Correction: An earlier version of the story misstated seven individuals as signatories on the letter calling for reproductive rights. Those individuals had not reviewed the letter before their names were added by an organizer of the letter. The story and headline thus misstated the number of signatories. The correct number is 60.
Sixty Indiana executives have signed onto a letter asking the governor to protect reproductive rights, the first public effort by Indiana businesses to collectively mobilize in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
The letter is currently being circulated among business leaders with the intention of being delivered Friday to Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The governor has urged the Indiana General Assembly to further restrict abortion rights when it convenes for a special session July 25.
The growing list, which was shared with IndyStar ahead of its public release, includes 60 signatures. Among those who signed are CEO and co-founder of Lessonly, Max Yoder; CEO of Indy Maven and Maven Space, Leslie Bailey; and the Global VP Marketing of SAP, Meghann York.
For subscribers:Indiana special session on abortion, taxpayer refund pushed back to end of July
They plan to tell the governor “we strongly urge you not to take this path.” They say further abortion restrictions will make Indiana an “impossible choice” for companies committed to building an inclusive work place and will make it more difficult to attract and retain top talent.
“Women business owners, executives and rising leaders have already begun making plans to leave Indiana,” the letter states.
“Collectively, we support the protection of women’s reproductive rights,” the letter reads. “Not only is this the right thing to do for our fellow Hoosiers, it’s best for business.”
Some of the state’s largest, most prominent and powerful employers, though, are noticeably absent from the letter.
More from IndyStar:‘Abortion is health care’: What Supreme Court reversal means for doctors, nurses, patients
Companies such as Eli Lilly, Cummins and Roche have not taken action. IndyStar has confirmed they have not added their names to the letter currently circulating.
A spokesperson for the software company Salesforce said the company was aware of the letter but had not approved its inclusion in any draft. He did not comment on whether they will support the letter calling for reproductive rights in Indiana now or in the future.
This is a departure from those companies’ past practice of taking public positions on pressing social issues including racial equity and police brutality, and LGBTQ rights, such as fighting against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Indianapolis-based entrepreneur Jenny Vance posted a call-to-action on LinkedIn.com for business leaders to stand up for reproductive rights. She signed on to the letter.
“There’s a massive amount of business leaders who understand the implications of this legislation and the promise of the governor — what he’s proposing to do, what that will do to their female employees directly, how it will impact their families and how it will impact our local economy,” Vance, SalesJen’s CEO and founder, said in an interview with the IndyStar.
“Backwards-looking legislation impacts our ability to attract talent,” she said.
‘Businesses carry a lot of weight’: Companies remain largely silent
In Texas, Salesforce set an example for how companies can respond to states banning abortions, promising to help relocate concerned employees to states with better access to reproductive care. But it’s unclear if Indiana companies will do the same.
In total, IndyStar reached out to nine large employers in Indiana for their response to the possibility Indiana will further restrict or ban abortion rights.
- Salesforce, a tech giant, said they will continue to offer pre-existing travel and relocation benefits for employees. They did not respond to IndyStar’s questions on if they would mobilize to support abortion access in Indiana.
- Eli Lilly and Co., a pharmaceutical giant, said it is not providing comment at this time.
- Rolls Royce, aerospace and defense contractor, did not respond.
- Elanco, animal pharmaceutical company, did not respond.
- Elevance Health, formerly known as Anthem, a private health insurance company, did not respond.
- Roche, a medical diagnostics company, said they would not provide a comment at this time.
- Infosys, a tech company, said they do not have a response.
- Kroger told the Cincinnati Enquirer that it will cover travel costs for employees who need to obtain out-of-state abortions and are on the company health care plan.
- A spokesman for Columbus-based Cummins Inc., a heavy-duty engine manufacturer that employs some 10,000 in Indiana, said the company has not taken a position of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling.
Only two, Salesforce and Kroger, have voiced commitment to expanding reproductive care benefits.
Jon Mills, a spokesperson for Cummins, said the company supports employees making health care decisions on what the employees believe is right for them. Mills said Cummins currently provides employee health care benefits that cover elective reproductive procedures and medical travel benefits.
