Mar 18, 2022 - Economy & Business

Ignoring abortion access is getting harder for companies

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies that never had to deal with abortion rights are now picking a side.

The big picture: After Texas effectively banned the procedure last year, and with the Supreme Court potentially poised to roll back abortion rights, new restrictions could soon put more pressure on big businesses to act.

Driving the news: It's a rare event when a change to a company's insurance benefits makes news — but that's what happened this week when Citigroup mentioned in a regulatory filing that it would cover travel expenses for U.S. employees seeking abortions.

State of play: Citi appears to be one of the first public companies to officially update its employee health care policy in response to the changing legal landscape.

  • Apple, which has a big presence in Texas, confirmed to Axios that its health insurance policies cover abortions, including travel fees if needed.
  • It's possible other employers have similar health insurance policies, but they haven't been talking about them.
  • The CEO of Match, another dating company, funded a program with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles to ensure her Texas-based employees receive safe and legal care.
  • Dating app company Bumble helped create a relief fund, in conjunction with advocacy groups, to help women pay for reproductive care in Texas.

Worth noting: 75% of these companies have female CEOs, compared to 6% of the S&P 500.

How it works: Citi's policy is surprisingly uncomplicated. Travel expenses are covered under an employee's health insurance, according to a source familiar with it.

  • The company plan already covers people with, say, a heart condition who need treatment at a far-off hospital. This is no different. The benefit would extend to employees in any state where access is restricted.
  • "Extending the benefit promotes more equitable access to health care services and supports women's health," the source said.
  • Not only would travel expenses be reimbursed, but paid sick leave would cover any time off for an employee who needs to travel, get the procedure done and recover.
  • Privacy shouldn't be an issue, the source said. Benefits are handled by an outside provider, so a woman's boss would have no reason to know details of her medical issue.

The impact: The Citi policy should immediately help employees in Texas, where the state's abortion ban is already causing economic hardship.

  • To travel for care, many have delayed paying bills and rent, taken out loans, or took days of unpaid time off, according to a study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
  • At least one women was fired for taking time off, the report found.

The other side: Abortion opponents were quick to criticize Citi.

  • "Nothing more than a PR stunt by a ‘woke’ company to support a culture of death,” George P. Bush, the state's Republican land commissioner in the running for attorney general, told Bloomberg.
  • Meanwhile, the Texas GOP chairman advised folks to avoid banking with Citi and other companies "hostile" to their values.
  • Citi could also be opening itself up to legal liability, but for now with the ban in constitutional limbo the ramifications are unclear, lawyers told Bloomberg Law.

What's next: Later this year, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. If the ban is upheld, observers believe it would topple Roe v. Wade and trigger more bans in other states.

The big question now is whether more large companies will step in with policies like Citi’s or make public pronouncements, if Roe is overturned, said Leila Abolfazli, director of reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (not Planned Parenthood, the national organization), is working on Match’s program.

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