By Lauren Hoffman, and Rose Khattar
Last month, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and nearly 50 years of precedent, denying the right to an abortion and leaving it up to the states to decide whether abortion will be legal. More than half of states already have or are poised to ban abortion, often not allowing for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the patient.
With the fall of Roe and in the absence of a federal statutory right to an abortion, businesses play an increasingly important role in protecting access to reproductive health care for their workers living in states with abortion bans. Major corporations , including Citigroup /zigman2/quotes/207741460/composite C +0.70% and Dick’s Sporting Goods /zigman2/quotes/200566298/composite DKS +2.03% , have committed to covering abortion-related travel expenses for their employees, primarily through their existing employee health plans. Patagonia has even promised to cover bail for employees who are arrested while peacefully protesting for reproductive justice.
Access to abortion has always been an issue for employers. It is well established that under Roe , women’s labor-force participation, educational attainment, and earnings increased. Research has also found that abortion bans and targeted restriction of abortion provider (TRAP) laws in 2021 cost state and local economies $105 billion annually by reducing labor-force participation and earnings levels, while also increasing time off and turnover among women and trapping women into low-paid jobs.
Ultimately, it is in businesses’ interest to protect their workers’ access to reproductive health care—and it is paramount that all workers are at the center of businesses’ responses to the Dobbs decision. To be clear, the burden should not be left on companies and would not have been had Roe been upheld; when this happens, access to abortion is dependent upon not just whether a person works, but where they work. Unfortunately, right now, there are few other options, making it critical that the private sector does not stay silent.
Cover abortion-related travel expenses for all workers, including part-time workers and independent contractors
First, employers should cover travel-related expenses for all workers—including part-time workers and independent contractors—who are forced to travel out of state to obtain abortion care.
Employers that have already announced they will be covering travel expenses, many through their existing medical plans, should also ensure that all workers are covered—not just those enrolled in their medical plans—which should include abortion coverage and have a policy inclusive of all pregnant people. This means making sure that part-time workers who are not enrolled in employer medical plans, disproportionately women , are covered, as well as independent contractors and union workers.
While some companies, such as Levi Strauss /zigman2/quotes/204763189/composite LEVI +0.05% , have explicitly announced that part-time workers and those who are not included in the company’s benefits plan are eligible for reimbursement, others have excluded vast swaths of their workforce that are not part of their medical plans and are some of the lowest-paid workers who are likely the least capable of covering unexpected expenses.
Employers that are announcing travel support are likely ignoring the workers who need help the most—that is, low-wage women. Many working women, already overrepresented in low-wage jobs such as in the child-care and restaurant industries and as part-time workers, will be unable to afford to travel out of state for abortion care without additional assistance, including from their employer.
These are also the very groups of workers who are more likely to need abortion care. As Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissenting opinion in Dobbs , “nearly half of women who seek abortion care live in households below the poverty line.” Most abortion patients choose to have an abortion because they recognize the significant financial consequences that unplanned childbearing would have on themselves and their families.
Stop supporting antiabortion efforts
Second, businesses should stop supporting political actors with an antiabortion agenda. It is inspiring and hopeful to see corporate responses to abortion restrictions. However, 13 of the largest U.S. companies have donated more than $15 million to three antiabortion political committees since 2016, and 15 well-known companies have donated significant amounts of money to politicians who have sponsored antiabortion legislation, despite their purported commitments to gender equity in the workplace. Ironically, some of these same companies have announced they will cover abortion-related travel expenses.
In this dangerous antiabortion landscape, businesses instead should support pro-choice efforts, including organizations dedicated to assisting those who seek abortion care.
Provide measures that allow for work and parenthood
Finally, businesses, if they have not already, should provide a full suite of policies that allows workers to manage the competing responsibilities of work and parenthood. These long-overdue supports should not be mistaken as a cure for abortion bans; rather, the current moment should serve as a reminder of the need for businesses to support all their employees’ reproductive choices.
Many of the states that already have or are poised to ban abortion have inadequate policy supports for women juggling work and parenthood, along with poor economic outcomes for women and families. For example, none of these states have paid family and medical leave laws, and over half do not have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25; laws requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers; and poverty rates for women and children above the national averages.
To put it bluntly, these states do not support the livelihoods of families and children despite their self-described “family” values. Businesses should provide all workers with paid family and medical leave, reasonable pregnancy accommodations, flexible and predictable schedules, and a living wage, which is especially critical for women who are their family’s sole or primary breadwinner. This is essential for low-wage workers who often do not benefit from existing policies.
While it should not be left to businesses to solve these issues, the Supreme Court and many states are forcing their hand. In this post- Roe era, businesses play an increasingly important role, and all workers must be at the center of their responses. They must ensure that all workers have their abortion-related travel expenses reimbursed, they must stop supporting antiabortion efforts, and they must provide all workers with access to measures that allow for both work and parenthood.
It’s not just good for workers—it’s good for businesses and the overall economy.
Lauren Hoffman is the associate director for women’s economic security at the Center for American Progress and Rose Khattar is the associate director of rapid response and analysis on the economic policy team at American Progress.