US employers’ support for workers’ abortion care leaves serious gaps
Millions of Americans rely on their employers for health insurance and while some firms have stepped up, others have not, with those on low incomes most likely to suffer
As America faces the prospect of losing abortion rights in several dozen states some major companies have publicly announced plans to cover expenses for employees to get abortions in other states.
But many other US employers have not made such offers and workers and unions are also pointing to serious gaps in those that have made abortion services commitments, saying they will not cover all workers. This means that the impact of the US supreme court decision to overturn Roe v Wade and end federal abortion rights will probably be even more pronounced.
In the US more than 156 million Americans rely on health insurance coverage sponsored by their employers. Among the corporations to announce help with abortion service for employees are Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Chobani, Starbucks, Yelp, Levi’s, Disney, Macy’s, H&M, Nordstrom, Nike, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Reddit, Tesla, Uber, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and others.
But there are often serious limitations in these benefits, such as Starbucks suggesting they will not provide this benefit to unionized employees and only for employees who can afford or are eligible to be enrolled in their healthcare plan. Many of the corporations to announce these benefits have also donated to Republican elected officials or groups who are legislating abortion bans and restrictions.
Some of the largest employers in the US, particularly ones that pay low wages, including fast-food corporations such as McDonald’s, and the largest employer in the US, Walmart, have not announced these benefits. The majority of US employers, 60% according to a May 2022 survey conducted by the consultancy group Gartner, do not plan to make any changes in the wake of the Dobbs decision.
“It is not a direct solution to having these rights being codified at the state or federal level. At the end of the day, someone needing an abortion should not have to go to their employer, who they just have to hope is well-meaning, and it’s very likely that workers in low-wage industries with few workplace protections or benefits, like paid leave, will not have access to this new benefit,” said Asha Banerjee, an economic policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute.
Banerjee also noted the concern of corporations using the benefit as leverage against unionization or worker organizing, as workers at Starbucks have alleged, and emphasized that abortion rights need to be acknowledged as an economic issue rather than a cultural one, a narrative elected officials have tried to argue.
“Access to abortion is so interconnected with these larger economic issues of financial security, independence, upward mobility, and this will affect millions, not just women and abortion patients but their households, their families, their other children,” added Banerjee. “You’re absolutely going to disproportionately see low- and middle-income and Black, Hispanic and other women of color hit the hardest by this decision because many of these women are already the most economically vulnerable.”
Low-wage workers are most likely to not have any paid time off that would be required to travel to obtain abortion care and the 26 states where abortion is banned or likely to be banned, the average minimum wage is $8.39 an hour compared with $11.48 an hour in the states not banning abortion.
States where abortion is banned or likely to be banned also have much higher incarceration rates, are less likely to have expanded Medicaid, have fewer worker protections and typically have severely underfunded family social public service programs.
A 2020 study by researchers at the University of Michigan, UCLA and University of California San Francisco, demonstrated women who are denied abortion access tend to experience large and persistent financial distress, including higher amounts of debt, a greater likelihood of a low credit score, and an 81% increase in negative public records such as bankruptcy filings, evictions and tax liens.
Sarah Miller, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, explained the researchers followed about 1,000 women at 30 clinics in 21 states, comparing 10 years of credit report information on women who were able to receive abortions and those who were denied abortions.
Before the pregnancy, both groups of women had similar financial trends, but afterward there was a drastic spike in financial problems for those women who were denied abortions.
“It stayed elevated over the six years that we could observe,” said Miller. “It’s going to probably be more disadvantaged women that really can’t make it work. They can’t hop on a plane to California, or they don’t work at a white-collar, professional job where their employer is going to pay for them to fly to another state to have an abortion. Even when Roe v Wade was in effect there were a lot of women that already had trouble accessing abortion, I think that that group is just going to grow.”
Before Roe v Wade was overturned, the majority of abortion patients in the US, 75% according to the Guttmacher Institute, were poor or low-income.
“The economic arguments are about millions of women and abortion patients losing their autonomy, dignity and right to make their own economic decisions, their own choices in the economy, about whether and when to have children,” said Banerjee. “This is about power and control and subjugation. I think policymakers and advocates need to see it for what it is in order to advocate, strategize and organize together to win these rights back.”