Why some businesses are taking positions on abortion rights, while others remain silent

For companies that feel compelled to speak out, worker recruitment and retention are big issues.

By Shelly BrisbinJune 30, 2022 11:08 am, ,

The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade led some businesses to speak out on one of the most divisive political issues of the past 50 years. Companies have pledged support for employees who must travel out of state to seek abortion care, while others say they will oppose state bans on the procedure. But plenty of firms have taken no position at all.

Steven Pedigo, a professor of practice and director of the Urban Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, told Texas Standard that many companies taking stands on the abortion issue believe doing so protects their ability to attract and retain workers. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

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This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Why do some companies feel it’s important to signal support for abortion rights, while others want to stay out of the fray?

Steven Pedigo: I think it’s a complicated place for a lot of companies right now. I think some companies are feeling the pressure potentially for consumers. Just as you saw in Texas with the call around voter rights and the challenges with that, a lot of companies kind of stepped up to have a voice on that policy argument, I think you’re seeing the same in Texas, partly because consumers are expecting that they maybe have a voice in this issue.

And in addition to that, I think the big reason that a lot of companies are standing up to have a say in this – and offering potentially even resources to seek abortions outside of the state – is for the talent attraction or retention issue. I think a lot of companies are feeling the pressure about what this will mean as they’re starting to access educated workforce, technical workforce, talented workforces going forward. So it’s at a point where I think you’re kind of seeing the pressures on the consumer side, but you’re also sort of seeing this issue of saying, how do we kind of hold on to our workforce and signal that we want to make sure that we’re representing a climate that’s open to different needs and different health care decisions.

Many businesses, at least in recent years, have been moving to lower-tax states like Texas. And a lot of those same states are now poised to enact near-total bans on abortion. So this does complicate things for a lot of businesses, especially some of the businesses that have more recently moved here from the tech sector.

I think it complicates the story a lot. I think you’re pointing to a really interesting phenomenon. It was really this battle between Texas and California, I think this is a great sort of example of that, where you had a lot of California businesses locating to Texas because of low cost business, having the same opportunities and great amenities that you’d have in California and Texas just in a different place.

I think the challenge a lot of these tech firms face now is that when we start to think about talent, attraction and really that retention piece, like how do you hold on to talent, this issue around abortion may come to the forefront. I spend a lot of time in that economic development space. It’s kind of where my research is, advising cities and companies about how to make location decisions. And traditionally, we never thought about these issues of abortion as part of the people climate – as a site selection attribute. That may change going forward. So we may start to see more and more companies as they’re looking to decide new locations and corporate headquarters say, ‘look, this people climate matters.’ And we could see a division between pro-choice states and states that are eliminating abortion.

But what you think about the fact that this new ruling raises questions over whether state authorities might actually try to go after businesses that are publicly offering to pay for employees to travel out of state for abortions – we’re already seeing, here in Texas, lawmakers have been threatening to maybe take on some of those businesses legally. And what are the implications, therefore, for business leaders?

It is super precarious. I think in May of this year, there was already a group of GOP legislatures that had sent a letter to Citigroup and Lyft around their call for providing these types of benefits to their workers and sort of saying that they’re going to potentially eliminate this in the upcoming legislature. This idea of providing benefits, you know, is something that I think a lot of companies want to do. They want to signal to their workforce. They want to signal to their consumers, perhaps.

But they are going to find themselves in a precarious situation, not just from the legal standpoint, as it relates to whether it is going to be permissible or not, but even thinking about that relationship between the employer and the employee. Abortion is a very personal decision. And it is interesting that even if companies are going to provide these benefits now, we’re going to have to see how that works between the employer and employee. That’s a really personal decision to be sharing with your employer. And so it’s going to be interesting to see even when these benefits are in place, how many individuals actually take advantage of these benefits going forward.

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