop internal and external communications plans to ensure that employees and the public know where the company stands on these issues.
JFF’s Impact Employer Model is a valuable resource for employers who are looking for guidance on developing new policies and practices that center equitable economic advancement and meet the needs of employees in these uncertain times.
Employers must also be prepared to respond to and address the concerns of employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders who are increasingly aware of, worried about, and even involved in debates over abortion access and other social and political issues in Washington and at the state level. Among other things, employers can do the following:
- 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.
- 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.
- Consider aligning their political donations, philanthropic investments, and corporate spending in general with their stated values, especially those related to access to reproductive health care.
- Engage in government relations activities to promote policies and legislation that they support.
Overturning Roe v. Wade will have a huge impact on not only half of the members of the U.S. workforce, but also anyone who depends on them, the organizations that employ them, and the economy. Corporate action alone can’t make up for the loss of what had been considered a fundamental constitutional right, but employers of all sizes play a critical role in today’s society, and anything they do could mitigate the negative effects of this historic and devastating ruling.