This story is part of an investigative series from Insider examining the demise of abortion rights in so-called “trigger law” states. It was originally published on June 2, 22 days before the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right. Read all the stories from “The First 13” here.
If the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade in June — considered all but certain since a draft decision was leaked May 2 — major US companies may find themselves facing shock waves inside their organizations. But most companies appear unprepared for what’s to come.
Insider has identified the companies that would face the most immediate impact: those with the largest workforces in states with “trigger laws,” where abortion bans would automatically take effect if the court strikes down Roe. Thousands of their employees may soon be facing unintended pregnancies without access to abortion care. Over two-thirds of Americans want to uphold Roe v. Wade, and the majority support women having access to legal abortion for any reason, per a recent Wall Street Journal poll.
Walmart, McDonald’s, Amazon, the Department of Defense, and Roark Capital Group, a private-equity firm that owns Arby’s, Dunkin’, and the Cheesecake Factory, top the list, as they are among the largest employers in all 13 trigger-law states.
Workers at major brands including Kroger, UPS, Lowe’s, Tyson Foods, Marriott, and Dollar General would also be heavily affected, as each company is a top employer in at least four states with abortions bans that would be triggered by the overturn of Roe. Insider’s analysis was based on proprietary data that identified and ranked the top 25 employers in all 50 states.
The Politico leak effectively gave companies several weeks to prepare for the disruption ahead, yet few appear to have taken advantage of the warning.
Insider contacted every company and federal agency that is a top employer in at least three trigger-law states to ask whether they’d developed plans for how to handle risks to recruitment, retention, and healthcare costs if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
Most of these companies declined to speak with Insider.
Amazon stands alone among the major employers in these states in having made a public commitment to covering the cost for employees to travel for healthcare — including abortions.
This article originally published in May 2022.
Turnover and absenteeism are expected to rise if Roe is struck down
Employers in states where abortion bans take effect may face higher rates of turnover and absenteeism, research shows. Unplanned births can reduce women’s workforce participation by as much as 25%, and women denied abortions faced higher degrees of unemployment and financial distress, including unpaid debts, evictions, and bankruptcies.
More than 150 economists signed an amicus brief in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case — which the Supreme Court is considering as it decides whether to uphold Roe v. Wade — arguing that “abortion legalization has had a significant impact on women’s wages and educational attainment, with impacts most strongly felt by Black women.”
The reverse is also true, according to Kate Bahn, the chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. She told Insider by email that for workers already facing barriers, reductions in abortion access would most likely have particularly severe effects. “Industries that employ these groups of workers,” she said, “may be impacted by limited educational and economic opportunities for workers who are impacted by reduced access to abortion care.”
Last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen underscored the economic implications of a potential Roe reversal during testimony at a hearing of the Senate banking committee.
“I believe that eliminating the rights of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades,” she said.
Industries as varied as meatpacking, fast food, and warehousing are already facing labor shortages. Insider’s analysis found that major brands in these sectors are also top employers in numerous states facing imminent abortion bans, which could have a rolling impact as workers grapple with unintended pregnancies.
The meat producer Tyson Foods, with 120,000 US employees, is a top employer in four of the 13 trigger-law states, while the retailer Lowe’s, with 340,000 global employees, is a top employer in five. Kroger, with 420,000 global employees, most of them in the US, is a top employer in eight. And Yum! Brands, the parent company to KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, with 23,000 US employees, is a top employer in 12.
“Long-term labor shortages in sectors like childcare and K-12 education could be further worsened by attacks on the rights of women, who are disproportionately workers in these sectors,” Bahn said.
Data from 2014 showed that nearly a quarter of women had an abortion during their reproductive years; in trigger-law states, that may soon mean extended time off for travel to seek an abortion out of state or an exit from the workforce for those who can’t obtain one.
The top employers in these states also include several federal agencies, most notably the Department of Veterans Affairs, a top employer in 10 trigger-law states; the US Postal Service, a top employer in 11; and the Department of Defense, a top employer in each of the 13 states with abortion trigger laws.
Insider filed public-records requests to each of these agencies requesting planning documents covering how they would manage their workforces if Roe were overturned and trigger laws took effect. The DoD and the VA said they searched and no such records existed. The Postal Service told Insider “the records you are seeking are outside the responsibilities of this office.”
