Abortion restrictions in the United States: fearing the impact on business, companies speak out

US companies should be increasingly watched over their stance on abortion rights and whether employee health care plans comply with social responsibility statements as abortion restrictions are challenged in court, according to researchers and executives.

A near-total ban on abortion in Texas and new restrictions on the procedure in other Republican-led states have prompted dozens of companies to jump into the heated debate – many speaking publicly for the first time. times.

As economists warn of the long-term impact of abortion restriction on employees and bottom lines, even more companies are likely to take a stand, said Shelley Alpern, head of corporate engagement. companies at Rhia Ventures, a social enterprise based in the United States.

“Once he realizes that abortion restrictions are hurting their workforce and their talent pool, and the silence does not put them in a good light, they will speak out more. , if not publicly, then in private conversations with lawmakers, ”Alpern said.

More than 80 companies with combined revenues of over $ 20 billion signed a statement in September denouncing Texas abortion law, which bans the procedure from around six weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape and incest.

The statement, organized by a coalition called “Don’t Ban Equality in Texas,” said “Policies that restrict reproductive health care go against our values ​​and are bad for business.”

“The future of gender equality is at stake, putting our families, our communities, our businesses and the economy at risk,” said the statement, signed by companies such as the outdoor clothing brand Netflix Patagonia and the Lyft running company.

Such initiatives highlight a gradual shift in corporate thinking about public abortion, which polls show most Americans believe should be legal in all or most cases.

Once viewed solely as a religious, women’s rights and health issue, abortion is emerging as a badge for a company’s commitment to social responsibility, gender equality and human rights. diversity in the workplace.

“Abortion rights will become another issue where companies will have to choose sides,” said Sarah Jackel, director of operations at Civitech, a tech and data policy start-up that was among the signatories to the declaration against the Texas law.

“The key factor in building a successful business is hiring, training, resources and retention of talented people. Texas abortion law puts this process at risk,” she said in comments sent. via email, noting that companies are struggling to fill vacancies as the US economy recovers from the crisis. Covid pandemic19.

“The last thing businesses need are state laws that violate women’s rights and force employees to quit their jobs or have an unwanted pregnancy,” Jackel said.

“Competitive disadvantage”

Pressure for companies to take a stand on abortion is mounting as the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a Conservative 6-3 majority, prepares to hear challenges to abortion restrictions, including one scheduled for the December 1 regarding a Mississippi law.

Christopher Miller, head of global activism strategy at Ben & Jerry’s, said the ice cream company believes “it’s important to speak out and speak out on these issues.”

“We view reproductive health care as a workplace issue,” Miller said.

“If you operate in a state like Texas, you are at a competitive disadvantage. This makes it difficult to achieve pay equity and recruit and retain talented leaders when there is a blatant attack on women, ”he said.

Two-thirds of college-educated adults said the Texas ban would discourage them from working in the state, according to an online survey in August by PerryUndem, a non-partisan Washington-based research firm.

Abortion rights also influence decisions made by men, survey found, with around half of men surveyed saying they would not apply for a job in a state with a Texan-style abortion law. .

Some companies that have quietly supported initiatives supporting women’s access to reproductive health care, including abortion, are now more open and vocal about it.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton addresses a crowd of anti-abortion supporters at the United States Supreme Court. | REUTERS

“We have supported movements, organizations and initiatives focused on reproductive health – but we weren’t always explicit that this work included abortion,” said Carleen Pickard, ethical campaigns specialist at Lush. , a cosmetics retailer.

“Not anymore. Access to abortion is essential,” she added.

Rachel J. Robasciotti, Founder and Managing Director of Adasina Social Capital, an investment and financial activist firm, said “abortion is a problem American businesses can no longer afford to ignore.”

The public rejection of the Texas law is clearly part of the company’s broader efforts to advance gender equality, said Miriam Warren, head of diversity at corporate review website Yelp.

“Gender equality cannot be truly achieved if women’s rights to health care are restricted,” she said.

Multi-billion dollar losses

A June study by the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) estimated that state-level abortion restrictions cost the US economy $ 105 billion a year.

He found that the brakes were affecting women’s participation in the workforce and their earnings, increasing turnover and downtime for women.

“These lost revenues also translate into economic impacts for the states themselves,” said Nicole Mason, head of the IWPR.

Research conducted by the Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health at IWPR included a range of abortion restrictions, including near-total bans like those in Texas, mandatory counseling and waiting periods, and parental consent. required for children.

Without such abortion limitations, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) would be nearly half a percentage point higher and an additional 505,000 women aged 15 to 44 would enter the workforce and earn around $ 3 billion a year, according to research.

But although women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, many companies don’t know what type of reproductive health care – including abortion – they offer under insurance plans, according to a 2020 report from Rhia Ventures.

Almost one in four women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime.

“A lot of companies just don’t check (because it’s) not seen as something that is valued and that people would appreciate,” said Camila Novo-Viano, one of the report’s authors, based on interviews with human resources and social benefits managers in 39 companies.

“It just wasn’t something they worried about, and it stems from their belief that abortion is not a key part of reproductive health and is not something that many women need,” said Novo-Viano, senior consultant at FSG consultancy firm.

As abortion rights are put to the test in the coming months, more and more companies are expected to intervene.

“We are organized and we are pushing back because we realize the impact that SB 8 (Texas law) and any copycat bill will have on the safety of all employees, as well as on the conduct of business in general,” Pickard said. at Lush.

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