Companies had more than a month to formulate a response to the end of the federal right to abortion in the United States, if they did not intervene immediately after a draft opinion was leaked in May.
But when the final decision came in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Friday, relatively few had a say in the outcome.
Most remained silent, including some companies known for speaking out on social issues like Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights. Some of the corporations that blocked their Instagram pages in 2020 or displayed rainbow flags on their websites for Pride Month have so far been hesitant to comment on abortion.
“Executives have some trepidation about this,” said Dave Fleet, head of global digital crisis at Edelman, a consulting firm. “They are worried about negative reactions because they know there is no way to please everyone.”
Many of the companies that made public statements Friday chose to address how the Supreme Court decision would affect their workers’ access to health care. In some cases, they avoided the word “abortion” altogether, perhaps seeking a more acceptable answer.
“We have processes in place so that an employee who cannot access care in one location has affordable coverage to receive similar levels of care in another location,” Disney executives wrote in a memo to staff, adding that this included “ Family planning”. (including decisions related to pregnancy).”
Other companies that came forward Friday to say they would cover employee travel expenses for abortions include Warner Bros., Condé Nast, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Goldman Sachs, Snap, Macy’s, Intuit and Dick’s Sporting Goods. They joined a group that includes Starbucks, Tesla, Yelp, Airbnb, Netflix, Patagonia, DoorDash, JPMorgan Chase, Levi Strauss & Co., PayPal, OKCupid, Citigroup, Kroger, Google, Microsoft, Paramount, Nike, Chobani, Lyft. and Reddit which had previously implemented similar policies.
“The employer is how many people access the health care system,” added Mr. Fleet. “You are seeing that companies look inward first.”
Some companies accompanied those policy changes with statements. Roger Lynch, head of Condé Nast, called the decision “a crushing blow to reproductive rights.” Lyft said the ruling “will harm millions of women.” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti called it “regressive and horrible.” Some business leaders have also spoken out, with Bill Gates, co-founder and former head of Microsoft, calling the ruling “an unfair and unacceptable setback,” and Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Meta, writing that it “threatens to undo the progress women have made.” achieved in the workplace.
But many companies that have spoken out on social issues like racism did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment after the Supreme Court’s decision, including Target, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Delta and Wendy’s. Hobby Lobby, which in 2014 successfully filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court challenging whether employer-provided health care had to include birth control, declined to comment on Dobbs’ decision.
In recent years there has been a growing expectation that companies intervene in political and social issues. The proportion of American adults online who believe companies have a responsibility to engage in discussions of current affairs increased last year, according to consumer research firm Forrester. The expectation is even more pronounced among younger social media users, according to research from Sprout Social.
When George Floyd was killed by police in 2020, public companies and their foundations committed more than $49 billion to fight racial inequality. Last year, after Georgia’s Republican-led legislature restricted voter access, some CEOs, including those of Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, criticized the law, with 72 Black business leaders publishing a letter urging corporate leaders to “publicly oppose any discriminatory legislation. ”
With abortion, public opinion is a bit different: Forrester found that fewer respondents believed that companies should take a stand on abortion. Polls have consistently found that a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but a recent Pew Research Center poll found that people have widely varying views on morality. in the subject. Companies fear the backlash that could come from taking a stand on the issue.
“When it comes to the range of politicized issues within the sphere of brand impact, few are as divisive and deeply personal as abortion,” said Mike Proulx, vice president and director of research at Forrester.
Political compromise is rarely an easy option for company leaders. Disney, which had long eschewed partisan politics, faced a domestic backlash this year when it didn’t take a strong stance on Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, but then Florida lawmakers revoked its special tax benefits when it did. . John Gibson, chief executive of gaming company Tripwire Interactive, was quickly replaced after coming out in favor of a Texas ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
A 2020 study of 149 companies published in the Journal of Marketing found that corporate activism had a negative effect on a company’s stock market performance, though it found a positive effect on sales if the activism was consistent with corporate values. the company’s consumers.
Both participation and the decision not to participate can have a price.
“You have to be careful not to draw the wrong lessons from some of those moments,” said Edelman’s Mr. Fleet. “It would be very easy to look at companies that made missteps and say ‘well, we shouldn’t say anything,’ while in fact some customers saying nothing is the mistake that was made.”
Some companies on Friday warned staff to be careful discussing the ruling in the workplace. “There will be an intense amount of public debate about this decision,” Citigroup’s human resources chief wrote to staff. “Remember that we must always treat each other with respect, even when our opinions differ.”
Meta said publicly Friday that she would reimburse employees for travel expenses to have an abortion. But the company later told its workers not to openly discuss the court’s ruling on wide-ranging communication channels within the company, according to three employees, citing a policy that puts “strong guardrails around social, political and delicate” in the workplace.
But there are other companies that have not shied away from stronger statements on abortion, and are urging other companies to match their tone and commitment.
OkCupid sent a notification to app users in states with abortion restrictions encouraging them to contact their elected officials in support of abortion. Melissa Hobley, its global chief marketing officer, has been working behind the scenes to get other women business leaders to commit to supporting abortion.
“We had to say to hell with the risk,” he said. “This is an economic problem, this is a marketing problem. If you’re in highly visible, highly competitive industries like tech, law, finance, they’re all fighting for female talent.”
Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, said he felt it was important to speak up about abortion access, whether or not there was a business case for doing so, even though he knew there would be users who would oppose such a decision.
“Certainly when you talk about these issues, not everyone is going to agree,” he said. “As we look at this, we felt quite strongly that it was the right thing to do,” he added, “it’s been 50 years of established law.”
Some business leaders said they were concerned about how abortion restrictions will affect their ability to recruit workers, especially those whose companies are based in the 13 states that will ban abortion immediately or very quickly with Roe’s repeal. Those states include Texas, where tech companies have flocked in recent years.
Research commissioned by the Tara Health Foundation found that two-thirds of college-educated workers surveyed would be discouraged from taking a job in Texas because of its restrictive abortion law and would not apply for jobs in other states that passed similar laws.
“Employers like us can be the last line of defense,” said Sarah Jackel, chief operating officer of Civitech, a 55-person Texas-based company that creates tech tools for political campaigns. The company promised to cover the travel expenses of female employees who needed an abortion immediately after the passage of the Texas ban, SB 8.
Ms Jackel said the policy had strong support from both employees and investors, although the company declined to share whether anyone had used it.
“It makes good business sense,” he added. “There is no reason why we should put our employees in the position of having to choose between keeping their job or carrying out an unwanted pregnancy.”
emily flutter, Lauren Hirsch, mike isaac, kate kelly, Ryan Mac, Benjamin Mullin Y Katie Robertson contributed report.