(Bloomberg) -- The roar of anti-abortion laws sweeping through U.S. state houses is echoing loudly in human resources offices.
Companies that have offered to help cover travel costs for employees who have to go out of state for abortions are trying to figure out how to go about it. Large corporations like Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc., Bumble Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. are now offering such benefits for reproductive-care services not available in an employee’s home state.
It’s a new world for employers to navigate — one brought on by the more restrictive laws being enforced across the U.S. While most health insurance plans cover the costs of abortions, companies must now create an infrastructure to ensure employees’ access to those procedures, protect their workers’ privacy and fend off any legal actions brought by states looking to block any workarounds to their laws.
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Laura Spiekerman, co-founder of New York-based startup Alloy, told Bloomberg News that reimbursing workers for abortion-related travel is the “low bar” of what companies should do. “I’m surprised and disappointed more companies aren’t doing it,” she said.
The company — which has a handful of employees in states with restrictive abortion laws like Florida, Arizona and Mississippi — in January said that it would pay up to $1,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners needing to travel out of state for abortions. Alloy also said it would cover 50% of legal costs up to $5,000 if any employee or their partner had to deal with legal issues due to anti-abortion laws.
Texas's S.B.8, which went into effect in September, has paved the way for increasingly restrictive abortion laws in other states. The so-called “heartbeat bill” bans abortions after the six-week mark and deputizes private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone they suspect or know broke the law. This month, Idaho's state legislature voted to pass a similar ban, and Florida also recently approved a ban on abortions after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule by July in a Mississippi case that could weaken or even overturn Roe v. Wade and let states bar abortion far earlier than the court's current precedents allow. If the latter happens, 26 states are certain or likely to largely outlaw abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In all, there are 40 million women between 13 and 44 living in states that are hostile to abortion rights, and more than 100 anti-abortion laws passed at the state level in 2021, the highest number in the nearly half a century since Roe v. Wade, according to Guttmacher.
Dallas-based Match Group Inc. is partnering with a third party for a similar benefit to Alloy’s. Any Match employee in Texas can call a toll-free number dedicated to the program to reach Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which will arrange travel and lodging paid for by a fund Match Chief Executive Officer Shar Dubey created last year to cover such costs for staffers and dependents, according to a company spokesperson. Eligibility would be determined through a third-party employment verification vendor.
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Sue Dunlap, CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which partners with Match, says the top two considerations in an arrangement like this are companies making sure workers have access and privacy. The number of people living in Texas who have sought abortion care from Planned Parenthood centers in nearby states has been increasing an average of 6% per month, according to the organization.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that there are people who want to tell their employers that they’re thinking about an abortion and need help, so you don’t want to create a system that puts one more barrier in place,” Dunlap said.
She says about 10 companies have reached out to the nonprofit’s Los Angeles branch. “Some are fact-finding, some are asking for legal advice, others are calling for one employee, and others are seeing what they can do,” she said. “We’re in a moment where corporations are asking themselves how to protect their workforce and support their employees.”
At Alloy, for instance, one point person in human resources handles all those benefits in order to keep such matters confidential. Reimbursements would show up as an “employee welfare” benefit on any internal financial reports, Spiekerman said.
“It’s not super scalable, but it has worked for us so far,” Spiekerman said. She said she wasn't aware if or how many people at Alloy had used the benefit, as it is done confidentially, but she expects it to be a small number. “It’s not the kind of thing like health-care coverage, where 99% of our employees use it,” she said.
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Other employers have offered other options. When Texas first passed its new abortion law in September, Salesforce.com Inc. CEO Marc Benioff said the company would help staffers relocate from the state. Solugen Inc., a Texas chemicals company, said the state’s social policies were making it difficult to attract talent so it was planning to open another facility elsewhere. Last fall, Austin-based Bumble said it had created a relief fund for Texans seeking abortions. Ride-sharing companies Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. announced they would cover the legal expenses of drivers sued under a provision of the law that holds anyone abetting an abortion legally liable.
When employers step in to fill in a broken safety net, gaps remain. Benefits like health insurance and paid parental leave tend to only be available to full-time workers at large companies, leaving large groups of people without any coverage. In the absence of federal paid family leave, for example, only 19% of private sector workers in the U.S. get any paid time off to care for a newborn or sick relative, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Apple’s abortion travel benefits cover retail workers, while Citi and Levi’s applies to any employee who participates in their health-care plans.
About a dozen states currently ban state-regulated private plans — often used by small employers — from including abortion coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That does not apply to self-funded plans that are common at bigger companies. About 10% of workers are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance where the company has asked their insurer to exclude abortion from their health plan. The Hyde Amendment bans federal funds from being used for abortion, with the exception of pregnancies that endanger a woman’s life or result from incest. More than 30 states and Washington D.C. also ban the use of state Medicaid funds from being used to fund an abortion.
Read More: California Enacts Law to Remove Out-of-Pocket Abortion Costs
State-level abortion restrictions cost those economies $105 billion annually by cutting labor force participation and earnings, and increasing turnover and time off from work, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And women who want an abortion but don't get one are four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level.
“We know who gets left behind and it’s disproportionately women of color, poor women, women who are newer to the workforce or not in salary positions,” Dunlap said. “It’s the people who are over and over left behind in our systems.”
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