But he would not say if abortion is covered by current benefits or if Cummins would lobby for abortion rights.
In past years, Cummins has dived into pressing social issues, both acting alone and joining other Indiana corporations in speaking out against racism, discrimination, social injustices, attempts to roll back voting rights, anti-Asian hate crimes, and laws targeting same-sex couples.
Mills said the company does not get involved in every issue.
“We have a thoughtful and rigorous process before engaging on issues,” he said. “We only engage when we have standing and credibility on the issue and if the issue effects our ability to run our business, effects our employees or affects a core value of our company.”
Why aren’t big employers doing more
Speaking to IndyStar at the abortion rights rally, Indiana University human resources employee Taylor O’Day, 26, said that she thinks corporations have an obligation to say something, given how much money, power and voice they have.
“The reality is a majority of the people want this, (abortion rights), and we are their consumers,” she said. “They wouldn’t be businesses if it weren’t for us. At bare minimum, they owe it to us to speak out and give the people what they want.”
She said consumers can vote with their wallets, and she would “absolutely” boycott a company for being anti-abortion rights.
Katie Blair, the ACLU Indiana policy and advocacy director, told IndyStar, “We know that businesses carry a lot of weight in the state and that their voices have changed the outcome of terrible bills moving through Indiana state legislature.”
Vance said she too felt the weight of the corporate silence in the initial aftermath of the SCOTUS decision.
“It just seemed really quiet and part of me was like, Where was the uproar in our business community?” said Vance, who had joined tech leaders in signing a letter asking then Gov. Mike Pence to veto Indiana Religious Freedoms and Restoration Act.
Passed in 2015 by the state’s Republican-majority legislature and lauded by religious conservatives, RFRA was met with backlash from business leaders who said it could lead to LGBTQ discrimination.
They successfully called for a fix that would protect the LGBTQ community. Vance feels a similar mobilization could be effective now in keeping reproductive health care rights intact in Indiana.
In the days following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Vance said she realized that business leaders were sharing conversations and concerns privately. As they talked, her belief that businesses could rally around reproductive rights was renewed.
Vance said companies should be focused on political lobbying before a legislative change takes place.
“That’s what they should be talking about, and advocating before this forest fire starts in our state,” she said.
It’s unclear if the state’s largest corporations are advocating behind the scenes given their general silence on the issue of abortion.
Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar told IndyStar his organization, which advocates on behalf of businesses, does not intend to take a policy position on abortion during the special session.
“A position has to be discussed, debated, reviewed and voted on by our board of directors,” Brinegar said. “They’re not scheduled to meet until the fall before the regular legislative session.”
But for many businesses, not all social issues are equal, said MK Chin, an associate professor of management at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, who researches the political responses of corporations.
One theory is that the public has little interest in CEOs taking a stand on abortion rights. Chin cited a Stanford University survey that abortion ranked lower than the environment, gender issues, LGBTQ rights, domestic violence and pay equity when asked what people wanted to see in CEO activism.
Stanford’s research from 2018 found that abortion, along with gun control, is one of the more contentious issues for CEOs to speak out on.
That research, which Chin cited, found about 37% of the public favored CEOs speaking out on abortion while 39% did not. In comparison, more than 50% favorably viewed CEOs speaking out about issues involving race.
Employers play pivotal role if people must travel out of state for abortion care
In states that ban abortion, the last line of access for people who are seeking a safe abortion is to travel out of the state.
Employers play a pivotal role in that, given the system of employer -provided health insurance.
Workers across Indiana told IndyStar they are calling on companies to expand health coverage and pay for travel expenses for out-of-state abortion care.
“Companies should step up in this case, because the government is failing,” said Hannah May, a 30-year-old Navy contractor whose eyes filled with tears as she spoke to the IndyStar about how “nerve-wracking” it would be to become pregnant at this uncertain moment. Behind her, protesters chanted “we dissent.”
Like May, many other women suffer from health complications that make it dangerous to conceive and may require an abortion to save their lives.
She wants to have a kid, she said. But in the event something goes wrong, she does not have adequate health care benefits from her employer or choices to keep herself safe.
“What if I have a C-section? What if other complications happen? What if I almost die?”
