With Roe v. Wade Overthrown, Companies Keep Silent About Abortion

by Kerry G. Alvarez

Companies had more than a month to formulate a response to the end of federal abortion rights in the United States if they didn’t immediately weigh in after a draft advisory leaked in May.

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

Most were silent, including some companies known for speaking out on social issues such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights. Some companies that blacked out their Instagram pages in 2020 or had rainbow flags on their websites for Pride Month have been hesitant to comment on abortion until now.

Companies Keep Silent About Abortion

“Executives are a bit wary of this,” said Dave Fleet, head of the global digital crisis at Edelman, a consultancy. “They’re worried about the backlash because they know there’s no way to please everyone.”

Many companies that made public statements on Friday chose to address how the Supreme Court decision would affect their employees’ access to health care. Sometimes, they avoided the word “abortion” altogether, perhaps giving a more palatable response.

“We have processes in place so that an employee who may not have access to care in one location has affordable coverage to receive comparable care in another,” Disney executives wrote in a memo to staff, adding that this “included family planning”. (including pregnancy-related decisions).”

Other companies that came forward Friday to say they would cover employee travel expenses 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 had a similar policy.

“The employer is how many people access the healthcare system,” added Mr Fleet. “You see. that companies first look inward.”

A few companies accompanied those policy changes with statements. Roger Lynch, the head of Condé Nast, called the decision “a crushing blow to reproductive rights”. Lyft said the ruling “will hurt millions of women.” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti called it “regressive and horrifying.” Some business leaders also spoke out, with Bill Gates, the co-founder and former head of Microsoft, calling the ruling “an unjust and unacceptable setback.” Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s former chief operating officer, writing that it was “an unjust and unacceptable setback.” threatens to undo the progress women have made in the workplace.”

But many companies that spoke out about social issues such as racism did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment after the Supreme Court decision, including Target, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Delta, and Wendy’s. Hobby Lobby, which filed a successful lawsuit before the Supreme Court in 2014 contesting whether employer-provided health care should include contraception, declined to comment on the Dobbs decision.

In recent years, the expectation has grown that companies will weigh in on political and social issues. According to consumer research firm Forrester, the proportion of American online adults who believe companies have a responsibility to engage in debates on current issues has risen over the past year. The expectation is even higher among younger social media users, according to research by Sprout Social.

When police murdered George Floyd in 2020, public companies and their foundations pledged more than $49 billion to fight racial inequality. Last year, after Georgia’s Republican-led legislature, restricted voter access, some chief executives, including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, criticized the law, and 72 black business leaders published a letter urging business leaders to “publicly oppose any discriminatory legislation. †

With abortion, public opinion is a little different: Forrester found that fewer respondents believed companies should take a stance on abortion. Polls have consistently shown that most Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Still, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that people have differing views on morality. Companies fear the reaction if they take a stance on the matter.

“When it comes to the range of politicized issues within the sphere of brand impact, few are as divisive and deeply personal as abortion,” said Mike Proulx, a vice president and director of research at Forrester.

Political involvement is rarely an easy choice for business leaders. Disney, which had long avoided partisan politics, faced internal backlash this year when it failed to take a firm stance on Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, but when Florida lawmakers withdrew the special tax breaks when that was the case. John Gibson, the chief executive of gaming company Tripwire Interactive, was quickly replaced after he spoke out in favor of banning abortions in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy.

A 2020 study of 149 companies published in the Journal of Marketing found that corporate activism hurt a company’s stock market performance. However, it saw a positive effect on sales if the activism was consistent with consumers’ company values.


June 24, 2022, 5:36 PM ET

Both appealing and deciding not to participate can have a price.

“You have to be careful not to draw the wrong lessons from some of those moments,” said Mr. Fleet van 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 who say nothing is the mistake made.”

Some companies warned staff on Friday to exercise caution when discussing the ruling in the workplace. “There will be an intense public discussion about this decision,” Citigroup’s human resources chief wrote to staff. “Please remember that we should always treat each other respectfully, even if our opinions differ.”

Meta publicly said Friday that it would reimburse employees for travel expenses to get abortions. But the company then told its employees not to openly discuss the court’s ruling on far-reaching communication channels within the company, according to three employees, citing a policy that placed “strong guardrails around social, political and sensitive conversations” in the workplace.

But other companies don’t shy away from making more outspoken statements about abortion and are urging other companies to change their tone and commitment.

OkCupid sent a notice to app users in states with abortion restrictions, encouraging them to contact their elected officials supporting abortion. Melissa Hobley, the global chief marketing officer, has worked behind the scenes to get other female business leaders to make commitments to support abortion.

“We had to say, ruin the risk,” she said. “This is an economic problem; this is a marketing problem. You all fight for female talent when you work in highly visible, highly competitive sectors such as technology, law, and finance.”

Jeremy Stoppelman, the director of Yelp, said it was important to him to speak out about abortion access, whether or not there was a business reason for doing so. However, he knew there would be users who would oppose that decision. to postpone.

“Certainly, if you speak out on these issues, not everyone will agree,” he said. “When we looked at this, we felt quite strongly that this was the right thing to do,” adding, “it’s been 50 years of solid legislation.”

Some business leaders said they were concerned about the impact of abortion restrictions on their ability to recruit workers, especially those whose companies are located in the 13 states that will ban abortion immediately or very soon with Roe overthrew. Those states include Texas, where tech companies have converged in recent years.

Research commissioned by the Tara Health Foundation found that two-thirds of highly skilled workers surveyed would be discouraged from working 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 company in Texas that builds technology tools for political campaigns. The company promised to cover travel costs for employees who need an abortion immediately after the end of the ban in Texas, SB 8.

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

“It’s a good business from a business point of view,” she added. “There is no reason why we should put our employees in the position of choosing between keeping their jobs or carrying on an unwanted pregnancy.”

Emily Flitter, Lauren Hirsch, Mike Isaac, Kate Kelly, Ryan Mac, Benjamin Mullin, and Katie Robertson contributed coverage.

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