None of these agencies would comment to Insider about their lack of plans.
‘Are we going to have a brain drain?’
Just three days after Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion was leaked, Senate Democrats held a press briefing to announce an effort to codify abortion rights into federal law. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington called the moment “a political earthquake.”
“What are we going to do as employers here in the United States Senate?” asked the former tech executive who is now chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. “What are we going to do about federal agencies? Do you think people are going to want to go and work in NASA in Florida or Texas if that state precludes a woman’s right to choose?”
“Are we going to have extra money in the budget so people can travel to a state so they can get their healthcare rights?” Cantwell asked. “Or are we going to have a brain drain because people aren’t going to want to work for federal agencies located in a state that doesn’t protect a woman’s right to choose?”
The reversal of Roe would pose particular challenges to the Department of Defense, as service members would face the prospect of being involuntarily transferred to a state where they would lack abortion rights.
Recently, the Air Force produced guidance for military families affected by state laws criminalizing gender-affirming care. “The Defense Department must recognize that the involuntary transfer of service members to Texas places parents of transgender dependent children in peril,” Tammy Smith, the former chief of Army personnel, recently told the Defense News Network. “They may be charged with child abuse by Texas authorities.” Service members based in states that ban abortion may soon face the prospect of criminal charges, too. The DoD declined to comment.
Concerns about attracting talent are now quietly rippling through the private sector. “For the first time in history, people are thinking beyond doughnuts and benefits,” said Robynn Storey, a headhunter who is CEO of Storeyline Resumes. “Political stances are definitely one of those things.”
Shelley Alpern is director of corporate engagement for Rhia Ventures, a social-investing firm that produced a 2020 report on the business case for reproductive health. She said recruitment could become a problem for companies that declined to take a stand on reproductive rights. “Employers can say goodbye to being able to attract top female talent if they do not support women’s access to abortion with their policies,” she said.
Several top employers in states with trigger laws also have headquarters there, including Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas; Yum! Brands in Louisville, Kentucky; Tyson Foods in Springdale, Arkansas; and HCA Healthcare, a hospital chain in Nashville, Tennessee, that is a top employer in five trigger-law states.
Emily Martin, the vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said these firms might soon face headwinds in attracting talent to their headquarters.
“It could be a real challenge for employers to recruit women, and people who can become pregnant,” she said, “to work for them in states that have really embraced these radical extremist bans.”
Companies are scrambling behind the scenes
Insider reached out to the top employers in trigger-law states with a range of questions about whether they had conducted risk assessments related to how a reversal of Roe v. Wade might affect their workforce and company policies.
Insider also asked whether the companies had audited their political contributions for conflicts with their corporate values. Walmart, Berkshire Hathaway, and UPS, all top employers in numerous trigger-law states, each gave more than $200,000 to the lawmakers behind these laws, according to a separate Insider analysis.
Most of these companies declined to comment to Insider.
But behind the scenes, many companies are scrambling to figure out their next step.
Yelp was one of the first publicly traded corporations to announce, in early April, that it would cover travel costs for employees going out of state to seek abortion care. A Yelp executive told Insider that calls from companies had poured in since the decision was announced.
“Many companies are reaching out about this issue,” said Yelp’s chief diversity officer, Miriam Warren. “This shows us that companies big and small, and across a number of industries are concerned about this issue and they also want to do something to safeguard their employees.”
The nation’s leading family-planning provider has also seen an increase in the number of corporate executives, including CEOs, reaching out for advice.
“Planned Parenthood organizations have seen an influx of corporate and business interest, asking how they can support abortion access by establishing their own best practices to support their people, to providing core business contributions, to public communications,” said Nadia Khamis, the director of corporate engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She declined to name companies that had reached out.
Other companies appear to be waiting until the Supreme Court issues a formal decision this summer — or waiting to let their peers take the lead.
Tina Opie, who advises Fortune 500 companies on issues involving diversity, equity, and inclusion, said she hadn’t yet heard from any business leaders on the issue. “It’s been quiet,” she said. “I think that people are waiting for the actual decision before commenting.”
3M, a top employer in South Dakota, a trigger-law state, is one of those companies. “We understand and respect this topic is an important and deeply personal one for many people,” a 3M representative told Insider. “We appreciate there is a lot of speculation, as there has been in the past. If the law were to change, 3M would evaluate what it means and how it impacts employees.”
