Privacy, stigma may keep workers from using abortion travel benefits

Several large companies, from Amazon to Walmart, are promising to cover travel expenses for employees and family members who have to leave their home states to have a legal abortion.

But experts advising these companies say their well-intentioned promises to invest in workers’ access to reproductive health care come with risks, including possible retaliation from state officials. And it’s not clear if the proposed benefits will be taken up by many employees given the uncertain political climate.

“A lot of companies have talked big about it, but far fewer have actually done it,” said Bethany Corbin, senior counsel at healthcare specialist Nixon Gwilt Law. When companies start offering abortion services, she expects worker uptake to be minimal, she said.

Potential concerns for workers include the stigma surrounding abortion and fears that private medical information could be leaked to government agencies, intentionally or unintentionally. Unlike healthcare providers and insurers, Corbin said, most private companies are not designed to handle sensitive medical information.

But she said companies that want to offer an abortion benefit can structure their programs to make the benefit more attractive to employees. For example, setting up a special fund and contracting with a third-party administrator is one way to protect employee privacy and reduce stigma, but not every company will be able to do this.

“There’s a really strong sense of privacy around abortion,” said Shelly Alpern, director of corporate engagement at Rhia Ventures, which advises companies on policies aimed at promoting equity in reproductive health.

Asking a boss for paid time off to have an abortion or providing detailed information about where and when they received the procedure is a flop for most employees, she said, noting that many workers fear being promoted to unconsciousness anti-abortion bias to be ignored.

“It’s similar to the stigma of using mental health benefits, which has faded over time, in part because companies have made a concerted effort to encourage employees to talk about mental health,” Alpern said. “The same must happen with abortion.”

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Meanwhile, Alpern and Corbin say they advise companies to consider other options, such as B. Partnering with a nearby abortion provider and paying the bill anonymously. She and other abortion rights advocates also recommend donating to nonprofit abortion funds set up to confidentially arrange and pay for abortions and related costs for low-income patients.

Other ways to show support for abortion rights, Alpern said, are to stop making contributions to state political candidates who oppose access to abortion and instead donate to those who advocate for abortion rights. Corbin said companies may also consider closing operations in or relocating from states that ban abortion.

Most importantly, Corbin said, she advises companies interested in supporting abortion rights to first poll their employees to see what they think.

“Let’s say you’re in Texas, I’m an employee and I saw the internal memo about abortion benefits. I could become a whistleblower,” she said. “Employers who are not aligned with their workforce could put themselves at great risk.”

abortion migration

According to a study conducted by Rhia Ventures, more than 170 employers, large and small, have committed to paying for travel expenses for abortions.

A partial list includes Amazon, Bank of America, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ford Motor Company, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Meta, Microsoft, The New York Times, Nike, Starbucks, Tesla, Walmart, and The Walt Disney Company.

A key reason companies promise to offer travel concessions for abortions is to retain and attract employees who might otherwise not want to stay in or relocate to a state that prohibits abortions.

But it remains to be seen whether abortion bans, due to go into effect in 26 states since the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, will affect people’s choices about where to live.

Even before Dobbs, nearly 10% of people who received an abortion traveled across state lines for care, according to data analyzed by the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.

And in states that enacted stricter restrictions on the procedure and shut down many abortion providers between 2011 and 2020, the percentage of people who left their home states to obtain an abortion increased dramatically, Guttmacher noted.

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National data on the number of people traveling across state lines for abortions since Dobbs’ decision is not yet available.

However, a study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin showed that the number of Texans who left the state to have an abortion increased more than tenfold after the nation’s toughest abortion ban went into effect in September 2020.

“We know the number of people traveling abroad for abortions is increasing,” said Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s principal policy associate. She found that many of the low-income women who need help with travel expenses are either unemployed or work for companies that don’t cover those expenses and don’t offer sick leave, let alone paid time off for an abortion.

“One of the things that keeps me up at night,” Nash said, “is that nonprofit abortion funds are not going to be able to keep up with demand, and contributions to those funds can dwindle over time.”

Corbin said she praised companies that want to support abortion rights, but she added, “I have a problem with putting reproductive healthcare in the hands of corporations and letting corporations decide if a woman can afford to cross state lines for.” to transcend an abortion. It could fuel even more inequalities in access to health care, depending on which company you work for.”

Differences can occur even within companies that offer travel reimbursement for abortions. According to a report by the Kaiser family, many low-income earners may not be able to claim travel allowance for abortions because they cannot pay the cost in advance and do not have a credit card to charge the foundation.

State retaliation

So far, Texas is the only state where lawmakers have threatened to sanction companies that help employees obtain abortions.

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The Texas Freedom Caucus, made up of conservative GOP state officials, sent a letter to ride-sharing company Lyft in May promising to “introduce legislation at the next session (2023) banning companies from doing business in the state of Texas , if they pay for elective abortions or reimbursement of abortion-related costs — regardless of where the abortion takes place and regardless of the laws in the jurisdiction where the abortion takes place.”

In July, the caucus sent a similar letter to international law firm Sidley Austin, threatening to disbar any attorney who violates Texas abortion law by “providing the means to procure an abortion with knowledge of the intended purpose.” “.

Abortion advocates speculate that other states may seek to sanction companies that pay employees’ travel expenses for an out-of-state abortion. But constitutional law experts, including US Attorney General Merrick Garland, argue that the Dobbs decision did not give states the power to ban abortion outside their borders.

Banning interstate travel is clearly unconstitutional, said David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University. “But there’s a good chance this Supreme Court would uphold such laws anyway.”

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at the anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life, agreed that banning travel between states for any reason other than to avoid a felony charge is unconstitutional. He said his organization would not advise state legislatures to pursue such a strategy.

Yet more extreme anti-abortion groups, known as anti-abortion groups, are promoting state laws that criminalize out-of-state abortion.

The Thomas More Society, a conservative rights organization, is drafting a model law that would allow private individuals to sue anyone who helps a resident of a state that bans abortion to gain access to the procedure in another state, according to the Washington Post .

If Republicans make huge gains in November’s election despite most Americans supporting abortion rights, policy experts predict Texas and other conservative states are likely to seek to crack down on abortion travel and the companies that support them.

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