By Julie Castro Abrams
I talk frequently about what it means to support women leaders and about how we need to build systems that are designed around women of color. As this goes against the status quo, it means that we, as industry leaders, need to be constantly evaluating how our companies are uplifting our employees, particularly those from underrepresented groups, and evaluate how changes in the regulatory space unfairly burden employees. This includes the potential change in reproductive health care access, sparked by a Texas federal judge likely to block the use of mifepristone. Mifepristone is one of two FDA approved medications used in medical abortions in the United States.
This block wouldn’t affect just those in Texas and would impact lives across the US. Mifepristone has been FDA approved for over 20 years and is also endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for use in miscarriages making it an important medication for the safety and treatment of many people and used in a variety of treatment plans.
The basis for the ban is a “150-year-old anti-obscenity law, the Comstock Act, to argue that it’s illegal to send or receive mifepristone, and any other medication or device used to provide an abortion, through the mail.” To be clear, the Comstock Act was written in 1853 and prohibited sending via mail obscene, lewd or lascivious, immoral or indecent publications. At the time, a woman in control of her own bodily autonomy was considered obscene, and this act was interpreted to include a ban on contraceptives and family planning medicine and tools. This brings the conversation to today where we are still discussing whether bodily autonomy for women is obscene. So if this is a conversation about bodily autonomy how does this relate to my point above about building systems designed to center women of color?
Make no mistake, access to reproductive health care and moving the needle on racial justice are absolutely intertwined. Shero, an organization dedicated to “building and promoting leadership among Black women, girls and femmes in Mississippi, regardless as to their path to womanhood” puts it well:
Having access to safe and affordable abortion allows us the freedom to control our lives and future. We call ourselves Abortion Freedom Fighters because, at its core, abortion is about our dignity, our humanity, and our freedom.
Making sure your company gives employees full and expansive access to reproductive healthcare is building a system designed for women of color as they have been some of the most impacted by lack of access. Whether it is for people who have been forced to carry children, or for people who have been forcefully sterilized, having the right to choose when to have children is radical. It is justice. It is freedom.
Freedom is a central tenant, core to the American identity, yet despite this, access to reproductive health care remains a contentious issue, but why is it a business issue? Why as business leaders should we take a stance on this issue? Isn’t this just something that should play out in the social sphere? Well, let’s look at the facts:
Fact 1: Stakeholders are demanding action and accountability.
Investors and other stakeholders have been active since the overturning of Roe v Wade. Companies like RJX, Lowe’s and Walmart all had stakeholders bring proposals asking the companies to disclose the risks and costs posed from restrictive access to reproductive care. Other proposals questioned how companies protected abortion-related data and asked what changes if any will be made to employee health care plans. The key take-away—staying silent on this issue won’t be an option for your company. Investors want to know what your company is doing and how it impacts employee retention.
Fact 2: Top talent are basing employment decisions around the reproductive healthcare landscape.
Rhia Ventures did a comprehensive report on the effects of lack of access to reproductive healthcare and the business impacts it will have. I encourage you to read the full report! If you just want the highlights, Rhia Ventures has found that “63% of college-educated workers would not apply to a job in a state that has recently banned abortion.” The key take-away—if you are an employer in a state that has banned abortion and are not making reproductive healthcare accessible, you have lost 63% of your potential workforce. In particular, Rhia Venture found that this intensifies as you look to Millennials and Gen Z.
Fact 3: Abortion restrictions increase turnover and time-off from work
It was estimated in 2019 that the cost of turnover was equal to 33% of an employee's annual salary. Not only do companies face the direct costs of hiring, but they also face the loss of productivity and institutional knowledge that keeps their company effective. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has state-by-state data on just how many women are expected to leave their employment due to abortion restrictions. Additionally, as women often take on the majority of child care responsibilities in the household, the amount of time taken off from work is expected to increase in states with abortion restrictions. The key take-away—if women cannot make choices on if and when they have children, your business will see increased costs from turn-over. It is easy to see how abortion restrictions affect not only your future workforce, but also how it affects your current workforce, and your bottom line.
We know we must take a stand on access to reproductive health care. We know that access to reproductive health care is affecting our current and future workforce. So with this backdrop what can we do as the business community? Here are my recommendations for moving your company forward:
1. Understand your company’s current stance and benefits on reproductive healthcare.
What healthcare insurance do you provide for reproductive health care? Who qualifies for this insurance? Has your company made programs or initiatives beyond healthcare insurance?
Having clear answers is critical to implementing the following steps.
2. Analyze the gaps and understand the impacts to your business.
Are the benefits offered by your company comprehensive? Would a block in the use of mifepristone impact your workforce? What would a reduction in your workforce look like and what are ways you could mitigate this risk? Really dig into the data from your company.
3. Develop a clear company stance and communicate it!
Once you know the risks to your business and you have developed a plan to combat it, make sure you prepare to communicate it. There will be pushback regardless of the decision made. How are you going to handle negative opposition? What are the key points you want current employees to know? What are key points you want potential employees to know? Developing a clear communication and implementation plan is key to retaining current employees and attracting new ones.
What else needs to be on this list? There are many paths forward and I want to know what you’ve seen companies doing. What has been working well? What work still needs to be done?