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Tina Casey headshot

Business Leaders Have One Last Chance to Get Abortion Access Right

By Tina Casey

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the recent Dobbs v. Jackson case will bedevil U.S. corporations for years to come, if not entire generations. The Court empowered state governments to identify, track, monitor, judge and persecute every person capable of carrying a pregnancy, regardless of their age or intentions. Business leaders can help repair the damage by supporting state and federal legislation that protects abortion rights. However, in order to do that, first they will have to dig themselves out of the partisan hole they created.

Say it again: Out-of-state travel was never the solution

Some businesses have scored points in the court of public opinion by offering to pay out-of-state travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

The travel benefits trend began with Salesforce and several other companies last fall when Texas passed a draconian, vigilante-centered abortion law. The travel strategy gathered steam after last month’s Dobbs decision, which empowered additional states to set new restrictions in motion.

Travel benefits sound good on paper, but they don’t remove the threat of universal tracking and monitoring. In addition to phone records and internet searches, pregnancy police states have a wide variety of tools at their disposal — from period apps and social media to travel bookings and license plate readers. All of these can be deployed in the service of monitoring everyone with a uterus.

Corporations that offer travel benefits also appear to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that Republican legislators and their allies are already planning a nationwide abortion ban. That would put an end to the travel strategy, unless corporations are willing to pay for trips to Canada, Mexico, Europe or other nations where pregnancy management is still the right of the pregnant person. 

Pushing health care resources to the limit

For the time being, out-of-state travel is still an option. However, the travel strategy is already beginning to crack at the seams, as resources in pregnancy-rights states strain under the influx of new patients seeking care, regardless of whether or not their health plan covers it. As more state governments adopt the mantle of pregnancy police, tens of thousands more pregnant people will seek care outside of their home states. 

Abortion providers and their allies in pregnancy-rights states have been gearing up for a flood of new patients, but it is only a matter of time before triage and delayed care set in.

For example, California, Oregon and Washington have formed a three-state pregnancy rights collaboration called the Multi-State Commitment to Reproductive Freedom pact. It covers a range of legal issues cascading from the new abortion bans, in addition to serving as a platform for ramping up abortion access for out-of-state travelers.

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Last week, though, The Mercury News drew an ominous picture of the state of play in California and elsewhere. Reporter Lisa M. Krieger detailed a strong network of stopgap measures among clinics and their allies in California, aimed ensuring seamless care for those seeking abortions from out of state. However, she also took note of obstacles in the way of permanently expanding the state’s ability to take in more patients.

Part of the problem involves dealing with an increase in more complicated cases, potentially leading to delays in care that further exacerbate an already fraught scenario for the patient.

“Medical academics at UC San Francisco, UCLA and other hospitals are arranging to serve more high-risk patients with complex medical conditions who can no longer get care in their home state,” Krieger reported. “They’re bracing to see women with late-term pregnancies, whose care was delayed due to lack of funds or transportation.”

Another long-term issue involves access to training. Krieger notes that health professionals can no longer train on abortion in their home states, and they are relying on states like California to step in. 

“The reversal of Roe also means that there will be fewer U.S. doctors who are trained in abortion,” she wrote. “After the Texas restriction last September, UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health trained several medical residents from the state and is now trying to coordinate training for 50 more.

Over the long term, California and other pregnancy-rights states will need to build and staff new clinics. However, that is no simple matter, even in states where pregnancy rights are protected. After all, every “blue” state has very “red” areas. For example, Krieger points out that Planned Parenthood was planning to expand in Visalia, California, until community opposition kicked in.

What’s a business leader to do on abortion rights?

The Dobbs decision has upended a whole generation of gender equality and diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the wink of an eye. Corporate leaders have only themselves to blame, through their financial support for state and federal candidates who pledge to support anti-abortion policies, primarily on the Republican side of the aisle.

It is no coincidence that each of the six Supreme Court justices who decided the Dobbs case were appointed by Republican presidents. State laws restricting abortion have also passed largely along partisan lines, with an assist from corporate funding for GOP candidates.

In addition to cutting off the money pipeline to Republican candidates, corporate leaders also need to re-think their support for GOP-affiliated political organizations.

Earlier this week, independent journalist Judd Legum of the newsletter Popular Information analyzed corporate donations to the Republican Governors Association, an organization that is actively working to install more Republican, anti-abortion governors in states across the U.S.

Legum notes that RGA has already reserved millions in ad time to elect Republican governors in states where pregnancy rights have been dismantled or are at risk, including Arizona, Michigan and Florida.

Legum cites Microsoft ($250,000 in March 2021), AT&T ($250,000 in June 2021) and CVS ($280,000 since 2021) as contributors to the RGA campaign coffers, as well as Amazon ($425,900), Cigna ($141,800), Comcast ($250,450), Google ($125,450), Intuit ($100,000) and Wells Fargo ($101,800).

Each of these firms, Legum points out, are among those offering travel benefits for abortions.

Business leaders can help make the case for pregnancy rights as a matter of national policy by supporting the policies of President Joe Biden, who signed an executive order on Monday that empowers the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that practitioners observe the right to emergency care under federal law. The new order supports a detailed HHS action plan aimed at protecting access to abortion. 

In addition, leaders of U.S. companies can also cheerlead for open access to contraceptive pills and abortion pills. The Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B back in 2006. Now, the French company HRA Pharma is seeking FDA approval for over-the-counter sales of its Opill contraceptive pills. If the FDA sets a precedent in that area, over-the-counter approval for medications that terminate pregnancies, such as the widely used combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, could follow.

However, business leaders cannot rely on others to act on their behalf. As demonstrated by the Supreme Court's recent decision in the West Virginia v. EPA case, the six right-wing justices have set themselves up to tear down decisions made by federal agencies and undermine the president’s ability to enforce federal laws through executive order.

Business leaders have boxed themselves into a corner, along with the entire country. The only solution now is to stop pretending that “both sides” have an equal say in pregnancy rights. Business leaders who claim to support human rights must start putting their corporate money where their mouths are. They must support a Democratic majority in Congress that is strong enough to codify pregnancy rights into federal law.

Anything less than concrete, partisan action on behalf of Democratic candidates for the upcoming midterm elections is just the same old corporate hot air, blowing stopgap solutions that are doomed to fail.

Image credit: Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

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.

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