Despite this, abortion has long been seen as a contentious issue, and one that corporate America has tended to avoid, even as a growing number of businesses have taken stances on other potentially divisive issues, such as marriage equality and Black Lives Matter.
Few businesses have spoken publicly about the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the future of abortion, but those that have tend to frame it as a healthcare issue with significant social and economic implications.
“Business leaders are responsible for protecting the health and well-being of our employees, and that includes protecting reproductive rights and abortion access,” said Levi’s, one of the only retail businesses that has issued a statement on the topic.
The fashion brand noted that access to reproductive health care, including abortion, has been a critical factor to the workplace gains women have made over the past 50 years.
It stated that restricting or criminalising abortion would not only jeopardise that progress, but also disproportionately affect women of colour, putting their well-being at risk and impeding diverse hiring pipelines.
“Given what is at stake, business leaders need to make their voices heard and act to protect the health and well-being of our employees. That means protecting reproductive rights,” Levi’s said.
Hiring challenges ahead
Recruitment has already emerged as a challenge for businesses in states where access to abortion has been restricted, such as Texas and Mississippi, or is expected to be in future. The Guttmacher Institute predicts that 26 states will probably or definitely ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Some businesses are responding to this by promising to reimburse employees if they need to travel out of state for medical care, including abortions.
Amazon has said it will pay its US workers up to US$4,000 in travel expenses annually for non-life threatening medical treatments including abortion. Apple has said its health-insurance policies will cover abortion services and travel fees if necessary, and Levi’s has said it will cover employees’ travel expenses if they need to seek medical care in another state.
“Under our current benefits plan, Levi Strauss & Co. employees are eligible for reimbursement for healthcare-related travel expenses for services not available in their home state, including those related to reproductive health care and abortion,” the company stated.
“There is also a process in place through which employees who are not in our benefits plan, including part-time hourly workers, can seek reimbursement for travel costs incurred under the same circumstances.”
An internal approach
Abas Mirzaei, senior lecturer in marketing at Macquarie Business School, believes healthcare is a smart way for businesses to approach the abortion issue.
“It seems companies are taking a different approach this time in responding to a social issue, by turning it into a health issue,” he told Inside Retail.
“Compared to previous issues where brands have taken an external oriented approach, contributing to the public debate on important social issues, this time they are adopting an internal approach and are looking at this from an employee health benefit perspective.”
Businesses may not be comfortable aligning themselves as pro- and anti-abortion, which could alienate some customers, he observed.
“[B]rands are ticking the box of [being] responsible corporate citizens by offering employees reproductive health benefits,” he said.
“In other words, [they are] boiling down the solution to such an important issue to employee benefits.”