Editor’s Note: Reshma Saujani is the Founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms. She is the author of the forthcoming book “Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (And Why It’s Different Than You Think)”. The views expressed here are hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
Earlier this month, lawyers from Mississippi informed the justices of the US Supreme Court that, in a society in which women can finally “have it all,” we no longer need autonomy over our own bodies. As any non-super-human (or more accurately non-super-wealthy) woman can tell you, that argument has little relevance in this society—but it’s the wobbly base of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the latest attempt to legalize abortion bans across the United States.
It’s an assault on reproductive freedom, and it looks like it’ll work.
Together with congressional failure to codify abortion rights into law, state abortion bans and their increasing success send a message to 40 million American women of reproductive age: your rights are not the government’s problem. As horrifying as that is, there is at least another group of leaders who can help protect women’s lives and livelihoods in even a post-Roe v. Wade America: employers.
Business leaders have long had to step up to protect their employees when the government has failed, from guaranteeing a living wage, to offering paid parental leave, to providing high-quality health care to all employees.
While there’s plenty of progress to be made on all of those fronts, the private sector has barely touched reproductive rights. Despite the fact that, statistically, one in four of the women working for them will have an abortion at some point, most employers only vaguely refer to “women’s health,” if they dare discuss it at all.
Maybe they fear the topic is too divisive. Maybe they believe abortion access isn’t relevant to their business. Or maybe abortion had always felt to them like the exception: a right that, unlike paid leave and childcare and health care, the government would protect.
The last weeks—hell, the last year and a half—have made clear none of those excuses cut it anymore.
Most Americans support abortion, and recent restrictions are deeply unpopular, even amongst Republicans. But more than that, they’re harmful to a workforce already reeling from women’s decades-long trickle from the job market, and a veritable pipe burst in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. One study found abortion restrictions caused $105 billion in economic losses last year alone.
There’s good reason to believe that sum is just the tip of the iceberg: If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, or even defangs it, 26 states have laws at the ready to severely restrict or ban abortions next year. The consequences for anyone seeking an abortion—and anyone relying on their labor—will be swift and catastrophic.
Many states will shut down most or all abortion providers within their borders, putting pregnant people hours or even days away from care. Several states will enact bans more than six or eight weeks into pregnancy, leaving pregnant people little to no time to decide what care they need. And states that uphold abortion rights will become “destination states” for reproductive health services, making appointments harder to access even where they are legal.
For moms especially—the majority of people seeking abortions—these policies cost precious time and money, rendering safe, affordable care all but unattainable.
But they don’t have to.
As business leaders, we have the responsibility to look out for our people when politics leave them behind. That starts with thoughtful policies on scheduling, paid leave and reproductive care coverage.
With reproductive health services scarce and far away, workers must be able to schedule appointments around stable time off. About one in five Americans have irregular or inconsistent working hours, a disproportionate number of them women and people of color.
Once a worker has scheduled any appointments necessary, she needs paid leave—both for her time at the provider’s office, and to get there and back. Under new access restrictions, that trip could take days, and the worker may have to make it multiple times, depending on requirements like waiting periods. Companies must give their employees enough paid sick days and medical leave to access reproductive health care, even if it’s states away.
Finally, companies must ensure our health care policies cover reproductive care. Abortions are expensive, costing up to $1,500 without factoring in travel costs. The Hyde Amendment bars federal health care providers from covering abortions altogether. Workers’ health insurance must help them access the care they need, instead of holding them back.
These steps are incredibly important—but they’re also just the start. To truly protect abortion access, businesses must reach into the communities they serve: choosing suppliers that uphold pro-choice values, setting up shop in states with accessible reproductive care and if they have the means, paying to get their people the hell out of harm’s way.
If not for their women, then for our own bottom lines, companies must act—and fast. Walking the walk on abortion rights is critical for recruitment and retention. A number of Millennials consider reproductive health care coverage a deciding factor in accepting a job offer, while research by reproductive rights advocates shows employees would be more loyal to a company that helped cover prenatal care, family planning and abortion care.
That same poll also found the majority of workers believe companies should consider access to reproductive health care when opening a new office—unsurprising, given that a 2020 report found more than half of college-aged women would not apply for a job in a state that banned abortion.
Action is critical for customer loyalty, too. Customers increasingly choose to buy from companies that reflect their beliefs—beliefs including, for a majority of women (and lots of other people), the right to choose.
Employers can take cues from several forward-thinking organizations. After Texas’s draconian abortion ban went into effect, Salesforce offered to relocate employees and their families, so they could better access reproductive care. Uber and Lyft announced they would cover the legal fees of drivers who could now be charged with “aiding and abetting” an abortion.
Texas-based dating apps Match and Bumble established a fund to cover the cost of travel for employees and their dependents seeking out-of-state care. And multiple production companies have stopped doing business in Georgia so long as their abortion restrictions hold.
It’s devastating and infuriating that our nation has come to this: that a woman’s right to control her body hinges on where, and whether, she works. But the stakes are too high to simply release platitudes about bodily autonomy, throw a few bucks towards so-and-so politician, or—worse—continue to do nothing at all.
Abortion is more than just a right. It’s a necessity—a way for millions of women to achieve economic opportunity, personal freedom, and start or grow a family on their own terms. With the government once again abdicating its responsibility, we employers face a choice: follow in their lead, or chart a new, righteous path forward. For our people’s sake, and for our own, I hope we choose wisely.