With the annulment of Roe v. Wade, corporations remain silent on abortion

The companies had more than a month to formulate a response to the end of federal abortion rights in the United States, if they did not weigh in immediately after a draft notice leaked in May.

But when the final decision came Friday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, relatively few people had anything to say about the outcome.

Most have remained silent, including some companies known to speak out on social issues such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights. Some of the companies that blacked out their Instagram pages in 2020 or displayed rainbow flags on their websites for Pride Month have so far been reluctant to comment on abortion.

“Executives are feeling some trepidation about this,” said Dave Fleet, head of global digital crisis at Edelman, a consulting firm. “They worry about backlash because they know there’s no way to please everyone.”

Many of the companies that made public statements on Friday chose to address how the Supreme Court’s decision would affect their workers’ access to health care. In some cases, they avoided the word “abortion” altogether, perhaps aiming for a more palatable answer.

“We have processes in place so that an employee who may not be able to access care in one location is provided with affordable coverage to receive similar levels of care in another location,” wrote the Disney executives in a memo to staff, adding that this included “family planning.” (including decisions related to pregnancy).

Other companies that came forward on Friday to say they would cover employee travel costs for abortions include Warner Bros., Condé Nast, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Goldman Sachs, Snap, Macy’s, Intuit and Dick’s Sporting Goods. They joined a group including Starbucks, Tesla, Yelp, Airbnb, Netflix, Patagonia, DoorDash, JPMorgan Chase, Levi Strauss & Co., PayPal, OKCupid, Citigroup, Kroger, Google, Microsoft, Paramount, Nike, Chobani, Lyft and Reddit which had previously implemented similar policies.

“The employer is how many people enter the health care system,” added Mr. Fleet. “You see companies looking inward first.”

A few companies accompanied these policy changes with statements. Roger Lynch, the head of Condé Nast, called the decision “a blow to reproductive rights”. Lyft said the decision would “harm millions of women.” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti called it “regressive and awful.” Some business leaders have also spoken out, with Bill Gates, the co-founder and former head of Microsoft, calling the decision “an unfair and unacceptable setback”, and Sheryl Sandberg, the former chief operating officer of Meta, writing that she “threatens to undo the progress women have made in the workplace.

But many companies that have spoken out on social issues like racism did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment after the Supreme Court ruling, including Target, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Delta and Wendy’s. Hobby Lobby, which in 2014 successfully sued the Supreme Court to challenge whether employer-provided health care should include contraception, declined to comment on the Dobbs decision.

In recent years, there has been a growing expectation that corporations will intervene on political and social issues. The share of American adults online who believe businesses have a responsibility to participate in debates on current issues has increased over the past year, according to consumer research firm Forrester. The expectation is even more pronounced among younger social media users, according to research from Sprout Social.

When George Floyd was killed by police in 2020, public companies and their foundations committed more than $49 billion to fight racial inequality. Last year, after Georgia’s Republican-led legislature restricted voter access, some CEOs, including of Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, criticized the law, and 72 black business leaders issued a letter urging business leaders to “publicly oppose discriminatory legislation”. ”

With abortion, public opinion is a bit different: Forrester found that fewer respondents believed companies should take a stance on abortion. Polls have always found that a majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but a recent Pew Research Center survey found that people had widely varying opinions on morality on the matter. Companies fear the backlash that could result from taking a stand on the issue.

“Of the range of politicized issues in the sphere of brand impact, few are as contentious and deeply personal as abortion,” said Mike Proulx, vice president and research director at Forrester. .

Political engagement is rarely a simple choice for business leaders. Disney, which had long shunned partisan politics, faced backlash this year when it failed to take a strong stance on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, but Florida lawmakers have then revoked its special tax benefits. John Gibson, chief executive of gaming company Tripwire Interactive, was quickly replaced after speaking out in favor of banning abortion in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy.

A 2020 study of 149 companies published in the Journal of Marketing found that corporate activism had a negative effect on a company’s stock performance, although it found a positive effect on sales if the activism was consistent with the company’s consumer values.

Getting involved and deciding not to get involved can have a price.

“You have to be careful not to learn the wrong lessons from some of these moments,” said Mr. Fleet, of Edelman. “It would be very easy to look at companies that have made missteps and say ‘well, we shouldn’t say anything’, when in fact some customers don’t say anything, that’s the mistake that was made. committed.”

Some companies on Friday warned staff to be careful how they discuss the decision in the workplace. “There will be intense public debate over this decision,” Citigroup’s human resources manager wrote to staff. “Remember that we should always treat each other with respect, even when our opinions differ.”

Meta said publicly on Friday that it would reimburse employees for travel expenses to have abortions. But the company then told its employees not to openly discuss the court’s decision over wide-reaching communication channels inside the company, according to three employees, citing a policy that put “strong guards -body around social, political and sensitive conversations” in the workplace.

But there are other companies that haven’t been shy about making more outspoken statements about abortion, and they’re urging other companies to follow their tone and commitment.

OkCupid sent a notification to app users in states with abortion restrictions encouraging them to reach out to their elected officials to support abortion. Melissa Hobley, its global marketing director, has worked behind the scenes to get other female business leaders to pledge support for abortion.

“We had to say screw the risk,” she said. “It’s an economic issue, it’s a marketing issue. If you’re in highly visible, highly competitive industries like tech, law, finance, you’re all fighting after female talent.

Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s chief executive, said he felt it was important to speak out on access to abortion whether or not there was a business case, even though he knew that some users would object to this decision.

“Certainly when you speak out on these issues not everyone will agree,” he said. “Looking at that, we felt pretty strongly that it was the right thing to do,” adding, “it’s been 50 years of established law.”

Some business leaders have expressed concern about how restrictions on abortion will affect their ability to recruit workers, especially those whose companies are based in the 13 states that will ban abortion immediately or very quickly with the cancellation of Roe. These states include Texas, where tech companies have flocked in recent years.

Research commissioned by the Tara Health Foundation found that two-thirds of college-educated workers surveyed would be discouraged from taking a job in Texas because of its restrictive abortion law and would not apply for jobs in other states that have passed similar laws.

“Employers like us can be the last line of defense,” said Sarah Jackel, chief operating officer of Civitech, a 55-person Texas-based company that builds technology tools for political campaigns. The company pledged to cover travel expenses for employees needing an abortion immediately after the passage of the Texas ban, SB 8.

Ms Jackel said the policy had strong support from employees and investors, although the company declined to share whether anyone had used it.

“It’s a good deal,” she added. “There is no reason for us to put our employees in the position of having to choose between keeping their jobs or having an unwanted pregnancy.”

Emily Flitter, Lauren Hirsch, Michael Isaac, Kate Kelly, ryan mac, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson contributed report.

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