NOTSo long ago, shortly before it all went to hell, employers were courting workers with perks like ping-pong tables and free snacks. Now, a sign of an increasingly dystopian era, they offer all-expenses-paid abortion travel. Following Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, a number of major companies have announced they will pay employees located in states that have banned abortion to travel to places where it is still allowed. Disney, Netflix, Goldman Sachs and Meta are just a few of the companies that have said their benefits will cover this.
I applaud any company that really tries to do the right thing. But before we all take a moment of silence to appreciate the benevolence of our corporate overlords, it’s worth asking what some of the companies that claim to care so much about reproductive rights are doing behind the scenes. The answer, in many cases, is to send big checks to the politicians and political groups responsible for dismantling abortion rights.
Take T-Mobile for example: the company told its employees that it would cover abortion costs if necessary, which is great. Not so good? In 2021, T-Mobile donated $100,000 to a group called the Republican Association of Attorneys General (Raga), which played a pivotal role in Roe’s cancellation. Annoying! And T-Mobile isn’t the only company that doesn’t seem to be putting its money where its mouth is. The journalist Judd Legum dug into campaign finance data and published a handy list of all the companies that are pro-choice for PR purposes, but aren’t so public about their donations to Raga. They include Match Group (which operates dating apps such as Tinder), JP Morgan, Uber and Mastercard.
Why are corporations in the United States allowed to give money to politicians, you might ask? It just seems a tiny bit corrupt. In poor countries, you might describe this sort of thing as “corruption”. In the United States, however, it’s not “bribery” — nothing like that — it’s constitutionally protected free speech. Companies can pump money into politics thanks to a precedent set in 2010 by the Supreme Court, known as Citizens United. Ah, the good old United States. Where corporations have more constitutional rights than women!
Even if one company didn’t give Republican politicians a dime; even if he really tries to do the right thing, the fact that employers have a say in whether or not to access an abortion is horrifying. The fact that someone who has made a deeply personal decision to have an abortion has to tell their employer is horrifying. Health care (and abortion is obviously health care) should never be tied to employment. And yet, in the United States, it is. The quality of care you receive—your ability to access care without emptying your bank account—often depends on who you work for and what type of coverage they offer.
Being able to control health care gives corporations a lot of power, which they are well aware of. Last year, a number of Kellogg’s employees went on strike to protest unfair working conditions. One of the first things management did was cut their health care; striking workers had to pay up to $2,980 in Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (Cobra) payments. (Cobra gives you the right to continue with your employer’s health plan after you’re fired; you just have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege.) Now it seems odd that companies are starting to use the access to abortion as a means of getting their employees to line up. Starbucks, for example, said it would reimburse abortion-related travel costs as part of its health care plan, but noted it could not “make any guaranteed benefit promises.” for unionized stores. Better not unionize if you don’t want to be forced to give birth!
This is where we are in the richest country on the planet: human rights distributed by HR departments. Civil rights downgraded to corporate benefits.