The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied an injunction to stay enforcement of Senate Bill 8, the Texas law that bans abortion once a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected. Now several Texas businesses have begun to respond to the law’s impact on the state’s workforce. And as more states pass bills restricting or expanding abortion access, the impact will likely be felt by employers and employees alike across the nation.
Two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey said that Texas-style abortion bans would discourage them from working in the state. In response to such sentiment, some companies have decided to take action. SalesForce, for example, has extended material support to its employees to help them relocate outside Texas. The companies behind dating apps Bumble and Tinder have promised to set up relief funds for employees and dependents seeking abortions in or outside Texas. Uber and Lyft promised to create legal defense fund to support drivers targeted by the law.
Although widely reported as a ban on abortion after 6 weeks, the Texas anti-abortion law bans abortions once a fetal myocardium—the muscle tissue that becomes the human heart—begins to contract. This contraction is detectable on high quality sonograms after 3 weeks of gestation (or 34 days from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual cycle). At 34 days’ gestation, many women may not know their period is late, let alone that they are pregnant.
The Texas abortion ban is unique in that it is not enforced by the state but by civilians. The law allows “any person,” to sue anyone suspected of aiding and abetting an illegal abortion with the promise of collecting a $10,000 bounty. In practice, this means anyone, no matter how distantly removed from Texas, the pregnant woman, or the health care provider, could sue anyone involved, no matter how causally detached they are from the situation, including social workers, insurers, and taxi drivers.
As 13.1 million workers in Texas grapple with the impact of SB 8 on their bodies, autonomy, and economic prospects, Texas companies must decide whether and to what extent they will support their employees. Texas is already ranked 48th on Oxfam America’s list of worst states for working women because of its low wages, many workers in tipped industries, lack of paid family or sick leave, and lack of legal protections for pregnant or lactating women.
While some companies, like Box Inc., Stitch Fix, and Trillium Asset Management, voiced opposition to SB 8, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he “would prefer to stay out of politics” even as Tesla plans to expand its Texas footprint. Dallas-based AT&T (parent company of HBO, Warner Bros., TNT, and TBS) which has touted women’s empowerment, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the co-sponsors of the bill. Several other Texas-headquartered companies have remained silent on the recent law, including Texas Instruments, Dell, and Hewlett Packard.
Regardless of ideology, the reality is that a law that demands women carry pregnancies to term places greater burdens on employees and employers. The psychological impact of unwanted parental status and facing legal restrictions can take a heavy toll on workers. This law may mean more parents taking time off for prenatal care, childbirth, parental leave, and caring for sick children. More pregnancies and more dependents mean more expensive group health insurance premiums for all employees. (Major corporate donors to SB 8’s co-sponsors include United Healthcare, Anthem, CVS Health, Farmers Insurance, and USAA).
Since Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, South Dakota, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Ohio are all considering abortion bans, businesses would do well to consider how they will respond to such impactful legislation.