Jul 20, 2022 - Economy

90% of U.S. companies silent on abortion after Dobbs, survey finds

Share of companies that have taken a public stance on social issues since 2020
Reproduced from The Conference Board; Chart: Axios Visuals

Only 10% of companies have made, or plan to make, a public statement about abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a survey of approximately 300 public, private and nonprofit entities released Tuesday by the Conference Board.

Why it matters: In recent years, businesses have increasingly taken stands on social issues — particularly around race and LGBTQ rights — but abortion so far has proven too controversial.

  • The picture is different internally: The survey finds 51% of companies either have addressed reproductive rights with employees or plan to do so.

Between the lines: Companies have tended to steer clear of a cluster of highly controversial issues, viewing them as best left to government regulation, including not only abortion but also immigration and gun regulation, says Paul Washington, executive director of the Environmental, Social and Governance Center at the Conference Board.

  • By contrast, "coming out in favor of racial equality or gender equality, is something that is obviously a very mainstream, widely embraced position, hard to be attacked for," he said.
  • Since 2020, 61% of the companies surveyed took a public stance on racial inequality, 44% on LGBTQ+ rights and 39% on gender equality.

Of the companies talking about abortion internally, most are communicating information on existing healthcare benefits or announcing new policies around travel expenses or paid time off.

  • This tracks with the way companies have handled other social issues as they move from controversial to more mainstream.
  • For example: When same sex marriage was starting to take off as a cause, many companies first addressed the issue in the context of employee benefits, Washington says.

State of play: The pressure on employers to speak about abortion is coming overwhelmingly from employees, the survey found.

  • Workers are increasingly outspoken about social issues, Washington says. Especially now, in a tight labor market, when employees have more leverage in the workplace.

Zoom out: The CEO is usually the one making the decision on whether to speak out on these issues, either in concert with senior management or by themselves, according to the survey.

What to watch: The pressure on companies to respond to the Dobbs decision isn't going to let up, Washington says. "This is just the initial wave."

Editor’s note: The chart in this story has been corrected to say Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health (rather than Dobbs v. Whole Woman’s Health).

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