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Corporate America reckons with its role in reproductive rights

A number of companies with staff in Texas has offered to pay for abortion-related travel.
Montinique Monroe
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Getty Images
A number of companies with staff in Texas has offered to pay for abortion-related travel.

When Senate Bill 8 took effect in September of last year, banning abortions after about 6 weeks in Texas, Match Group's then-CEO Shar Dubey sent a letter to her employees.

"I wanted to let you know that I am setting up a fund to ensure that if any of our Texas-based employees or a dependent find themselves impacted by this legislation and need to seek care outside of Texas, the fund will help cover the additional costs incurred," the letter said.

Match Group, based in Dallas, owns the biggest global portfolio of dating apps and websites, which includes Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid and Hinge.

"We received hundreds of emails and Slack messages of support, of gratitude," Match Group's chief communications officer Justine Sacco said. "People were very proud that she came out and spoke up and put something into place to protect them."

This was just a preview of a trend to come. In the months since, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing trigger bans on abortions to take effect in several states. A growing list of companies is now offering similar services to their employees. Big name corporations like Disney, Microsoft, Nike and Tesla have announced that they plan to assist employees who need to travel out-of-state for services and care.

Many of the trigger laws not only criminalize abortion but also "aiding an abetting" the process. So confidentiality is key. Match Group partnered with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles so employees who need help can have all of their travel and appointments booked outside of the company.

"We have no way to know who has used the fund [or] how many people have called the hotline," Sacco said. "We do not get that information."

Yet despite the gratitude and support from their employees (as well as a public that largely supports access to abortion services), the business world still has to reckon with some longstanding corporate traditions.

"Some of these very same companies are the ones who have donated over the years to the very elected officials who sponsored and voted for these abortion bans in the first place," said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

AT&T, Citigroup and Uber are just some of those companies promising to pay for employees' abortion-related coverage — while also donating to lawmakers who support (or even authored) these restrictive laws.

Until this month, Match Group was also donating to both political parties. But the company's new CEO, Bernard Kim, recently suspended donations to both the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

"It's my responsibility to understand how these donations fit into our larger lobbying activity, and determine what we will do moving forward," Kim said in a recent memo to staff.

Match Group was also on a list of companies expected to attend a luxury retreat hosted by the Republican Attorneys General Association for its corporate donors in Florida earlier this month. Sacco said no one from the company attended and that someone had RSVPd to the event before the new company policy on political donations took effect.

Miller said corporate America should be looking at how it can realign its political influence if it really wanted to make a statement and support its workforce.

"At the end of the day, look, nobody should have to travel to obtain an abortion," she said. "To be dependent on the benevolence of your employer, much less, you know, the whims of the state legislature."

Companies are very concerned about their brand and see reproductive rights as a way to champion a cause their staff believe in, according to one expert.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Companies are very concerned about their brand and see reproductive rights as a way to champion a cause their staff believe in, according to one expert.

Miller said she did appreciate the legal risk that companies take on when making these public statements and arrangements. Earlier this month, the Texas Freedom Caucus accused law firm Sidley Austin LLP of being "complicit in illegal abortions." Sidley is one of the companies that has promised to assist employees who need to access out-of-state abortion care. It has offices in Dallas and Houston.

The caucus sent a letter to Sidley on July 7, warning the firm to preserve its records in anticipation of a lawsuit.

Even so, Miller said that companies had likely weighed those costs with what could be a bigger loss.

"The reality is that companies, communities, families — frankly, our entire economy — are going to be facing challenges around employee retention, especially the potential of more women being pushed out of the workforce," she said. "We already saw that with COVID; we already have a crisis in terms of what happens to women and others who become pregnant and continue their pregnancies and have children."

Brad Harrington agrees. He's the executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family.

"Companies also are very concerned about their brand," he said. "With all the talk about the great resignation — organizations want to be one of those places where people say, 'That's a great place to work,' and, 'Hey, their values are really aligned with ours.'"

And what about employees who do want to have children? Harrington said that good wages, benefits and family leave policies are an important part of reproductive rights.

"I'm pretty sure that's the number one concern [families] have when it comes to abortion," he said. "How they're going to pay for everything that goes with birth and recovery and children's health needs — when it comes to the ability to finance an expanding family, corporations play a pretty major role."

Justine Sacco at Match Group said the company's abortion access plan "goes hand in hand" with its benefits and family leave policies.

"Our business is predicated on helping people find love and relationships and eventually get married and lead to building families," she said. "I think that reproductive rights are in place so that when you choose to have a family, you can also do it in the way that is best for your children, for your partner, and for yourself. And so all of those benefits really should be thought of comprehensively."

When asked if Match Group would consider moving its operations to a state with less restrictive abortion laws, Sacco said they were "looking at all options" to make sure their workforce felt safe and supported. The company has nearly 400 employees in Texas alone.

"Match has been in Texas since the '90s," she said. "But I don't think anything's off the table."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.