Banks weigh in on the overturning of Roe v. Wade – American Banker

Written by Amanda

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on Friday, ending women’s right to abortions nationwide, some banks jumped into a highly charged social policy debate that the industry long sought to avoid.

Both JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America made it known that they are generally following the lead of Citigroup, which recently expanded its health benefits to cover out-of-state abortions. Meanwhile, the CEOs of a number of smaller banks in blue states expressed opposition to the court’s 6-3 ruling, which overturned a 49-year-old precedent.

“I stand in disbelief,” said Laurie Stewart, president and CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle. “I’m shocked by this, even though it was predictable given the makeup of the court.”

Anti-abortion demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Friday, the same day a deeply divided Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.

Bloomberg News

The decision is a major setback for women’s rights after decades of progress, said Stewart, who has led the $920 million-asset bank since 1989.

The court’s ruling will also result in a “workplace equity issue” that hurts both corporations and employees, said Maura Keaney, first vice president of Amalgamated Bank in New York City.

“Women’s participation in the workforce is contingent on access to comprehensive reproductive health care, and that includes abortion,” Keaney said.

The decision will limit career opportunities and diminish efforts to diversify the U.S. workforce, Keaney said. “This is not an issue that starts and ends in someone’s home.”

The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was not a surprise, given the fact that a draft ruling that would override Roe was leaked in May. But the news still jolted the nation Friday, eliciting both celebrations and protests.

Randell Leach, CEO of Oakland, California-based Beneficial State Bank, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling.

“Without abortion access protections in place, social progress and economic gains from the past half century will begin to slip away,” Leach said. “The logic on which this decision is based also opens the door for other rights, such as marriage equality, contraception and more to be rescinded down the line.”

The reversal of Roe v. Wade is “a huge step back for the safety and economic freedom of anyone who can become pregnant,” Bob Rivers, chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank in Boston, said on Twitter. “We urge all companies to join us in providing financial support for employees and their families who must travel for abortion care.”

Most bankers will probably not speak out publicly, given their hesitancy to offend customers, Stewart predicted. Stewart said that she paused before returning a call from American Banker, but felt compelled to speak out as a longtime advocate for human rights.

“No matter what I say, I will offend somebody. That’s not my goal, but all I want is to further all people’s rights,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that she did not plan formal communication with employees Friday, given that Washington state does not have a trigger law that would make abortion illegal at the state level following the high court’s decision.

“We are in a good spot in Washington state and the West Coast, too,” Stewart said. “But I do mourn for women in states with trigger laws.”

Amalgamated, a commercial lender which has longstanding ties with unions and a reputation for political activism, recently launched two initiatives in anticipation of the court’s ruling. Last month, it said it would cover travel and child care expenses for employees and family members who need to travel out of state to access abortions.

The Amalgamated Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, also launched the Critical Reproductive Access Fund to direct money to organizations seeking to ensure women have continued access to abortion.

Amalgamated was formed in 1923 by a union of low-wage women immigrant workers, according to Keaney. She said that overturning Roe v. Wade will hit similar demographics “all over again.”

“Given the impact this decision will have on employers and employees across every community in this country, we believe every bank and business should be speaking out,” Keaney said.

Big banks were more circumspect in their comments, but several of them signaled support for employees who are seeking abortion services.

In an internal memo Friday, Citi’s head of human resources, Sara Wechter, said the bank has “a long track record of providing a comprehensive and competitive set of benefits to support the health and well-being” of all of its nearly 240,000 employees around the globe.

In January, in response to states such as Texas that have banned abortions early in pregnancy, the New York company began offering to reimburse travel costs for employees seeking out-of-state abortions.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court regarding reproductive rights concerns a very personal issue and is a major change for our country,” Wechter wrote in the memo. “We recognize that it is a difficult subject, and one which many of our colleagues feel strongly about.”

“While we are still assessing the impact of the Supreme Court decision and are aware that some states may enact new legislation regarding reproductive rights, we will continue to provide benefits that support our colleagues’ family planning choices wherever we are legally permitted to do so,” Wechter wrote.

Bank of America did not respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling directly but said it has expanded the list of treatments that are eligible for travel reimbursement under its U.S. self-insured health plans. That list now includes abortions, organ transplants and certain other medical treatments.

JPMorgan also made clear that it will begin reimbursing travel costs for employees and family members who must leave their home state to obtain legal abortions. The company notified employees in a June 1 email that became public Friday that it will expand health care travel benefits for enrollees in its U.S. medical plans starting July 1.

The benefits include all covered medical services that can only be obtained 50 miles or more away from home. Legal abortions would be included, the company said.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on the Supreme Court ruling.

Source: americanbanker.com

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