The Supreme Court evaluates the future role and the final word on abortion

Some political and cultural events have triggered a cascade of emails from brands: sneaker, cosmetic, and food companies telling their customers they’re with them in a stressful time or reminding them to vote. But after a draft opinion obtained by Politico revealed the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe v. Wade, the overwhelming reaction from business leaders was silence.

“This is a problem that many businesses have avoided,” said Miriam Warren, chief diversity officer at Yelp.

Mrs. Warren, whose company has been among the most heated in support of the right to abortion, hopes the silence will break. You see expressing an opinion, one way or another, as a necessity to recruit and retain talent.

“The days where companies didn’t go into political matters, or didn’t talk about things that are perceived as private or personal, are over,” he said.

Anti-abortion activists, however, said that corporate silence made business sense.

“It’s generally a mistake for business leaders to get into political issues, particularly divisive political issues where they might alienate have helped their client base,” said Anne Cori, president of the Eagle Forum anti-abortion group.

And for now, that logic seems to hold up. There were sparse responses voicing dismay at the draft opinion, largely from female-centric brands and the women who run them, many of whom have previously spoken on the subject.

OKCupid, the dating service, wrote on Twitter Tuesday that overturning Roe v. Wade would be “unacceptable”, adding, “Tag a brand you want to see act.” Kate Ryder, chief executive of Maven, a women’s and family health group, he wrote that his team planned how to help companies protect their workers’ access to abortion if Roe was overturned. Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, wrote about her staff Facebook page that was “a scary day for women”.

Beyond that, among most Fortune 500 companies, substantive statements were few and far between, in support or opposition to the court’s draft opinion.

In recent years, business leaders have immersed themselves in political discourse, issuing public statements in support of Black Lives Matter or voting rights or marriage equality. Some companies that never dreamed of engaging in politics a decade ago felt the Trump era required at least a press release.

Even more recently, business leaders have been reminded of what fruit engagement can be like. Disney, for example, faced internal backlash when its leadership refused to take a firm stand against Florida’s parental rights law in education, which critics often call “Don’t say gay” law. But when the CEO took a public stance, the company was crucified on social media and the state revoked its special tax benefits.

Now, with the expected end of the country’s historic abortion law, business leaders are faced with the most pressing issues. in a Pew Research survey in 2021, 59% of Americans said they believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39% said it should be illegal in all or most cases. People on all sides of the issue are keenly interested, with nearly a quarter of Americans saying they will only vote for candidates who share their views on abortion, according to Gallup.

All of this adds up to many reasons why a company would want to avoid making abortion statements, and one more reason why customers and workers might find it necessary. A company’s position at the end of Roe could impact how it hires in an increasingly competitive job market and how customers view its brand.

“Abortion is a health problem, health care is an employer problem, so abortion is a problem for employers,” said Carolyn Witte, CEO of Tia, a women’s health company. . On Tuesday, Tia announced it would provide abortion drugs through its telemedicine platform in the states where it operated and where it was legal to do so.

For some large companies that are known to weigh on political and social issues, this week has been unusually quiet. Walmart, Disney, Meta, PwC, Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, ThirdLove, Patagonia, Kroger, and Business Roundtable were among the companies and organizations that declined to comment or take a stand, or did not respond to requests for comment on intent. to make public statements about their position on abortion. Hobby Lobby, which filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court in 2014 disputing whether employer-provided health care should include contraception, did not make public statements and did not respond to a request for comment.

Other companies intervened. The United Talent Agency has said it will reimburse travel expenses for employees affected by the abortion bans. Airbnb said it would assure its employees “that they have the resources they need to make choices about their reproductive rights.” Levi Strauss & Company, which said its benefits plan will reimburse employees who have to travel out of state for health services such as abortions, said abortion is a business problem.

“Efforts to further limit or criminalize such access would have far-reaching consequences for the American workforce,” the company said in an email to the New York Times. “It would jeopardize the earnings in the workplace that women have made in the past 50 years.”

The stakes in making any statement – corporate or personal as a leader of a company – are clearly high.

In September, John Gibson, chief executive of Tripwire Interactive, a Georgia-based gaming company, tweeted that he was “proud” of the Supreme Court for “affirming Texas law banning abortion for children with a heartbeat “. His comments annoyed colleagues and within days he was replaced.

“The comments provided by John Gibson are of his own opinion and do not reflect those of Tripwire Interactive as a company,” read a statement from Tripwire Interactive command. “Our Tripwire leadership team is deeply sorry and united in our commitment to act quickly and foster a more positive environment.”

Tripwire did not respond to a request for comment. In a tweet following his departure from the company, Mr. Gibson said, “To the many fans, friends and colleagues from across the spectrum of beliefs who have come to offer assistance and support, thank you.”

Consumer-facing businesses also need to think about what customers will say: Two-thirds of consumers say they base purchasing decisions on a brand’s social standing, according to research by Edelman in 2018.

“If I’m Walmart and I’m in the South, I think I would have more concerns about political repercussions and consumer repercussions, particularly if I go it alone,” said Amanda Shanor, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where deals with constitutional law. Arkansas, home of Walmart’s headquarters, is among the 13 states set to ban abortion immediately or very quickly if Roe v. Wade is on the contrary.

Customer alienation is a risk. But companies must also think about the job market.

Women make up about half of the workforce, and those unable to have abortions are less likely to be employed full-time six months after refusing treatment, according to one. 2018 card. The percentage of women participating in the workforce has grown significantly from the 1973 Roe ruling; between 1962 and 2000 it went from 37 to 61 percent.

And in areas of the country where access to abortion is most limited, executives sometimes face recruiting challenges. Vivek Bhaskaran, chief executive of QuestionPro, a technology services company that moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Austin shortly before the pandemic, said Texas restrictive laws are hindering its ability to recruit talent.

“I’ve done tons of interviews and in almost all of these conversations we end up talking about abortion law in one way, shape or form,” he said. “One lady said, ‘My personal values ​​aren’t really tied to Texas, are you going to force me to move to Texas?’”

Solugen, a Houston-based chemical company, has decided to open a second office in Boston in the coming months to accommodate recruits who are uncomfortable moving to Texas, said Gaurab Chakrabarti, chief executive and co-founder of the agency.

The handful of companies that took action after Texas banned abortions at the six-week limit last year could be a harbinger of what the corporate world at large could do in the coming weeks and months. Citigroup revealed in a securities depository that it was providing travel benefits to employees seeking abortions outside their home state. Yelp, which has just over 200 employees in Texas, announced that she would do so cover expenses for workers that she needed to travel out of state to have an abortion. Match Group boss Shar Dubey announced a fund for employees seeking abortions.

Amalgamated Bank was a corporate entity that had been trying to avoid publicly addressing abortion until this week. A vice president of the bank, Maura Keaney, followed the Supreme Court’s arguments over the Mississippi law directly challenging Roe in December and felt “hopeless,” she said. However, she did not say anything publicly at the time.

“As the days and weeks went by, it became clear to me from talking to allies in space, our customers and our employees, that it just wasn’t a functional perspective for me to take personally or for the bank,” said the Mrs. Keaney.

She was working to ensure that the bank – founded in 1923 by a union of mostly immigrant workers – could pay out-of-state abortion travel expenses for its employees and create a fund to help grass-roots organizations.

An announcement was scheduled for later this month. Instead, the bank made it public on Tuesday.