Salesforce did the right thing last week when it recognized that the new Texas abortion law, known by its legislative name as Senate Bill 8, poses a threat to women’s reproductive health. However, Salesforce fell far short of recognizing the true potential for the law to wreak havoc within a company by exposing all employees — and clients — to the risk of a lawsuit.
In an internal memo first reported last Friday by CNBC, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff told employees that “if you have concerns about access to reproductive healthcare in your state, Salesforce will help relocate you and members of your immediate family.”
Benioff later clarified on Twitter that the state in question is Texas, but he also left a key part of the question dangling. “Ohana if you want to move we’ll help you exit TX. Your choice,” he tweeted, using a Hawaiian term of endearment meaning “family."
However, Benioff did not explicitly state that Texas is the only state in which Salesforce will aid employees seeking to relocate on account of abortion restrictions
If the memo was deliberately vague as to the state in question, Benioff got it exactly right. Reproductive rights have been under threat in many states, not just Texas.
Although the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision affirmed a woman’s right to abortion, there are no absolute rights under the U.S. Constitution. In practice, abortion rights are tightly restricted across virtually the entire U.S. South and are subject to other limitations in much of the Midwest.
Senate Bill 8 takes the limits on abortion restrictions a giant step further by empowering any person, even a complete stranger, to bring a $10,000 civil lawsuit against anyone who aids a woman in getting an abortion early in the pregnancy. As written, the law leaves a narrow window of just a few weeks to seek a legal abortion. That is a matter of months short of the fetal viability standard generally recognized by law.
Though the law does not expose pregnant women to the risk of a lawsuit, fear of a lawsuit effectively prevents her from seeking help in terminating the pregnancy. Under Senate Bill 8, everyone from trained medical professionals to personal confidants could be considered complicit and subject to a lawsuit with a $10,000 penalty, to be paid as bounty to the person pursuing the action in court.
In a macabre race to the bottom, lawmakers in other states with highly restrictive abortion laws have already jumped at the chance to clamp down even further by copying the Texas model if it is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. As of this writing the list includes Arkansas, Florida, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana and Oklahoma.
Though Benioff’s offer is a generous one, it does come with some serious flaws.
Firstly, Benioff fails to recognize that the law impacts everyone, not just women of childbearing age. It fosters a breakdown of trust and team-building within businesses and other organizations, because it essentially transforms everyone around a woman into potential spies and snitches, including her colleagues, clients, human resource professionals and other business contacts.
In addition, as observed by CNBC, Benioff's memo strikes a conciliatory tone on the abortion “debate,” even though the issue is a matter of firmly settled public opinion. “We recognize and respect that we all have deeply held and different perspectives,” Benioff wrote, ignoring the fact that public opinion polls have persistently favored abortion rights.
Last May, for example, the Pew Research Center published a poll on abortion with these results: “Today, a 59 percent majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39 percent think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years.”
Though Pew notes that a partisan political divide has cleaved opinions about abortion in recent years, the growing approval among Democrats has offset growing disapproval among Republicans.
“In 2007, roughly two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic leaners (63 percent) said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Support among Democrats has risen by nearly 20 points since then, and 80 percent now say abortion should be legal in all or most cases,” Pew noted, adding that only 35 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners in the poll agreed.
By striking a conciliatory stance, Benioff ignores both general public opinion and the underlying partisan divide, providing a minority opinion with an equality of significance that it has not earned.
In a day and age when the discourse of the Republican Party is increasingly dominated by accused insurrectionists including former President Donald Trump, white supremacists and lethal misdirection on the COVID-19 pandemic, Benioff’s conciliatory position is weak tea indeed.
It’s no accident that restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health care and opposition to simple, effective COVID-19 prevention overlap most vigorously in states dominated by Republican office holders.
For example, Texas has been the focal point of criticism over Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the pandemic, second only to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Both states now rank in the top five for deaths per capita from COVID-19 over the past week, as reported by Becker’s Hospital Review on September 13, with Florida at 1.63 per 100,000 population and Texas at 0.88. The list was topped by Mississippi at 1.75 and included Louisiana at 1.07 and South Carolina at 1.02.
Of the states on record for considering a Texas-style abortion ban, Arkansas, Idaho and Oklahoma are also among the top 10 for per capita COVID-19 deaths. The entire top half of the list is almost completely dominated by states that impose tight restrictions on abortion rights.
The Texas abortion bill is part and parcel of a wider schism in the U.S., in which facts and evidence are tossed aside in favor of the consolidation of political power.
If business leaders are unhappy with the situation, they should look in the mirror. In a situation that resembles the attack on trans rights, corporate donors have put a heavy thumb on the scales by supporting office holders active in the new abortion restrictions, even as they profess to support women.
It’s high time they start putting their money where their mouths are, before it’s too late.
Image credit: Clark Van Der Beken/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.