Workers call on companies to act
Many of America’s largest companies have announced they will cover travel expenses for employee abortions, including Salesforce, Kroger, Zillow, Uber, Lyft and Bank of America.
Some employers are holding off making public statements until after the Indiana state legislature makes a decision.
“Until we see specific state legislation, it’s too premature for us to determine if or how IU might be impacted,” Indiana University spokesman Chuck Carney told IndyStar in an email.
At an abortion rights rally on June 25, protestors wanted to know:
- Would their employers cover out-of-state reproductive care if abortion gets banned in Indiana?
- Would they get paid time off if they need to receive and recover from an abortion?
- If forced to carry the child to term, would they be given adequate parental leave?
Emergency medical technician Hannah Rider, 24, criticized health care companies’ lack of response.
Her own employer, an ambulance company she declined to name for fear of retaliation, has been silent on the issue. In her work, she transports victims of sexual assault and patients suffering from pregnancy complications or miscarriage. She knows abortion access is a safety issue.
“Because we work in health care, we are supposed to provide care for people on the worst days of their lives, care when they need it the most,” she said. “To turn a blind eye to the gross miscarriage of justice, and the stepping back of decades in health care, it’s inexcusable.”
Labor unions’ responses
Employees across Indiana are starting to mobilize around reproductive rights, albeit tentatively. Unions can bargain for better benefits from employers.
Those without unions can negotiate better benefits through employee resource groups, which can “have a lot of power,” according to ACLU’s Katie Blair.
Rider, the EMT worker at the abortion rights rally, said she plans to advocate for her company’s workplace safety committee to take on abortion access as an issue.
Lynne Murphy, the president of Unite Here, said the union that represents food workers is planning to organize its members to knock on doors to fight for abortion access.
Genie Kastrup, President of SEIU Local 1, which represents security guards and janitors, called on state officials to protect abortion rights.
“The social and economic consequences for working families — especially Black and Brown women — will be destructive,” she said in a statement. “… Local 1 members are ready to mobilize in numbers — reproductive rights are a labor issue.”
But labor power just isn’t what it once was in Indiana.
Membership has severely shrunk, first hit with automation and then a series of union-breaking laws.
The statewide association of unions, Indiana State AFL-CIO, which represents nearly 300,000 workers, is waiting to see what lawmakers propose before taking action and is standing behind its national president’s statement supporting abortion access, said its president Brett Voorhies.
Nationally, the president of the AFL-CIO Liz Shuler, condemned the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade is a devastating blow to working women and families across the country,” said Shuler. “We strongly believe that everyone should have control over their bodies, including decisions over personal reproductive health.”
Workers: End of Roe reveals flaws in current worker benefits system
In addition to asking for employees to help cover costs of out-of-state abortions, if abortion is banned in Indiana, workers renewed a call for better child care and parental leave benefits.
Ab Harris, 20, told IndyStar at the abortion rights rally that banning abortion and forcing people to carry fetuses to term is dangerous because support for parents and children are woefully inadequate.
“If they’re going to force their employees to have kids, they need to at least make sure that they’ll be able to harbor those children properly and keep them safe,” Harris said.
The Roe decision has also exposed existing issues within the health care system, ACLU Indiana policy director Blair told IndyStar. Contract employees and others without adequate employer-provided health insurance will be the worst of the worst off as abortion rights are stripped from the constitution.
May, the protestor who suffers from health complications that would make pregnancy dangerous, is a third-party contractor for the federal government.
“How am I supposed to tell these employers that I wish to start a family, when they give me so little to seek the health care that I would need?” May told IndyStar.
She only receives four weeks maternity leave and no word from her employer if they will provide more reproductive benefits. “Not to mention, most companies do not wish to hire a pregnant person because they see it as a detriment to the company.”
Contact IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris at email@example.com or call 317-617-2690. Follow her on Twitter: @allyburris.
Contact IndyStar reporter Ko Lyn Cheang at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-903-7071. Follow her on Twitter: @kolyn_cheang.
Contact IndyStar reporter Binghui Huang at 317-385-1595 orBhuang@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Binghuihuang.
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