A protest in support of reproductive rights in Denver, Colorado, May 2022
In the past few years, corporations have increasingly become involved in issues of social justice, be it through Pride Month-friendly advertising or monetary pledges to racial justice organizations in response to the 2020 resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Yet almost two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and shook the foundations of the right to reproductive health services for hundreds of millions of Americans, corporations have been far more reluctant to take a public stand either in support or protest of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Employees should not construe this apparent corporate silence, however, as indicative of a company’s support of the overturning of Roe. Likewise, employees ought not mistake corporate statements condemning the Supreme Court’s decision as a pledge to protect and maintain employee health.
Dr. Yuvay Ferguson, the assistant dean of impact and engagement, as well as an associate professor of marketing at Howard University, said companies that are doing the right thing don’t need to broadcast. By and large, if a corporation prioritizes the health of its employees, it will have already fostered a culture that expresses more support than any press release or company-wide message could convey.
“You don't have to necessarily be performative if you have people in the room that can really speak to how others are experiencing the world around them,” Dr. Ferguson said, emphasizing that proper employee health care extends beyond a corporation’s benefits package. “There's such a bigger picture about what a person that may be disenfranchised, or a minority in that setting, would want and hope to experience.”
Dr. Ferguson says there aren’t any companies that have stood out as exceptionally vocal one way or the other after the decision. There’s no point to vocalize a stance on such a polarizing issue, because either way you only stand to alienate employees, customers, investors and potential partners.
Some companies, like Starbucks, have announced an intention to pay for employees’ travel fees to seek an out-of-state abortion or gender-confirming surgery — but this offer only exists for employees who have signed up for the corporation’s health care plan. As more and more Starbucks employees look to unionize, the company could not guarantee that union employees would be eligible for the full benefits of the health care plan.
It’s easy for a multimillion-dollar corporation to fly someone to another state, but what if the employee’s home state retaliates in a post-Roe America?
Given the tenacity of the Texas state government’s abortion legislation — including a bill that encourages citizens to sue the recipients and providers of abortions — it is not hard to imagine a situation in which a low-level employee faces the brunt of retaliatory harassment from state lawmakers frustrated with a citizen evading state jurisdiction.
And while corporations have the sufficient legal power to battle it out with a state government, it is difficult to imagine a corporation actually supporting an employee through a subsequent legal battle against state legislators in this post-Roe environment.
“At least on paper, no company is going to signal in any way, shape or form to its female employees that they would support a legal battle over an abortion,” Dr. Ferguson said.
Speaking of Texas laws, Dr. Ferguson mentioned the case of a pregnant woman in Texas who was ticketed for driving in the carpool lane, arguing that, by Texas’s own standards, she and her fetus constituted two passengers, qualifying her to drive in the carpool lane. Dr. Ferguson believes she is being financially backed by some higher power, but almost certainly not her employer.
No one’s leading the charge for abortion rights, yet — at least not loudly — but that doesn’t mean that companies aren’t scheming up ways to fight the long game.
Dr. Ferguson pointed to Disney’s recent battle with the state of Florida and its “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, and expects other corporations to find ways to financially punish anti-abortion states, such as by relocating facilities to pro-choice states.
So, employees should not read too deeply into the apparent lack of public reactions from companies. Corporate silence in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision is preferable to self-promoting volume. After all, empty corporate messaging is performative at best and almost cynically exploitative at worst. Furthermore, the attention on abortion shouldn’t obscure other facets of a safe healthcare plan.
“It shouldn't just be because the world is looking at abortion, that we only talk about abortion,” Dr. Ferguson said. “So, having reproductive health benefits are super important — things like maybe adoption, or infertility or fertility treatments, or birth control.”
Employee research groups, Dr. Ferguson said, can help corporations develop cultural fluency to improve employee health benefits.
Actions speak louder than words in a post-Roe world, and corporations must strive to create and maintain an environment in which employees feel protected, supported, prioritized and valued.
Image credit: Colin Lloyd via Unsplash
Patrick is a freelance journalist who writes what the robots can't. Based in Syracuse, New York, Patrick seeks to uplift, inform, and inspire readers with stories centered on environmental activism, social justice, and arts and music. He enjoys collecting books and records, writing prose and poetry, and playing guitar.