State Abortion Restrictions and How They Impact Employees

A handful of states have recently imposed new laws that severely restrict a woman’s right to access abortion services. Texas took the first step with a near-total ban on abortion, followed by lawmakers in Florida, Kentucky and other states passing similar restrictions.

These moves by GOP-led states happened in anticipation of a decision in the summer of 2022 by the U.S. Supreme Court that could weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that enshrined abortion rights protections.

They’ve also placed many business leaders in a position where feel they must take a stance on the hotly debated issue. Many have spoken out for abortion rights as the implications of the new restrictions on their employees become clearer.

Shelley Alpern, head of corporate engagement at U.S.-based social enterprise Rhia Ventures, told Reuters that anti-abortion actions by lawmakers force businesses to take a stand.

“Once it really sinks in that abortion restrictions hurt their workforce and talent pool, and that silence doesn’t put them in a good light, they will speak up more, if not publicly then in private conversations with lawmakers,” Alpern said.

At Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Top 50 event in May, Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke of the leaked initial draft opinion written by Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito to overturn Roe v. Wade. Jackson called the leaked document an “attack on women’s rights.”

“We must determine women are adults and [have] rights to choose as free people,” he said.

How the New Laws Impact Abortion Rights

Texas took the first step in September 2021, passing a new law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy (before many people are even aware they are pregnant).

Rather than enforce the law through the state, Texas lawmakers empowered citizens to turn in people for seeking an abortion. The patient cannot be sued under the law, but anyone who performs or aids the abortion can, even someone who drives a friend to a clinic.

Florida followed with a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, unless doctors deem the abortion necessary to save the mother’s life. Kentucky also passed a 15-week ban, but the law is on hold as legal action against the measure makes its way through the court system.

More restrictive laws have also passed in Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming.

Meanwhile, U.S. Supreme Court justices are deliberating Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that challenges the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. But attorneys for Mississippi have asked the justices to use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most observers expect the court’s decision to, at a minimum, weaken protections. A decision is expected in June.

How Abortion Restrictions Hurt the Workforce and Talent Pool

Against this backdrop of new laws and litigation, business leaders have taken into account how new abortion restrictions impact their employees if they remain in place. The main impact is in the recruiting and retention of talented workers.

The new state laws that reduce a woman’s right to access abortion services could force a current employee to decide to quit her job in order to carry out an unwanted pregnancy. Even without quitting her job, unwanted pregnancy would impact a woman’s career.

But the biggest impact might be on recruitment. Public opinion research firm PerryUndem recently surveyed 1,804 adults with a college degree who work full-time or are looking for a full-time job. The results included the following.

  • A large majority support abortion access and consider the issue part of gender equity in the workplace.
  • Two-thirds said the Texas ban would discourage them from working in the state and 64% said they would not apply for a job in a state that passed a ban like Texas.
  • About half said they would consider moving out of state if lawmakers in their state passed a similar ban.

Businesses Take A Stand

 In the business world, the debate over abortion has shifted into one about social responsibility, gender equality and workplace diversity, Reuters noted. Companies also are keenly aware of surveys of the American people, who overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to an abortion. For example, a 2021 survey by Pew Research found that 59% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Some businesses have already taken sides on the issue. Before Texas lawmakers voted to restrict abortion rights, a group of 80 companies with more than $20 billion in revenue came together to denounce the law as part of a coalition called Don’t Ban Equality.

On its website, the organization calls equality in the workplace “one of the most important business issues of our time. Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our workers and customers.”

Companies that signed on include well-known brand names such as Yelp, Netflix, Lyft, and Ben & Jerry’s. They called for an end to restrictive abortion laws, saying they “stand against policies that hinder people’s health, independence and ability to fully succeed in the workplace.”

Yelp has since taken it even further. In an announcement made after the near-total ban on abortions in Oklahoma in April 2022, Yelp announced it would cover travel expenses for any of its employees or their dependents forced to go out of state to seek abortion care.

Citigroup, Match, Bumble, Lyft and Uber have announced similar policies for their employees in states where lawmakers are taking action to restrict abortion access.