Less than a year after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Wyoming has become the first state to officially ban abortion pills. Soon, a federal judge in Texas is expected to rule on a lawsuit that could revoke the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a pill that has been used for over 20 years in medication abortions and miscarriage treatment. If revoked, this devastating blow to reproductive rights will not only block the use of mifepristone in Texas, but nationwide, impacting healthcare safety and access for millions of Americans.
Today, more than half of all abortions in the United States are medication abortions. A ban on mifepristone could prevent more than 64 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. from accessing this care, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. This number does not include people who have the capacity for pregnancy but do not identify as a woman. If these individuals were included, the number of people personally impacted by this decision would be even higher.
“This ruling has nothing to do with the efficacy or safety of mifepristone,” says Chief Member Melissa Fowler, Chief Program Officer at the National Abortion Federation. “This is all about politics and all about politicians really playing with the lives and healthcare for people. And really, it's bigger than this. That should be frightening to people on a larger scale because this actually could threaten the FDA’s approval process for other things.”
Shelley Alpern, Director of Corporate Engagement at Rhia Ventures, says that a lack of access to reproductive care is literally a life or death situation, particularly for Black and Brown women who are 2.9 times more likely to experience maternal mortality than white women in the United States.
Even if your company may not be directly caught in the line of fire, the abortion war rages on over all birthing people’s bodily autonomy and their right to appropriate care. “Companies and business leaders need to be thinking about this because an unplanned pregnancy can disrupt or even end career paths,” says Alpern.
Studies show that women who are unable to access an abortion when needed are three times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to have a household income below the federal poverty line. This means that threatening access to healthcare directly impacts an organization’s ability to hire, nurture, and retain diverse talent.
That’s why, both Alpern and Fowler emphasize that banning medication abortion is not only a women’s right issue, but also a business issue that corporate leaders can’t ignore.
Impact on Hiring and Retention
According to Rhia Ventures, 80% of the largest public companies in the world have made a commitment to improve gender diversity. Yet, these ongoing threats to healthcare access and reproductive freedom are becoming major barriers to achieving this goal.
Currently, 86% of women say that controlling if and when they have children is important to their career, with 70% of women ages 18 to 44 saying they would be discouraged from taking a job in a state with abortion restrictions.
“Even for employers in safe haven states, or those who have made the decision to relocate there, they will be affected by this ruling because it has national implications,” says Fowler. “So in states like California and New York, where abortion is protected and where they have been really vocal about wanting to remain a safe haven, this ruling will make it harder for people to access medication abortion there as well.”
How Corporations Can Respond
One of the first things Fowler says corporate leaders should do is mitigate any confusion when the ruling comes out. “People will not know if medication abortion is still legal and if it is available,” she says. “At the National Abortion Federation, we are working with providers to pivot and provide medication abortion through different evidence-based regimens. So even if mifepristone is pulled, medication abortion will still be provided in this country. And so it’s important to make sure that employees understand that and that they have access to accurate information to understand their options.”
Additionally, Alpern says organizations should continue to offer assistance with travel costs so that individuals who need to go out of state to access a procedural abortion can do so. “Leaders also need to make sure that this particular benefit covers elective abortions as well as medically necessary abortions,” she says, understanding that coverage of both is critical to a woman's reproductive freedom.
Alpern encourages corporate leaders to also go beyond minimum federal requirements for insurance contraceptive options. This includes, she says, providing vasectomy options, pressing insurance companies to waive prescriptions for emergency contraceptives, and providing a 12-month supply of birth control. Currently, less than half of all states provide a year’s supply of contraceptives at once.
“Something that also seems to be particularly lacking among leaders is communicating any changes that are made to reproductive healthcare in a clear way and in real time as they're implemented,” says Alpern. “HR folks shouldn't be waiting until the next enrollment period to talk about this or to communicate that they've changed their policy.”
When communicating policy changes, Alpern says HR leaders should also make clear how their employees' privacy will be protected so that they aren’t afraid to use their benefits. “Some women who have private insurance coverage of abortion still pay for it out of their own pockets because either they don’t know that their benefit covers it or they’re concerned for their privacy,” says Alpern. “You would go out of your way not to pay for anything else that you thought was covered, but there's a stigma and a taboo around abortion and I think HR directors can show by example that they're destigmatizing this form of healthcare.”
To show support beyond internal company policies, Alpern encourages businesses to also push back against any state or national restrictions that impacts their employees’ access to healthcare.
“It's a long-standing tradition in this country for companies to give to both sides of the aisle in terms of political contributions,” she says. “But if you’re going to give to both sides of the aisle, then you need to talk to both sides of the aisle, and one side in particular. Communicate how abortion restrictions are very unhealthy for your own workforce, for the economy as a whole, and for the talent pool.”
“It's important for corporations, and all of us, to realize that this type of effort to restrict a safe, effective type of abortion is really out of step with the majority of people in this country,” says Fowler.
“We saw really clearly in the midterms that people do not support restrictions on abortion access. And yet, we're continuing to see these attacks that really just fly in the face of that. And so I think remembering that we are the majority and that people deserve access to all of the options and information they need to make decisions about their healthcare is really important.”
*This article was originally published on March 9 and updated on March 21.
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