The companies covering travel expenses for US employee abortions

Protest over the Supreme Court abortion ruling at St Georges Hall, Liverpool. Pictured Bella Simspon (left) and Maddie Cooke (right).

The US Supreme Court’s decision to end the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion has catapulted businesses of all types into one of the most divisive corners of politics. Some companies that stayed silent last month - when a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico - spoke up for the first time after Friday's ruling. This includes The Walt Disney Company and Facebook parent Meta, which said it will reimburse employees who must travel out of state to get an abortion.

JP Morgan, American Express, Nike, Buzzfeed, H&M, Reddit and Goldman Sachs also said they would cover employee travel costs while others like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated previous announcements taking similar action.

Abortion rights protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington. Credit: AP

Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia went so far as to post on LinkedIn on Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

A lot is at stake for companies, many of which have publicly pledged to promote women’s equality and advancement in the workplace. For those in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face big challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around. Luis von Ahn, the CEO of the language app Duolingo, wrote a tweet aimed at lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered: “If PA makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we’ll have to grow our offices elsewhere.”

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Emily Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the US-based Society for Human Resource Management, said in a statement that nearly a quarter of organisations in a recent poll agreed that offering a health savings account to cover travel for reproductive care in another state will enhance their ability to compete for talent. “But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of the legal risks involved,” she said. Ms Dickens noted that companies using third-party administrators to process insurance claims on their behalf - typically big employers - are subject to the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, rather than state law.

These companies could therefore argue that individual states can't dictate what their health plans cover.

But companies that have to buy their own health insurance for their employees - typically small businesses - are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in designing benefits. Offering to cover travel expenses could also make companies a target for anti-abortion lawmakers. In March, Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain, a Republican, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions. In his concurring opinion released on Friday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would be unconstitutional for a state to bar residents from traveling to another state to get an abortion. “In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote.