How Apple, Levi Strauss and other U.S. companies are creating a brand-new abortion benefit
The roar of antiabortion laws sweeping through U.S. statehouses 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 including Apple Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., Citigroup Inc. and Bumble Inc. have begun 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. Although 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.
Laura Spiekerman, co-founder of New York-based startup Alloy, said 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 including Florida, Arizona and Mississippi — in January said that it would pay as much as $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, as much as $5,000, if any employee or their partner had to deal with legal issues due to antiabortion laws.
Texas’ SB 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.
A judge’s ruling blocking the new Texas abortion law lays out how malevolent it is.
This month, Idaho’s 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 vs. 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, 40 million women between the ages of 13 and 44 live in states that are hostile to abortion rights, and more than 100 antiabortion laws have been passed at the state level in 2021, the highest number in the nearly half a century since Roe vs. Wade, according to the institute.
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 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.
The law eliminates co-pay and deductible fees for abortions, as California lawmakers prepare for a potential overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
Sue Dunlap, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which partners with Match, said the top two considerations in an arrangement such as 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% a 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.
About 10 companies have reached out to the nonprofit’s Los Angeles branch, she said.
“Some are fact-finding, some are asking for legal advice, others are calling for one employee, and others are seeing what they can do,” Dunlap 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 whether 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 healthcare coverage, where 99% of our employees use it,” she said.
With the Supreme Court expected to rule on Roe vs. Wade in the coming months, a Colorado abortion provider has recommitted himself to what he says is his life’s work: helping women.
Other employers have offered other options.
When Texas first passed its abortion law in September, Salesforce.com Inc. Chief Executive 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, Texas-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 such as 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’s and Levi’s apply to any employee who participates in their healthcare plans. A spokesperson for Levi’s said, “part-time hourly workers can seek reimbursement for travel costs incurred under the same circumstances.”
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 patient’s life or result from incest. More than 30 states and Washington, D.C., also ban the use of state Medicaid funds to pay for an abortion, Kaiser Family Foundation research shows.
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, UC San Francisco data indicate.
“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.”