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Commentary Abortion

Why Businesses Should Support Reproductive Rights

Mary Alice Carter, Jen Stark & Sonja Spoo

Businesses are realizing what anti-choice politicians want you to forget: Abortion rights are incredibly popular.

Last week’s March for Life, the annual gathering of anti-abortion activists in Washington, D.C., had the imprimatur of President Donald Trump, who was the first president ever to attend the rally. What it didn’t have were any corporate sponsors.

For one thing, it’s safe to say that most companies are not looking to associate their brand with the homophobic, incendiary, or misogynistic speakers who are at the forefront of the event. At the 2019 March for Life, podcast and radio host Ben Shapiro delivered a bizarre speech declaring that “no pro-life person would kill baby Hitler,” during which he read ads for his corporate sponsors. By the next day, he lost at least two of those sponsors.

But major companies are doing more than avoiding bigoted forums like March for Life. Many businesses, particularly in the last year, have begun to voice support for reproductive rights. Generally, when we see a shift in support for causes, it’s a direct result of growing pressure from consumers and employees.

Companies are realizing what anti-choice politicians want you to forget: Reproductive rights are incredibly popular in the United States. A majority of people in the United States support the legal right to an abortion—and support is highest among 18- to 29-year-olds. Reproductive health is an important issue for 90 percent of millennials, with more than two-thirds saying it is very or extremely important, according to a 2018 survey by Greenwald & Associates. And so it’s not surprising that companies from Reebok to Target, Levi Strauss & Co. to MAC Cosmetics and Benefit, see the business advantages in voicing support for reproductive health.

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Widespread support from employees also undergirds companies’ stances. In fact, contributions through workplace giving programs to Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have spiked in recent years.

Because of the surge in state-level legislation in 2019 to restrict access to reproductive health, there is a new sense of urgency among customers, employees, executive champions, and shareholders. A watershed moment came last June when over 180 leaders of publicly traded, private, and B-certified businesses—like Atlantic Records, Warby Parker, and Eileen Fisher—stood up for access to reproductive health care for their employees. The “Don’t Ban Equality” statement, which ran as a full-page ad in the New York Times, has since been signed by nearly 400 business leaders nationwide, in an effort organized by Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers. Simply put, it goes against our values and is bad for business,” the statement read.

After intense public and internal pressure from employees and consumers, companies like Netflix, Disney, WarnerMedia, and NBCUniversal publicly responded to Georgia’s near-total abortion ban, which would ban all abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. (The ban is currently enjoined from enforcement by a U.S. District Court.) At one point, a plane flew over Netflix’s headquarters in California and the company received thousands of Netflix consumer calls, tweets, and petition signatures, driven by UltraViolet and other advocates, trying to move the streaming giant to speak out first. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, promised to “rethink” the company’s investment in Georgia if the law went into effect, and ultimately said, “We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law.”

In other cases, social media giants and tech companies like Google have demonstrated that even if they don’t speak out as a company in support of women’s reproductive health, they will at least take steps on their platform to curb misinformation about abortion and fake women’s health centers.

When consumers are choosing where to put their dollars, they increasingly view their consumption as more than just buying a product or service. They see it as a values-based decision, and they are choosing to invest in companies they see as being reliable stewards for the community. We saw this with LGBTQ rights, as major companies saw the benefits of supporting the legal fight for marriage equality and of opposing anti-transgender “bathroom” bills in states like Georgia. With reproductive rights, companies are beginning to realize that support is what consumers and employees want. In fact, restrictions on access to reproductive health care are not only bad for employees—they also impact a company’s bottom line.

A report released last week, “Hidden Value: The Business Case for Reproductive Health,” illuminates the connection between access to comprehensive reproductive health care and a company’s bottom line. (One of us, Jen Stark, contributed to the report as part of her work at the Tara Health Foundation.) Until now, the link between access to this care and business performance has been under-examined and poorly understood. The report by social investment firm Rhia Ventures found that comprehensive reproductive health care is essential for attracting and retaining workers, and it results in cost savings. The report makes the case that businesses need to actively support abortion access—not because it’s the right thing to do (though it is), but because it’s a good investment.

The report found that restrictions on access to reproductive health care are not popular with employees. Eighty-six percent of women surveyed by PerryUndem said the ability to control if and when to become a parent has been important to their career path. And abortion coverage is not controversial among employees: 83 percent of women said they want their employers’ insurance to cover the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.

Moreover, most employees—of any gender—said the political environment of a state is a factor in deciding where to take a new job. Sixty-one percent of women would be discouraged from taking a job in a state that has tried to restrict access to abortion; 54 percent of men surveyed said the same. And 56 percent of women say they would not even apply to a job in a state that has recently banned abortion.

There’s a good reason for this: New research released by the National Bureau of Economic Research documents the economic consequences of being denied an abortion and the demonstrated negative financial impact at the individual and household level.

The Rhia Ventures report directs companies to respond to their workforce’s needs by offering benefits that cover the full range of reproductive health. It also suggests companies engage with reproductive health policy in a meaningful way, including by signing onto amicus briefs in legal challenges of state-level abortion restrictions. If more businesses listen to women and support access to reproductive health, the corporate workforce might not be the only group to benefit.

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