Malia Lazu, the CEO and founder of The Lazu Group, a diversity-and-inclusion consultancy, told Insider that many leaders were still assessing the landscape. “CEOs are going to remain cautious until they really understand how to enter the conversation in a way that’s responsible,” she said. “That’s either going to be because more businesses do this and there becomes a standard or because the people demand of these companies that they do it.”
At Rhia, Alpern has advanced several shareholder proposals regarding political spending and abortion rights. She said a company’s “appetite for risk,” its tolerance of criticism, and the personalities of senior leadership all played roles in determining whether it would take action. So did industry culture and the culture of each business’s geographical base. She said that while many businesses were taking proactive approaches behind the scenes, others appeared to be delaying action.
Some experts attribute this hesitation to the lack of gender diversity in companies’ senior leadership. Dee C. Marshall, the CEO of the diversity consultancy Diverse & Engaged, said she believed many CEOs weren’t responding in part because “abortion isn’t believed to be a wealthy CEOs issue or concern because it doesn’t directly impact he/she/they/them.”
“They also tend to fear speaking out on matters impacting women and underrepresented individuals,” she said.
Even employers that have set themselves up as leaders on diversity, equity, and inclusion have remained silent.
Walmart highlights the number of women in its workforce and its commitment to promoting DEI. But a representative told Insider the company did “not lobby on this issue” of abortion access and declined to comment. McDonald’s, too, describes itself as a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion, saying on its corporate website, “Few companies on the planet are better positioned to make a difference than McDonald’s.” But the company did not respond to requests for comment from Insider.
Healthcare companies risk employees being criminalized
Employers in the healthcare space could face specific legal issues if abortion trigger laws take effect. In a post-Roe landscape, both patients seeking an abortion and their healthcare providers could be at risk of prosecution. Seventeen hospital systems and healthcare chains are top-five employers in trigger-law states, including Sanford Health, which is a top-two employer in both North Dakota and South Dakota.
“Sanford Health is carefully evaluating the potential impact a final Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade would have on our healthcare providers and the patients we serve across the rural Midwest,” Jeremy Cauwels, the chief physician at Sanford Health, told Insider in a statement. “Ensuring the health and well-being of our Sanford Health family is our utmost priority.”
In some instances, healthcare employers could be also looking at a more mobilized, politically charged workforce. Erica Bland-Durosinmi is the executive vice president for SEIU Healthcare, which represents some 90,000 frontline healthcare workers — most of whom are women — in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Missouri, a trigger-law state. Few union members are talking about leaving Missouri, she said. Instead, conversations center on how to support protecting access to “legal, safe abortions.”
“People are very tied to their communities,” Bland-Durosinmi said. “We’re no strangers to fights and protests and standing up in the streets and fighting in the legislative halls to make sure that people have rights that they deserve.”
Even companies outside the healthcare field may soon face a complex calculus in strategizing how to provide consistent coverage to their employees. More than half of Americans get their health coverage through their jobs; now companies may face the prospect of adjusting their healthcare offerings, state by state, with regard to abortion access.
“The vast differences in the types of available abortion coverage will lead to uneven access for many employees, public and private alike,” Osub Ahmed, the associate director for women’s health and rights at the Center for American Progress, told Insider by email. “It also will impose a significant administrative burden on employers, who will need to sort through complicated billing questions.”
Lauren Hoffman, a colleague of Ahmed’s who is the associate director for women’s economic security, predicts that companies such as Yelp, Citi, and Amazon, which have announced that they will cover abortion-related travel costs, may run into “retaliation from politicians who do not support abortion.” With a raft of copycat bills modeled after Texas’s SB 8, which allows private citizens to sue anyone who assists a pregnant person in obtaining an abortion, Hoffman said employers could face legal liability, including “harassing lawsuits,” if they decide to assist employees in getting abortions out of state.
Yet Alpern said companies should not assume bold policies will incur the wrath of radical anti-abortion forces without a careful risk assessment.
“I want to give credit to the companies that really have gone out on a limb in this environment,” she said. “Although I think most of these companies think that the limb is a lot shakier than it really is.”
“Companies should move forward as a group,” Alpern added. “That’s one way to blunt a lot of negative feedback, blowback, or protests from the extremist side.”
Additional reporting by Nicole Einbinder and Abbie Shull.
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