U.S. warns businesses to prepare for civil unrest after abortion ruling
Law enforcement organizations are warning corporate leaders about the risk of civil unrest, and perhaps violence, if the Supreme Court ultimately overturns Roe v. Wade.
Why it matters: As the American political sphere becomes more fractured, it's often the business sector that's forced to figure out how to maneuver around policy shocks or social unrest — and the looming Supreme Court decision on abortion is expected to have massive ripple effects everywhere, including at work.
State of play: A memo from the Department of Homeland Security, obtained by Axios, warns about violent threats from extremists — on both sides of the issue — who might target protestors, government officials, companies that make or sell medication to end pregnancies and "organizations that fund and facilitate travel for those seeking abortions."
- Law enforcement is reaching out to corporate leadership, flagging the potential for civil unrest, said Jonathan Wackrow, a risk management consultant at Teneo, who works with Fortune 100 firms.
- It's really an "unprecedented move," added Wackrow, a former special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, meant to help give corporate security teams time to prepare.
- The Court decision could serve as a spark for some workplaces — already tense and stress-filled, as some workers are reluctantly back at the office, he said. "The number of workplace violence discussions I am leading right now with clients is staggering."
Context: Several companies in recent months, including Citi, Starbucks and Match.com, put policies in place that would pay for employees who need to travel to access reproductive care.
- None would comment to Axios about the potential risk that posed.
Zoom out: For now, companies are mostly trying to figure out internal messaging on the topic, sources told Axios.
- They're sending out supportive memos to workers saying things along the lines of "we understand this can reverberate emotionally and psychologically."
- Companies that feel secure that their customers and employees won't object have taken a stand in favor of reproductive rights. But many more are taking a wait and see approach.
What they're saying: Danielle Wiley, the CEO of marketing agency Sway Group, sent an email to her staff that was more direct: “The right to an abortion, and the right to choose for myself what is best for my own body are rights that I grew up with, and they are rights that I believe all people with uteruses should have," she wrote, adding that this is a company value.
- With only 34 employees, including just one man, she wasn't too worried about taking a stand. The company's network of marketing influencers also didn't seem to object, she says.
- It was kind of like a "virtual hug," Wiley told Axios. "It can be really hard, working from home and feeling isolated, when there's all sorts of crazy stuff going on in the news."
Flashback: Companies were less hesitant to take a position in the summer of 2020 when protests swept the country in the wake of George Floyd's killing. But abortion is a more fraught issue, company insiders and consultants told Axios.
- While before that summer, discussions of race weren't uncommon at companies with diversity training and policies in place, abortion has always been a politically charged issue.
- Until recently, abortion mostly wasn't discussed at work, said Teneo's Wackrow. "This topic raises tension when you bring it up."
The bottom line: In an ideal world, companies wouldn't be dealing with abortion rights.
- "Companies already operate in an endlessly complex environment, [and] this is another [instance where] businesses are left to pick up the pieces," says Jen Stark, senior director at Tara health foundation, an organization focused on equitable workplaces.