In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that stated that state regulation of abortion was unconstitutional — the right to bodily autonomy is under threat in many parts of the U.S.
But if you’re reading this, you likely know: Abortion bans don’t stop people from getting abortions. That means that people in those states banning abortion who can get pregnant are going to need to start traveling to have (or sending away for) abortions. And those travel costs (not to mention the cost of abortion itself) are going to start adding up.
In the absence of federal protections, it’s time to start digging up support wherever we can — including the private sector. Many companies — big and small — have already started announcing their intentions to reimburse or cover employees for travel and other costs incurred while seeking an abortion out-of-state.
Of course, corporate abortion travel benefits are not the permanent solution. Nationwide, legal abortion is. The privatization of abortion access as a long-term fix will only increase economic inequality. Still, mutual aid abortion funds shouldn’t be the only ones subsidizing this nightmarish period. Corporations have a lot of concentrated resources that can and should be used to keep employees and their families safe and healthy, if not because it’s the right thing to do, then because it makes business sense. (Plus, this is what company-subsidized health insurance is for.)
In fact, access to abortion and other reproductive health care isn’t just a right — it’s also an economic imperative, not just for the person receiving it but for the economy at large.
Here are some basics to help you (and likeminded colleagues — you’re definitely not alone on this one) persuade your employer to add policies that help people access reproductive health to its list of benefits.
What to say (aka the research)
The people you’re going to be making your case to will have a lot of competing interests to consider, from logistics and finance to culture and legal. For decision-makers, reproductive healthcare might seem outside their scope, or they might be worried about making waves, especially in this economy.
Moreover, the person or people you’ll be asking very likely won’t be the final shot-callers. No matter how heartfelt your pitch is, that passion simply won’t translate up the ladder (whether because that’s how playing “telephone” works, or because of good old-fashioned sexism). So your case will need to be compelling, no matter who’s delivering it.
Start with the economy. There’s tons of existing data about how legal abortion is an economic imperative, as well as how companies that cover other forms of reproductive health care are more likely to attract the best candidates and retain their best employees. (We gathered some of that for you here.)
Then look at your own employer. Learn as much as you can about the company — employee demographics, current benefit offerings (your employer-subsidized insurance plan may already cover it!), business priorities and goals, core values and mission, and so on. This research will help you tie the data to the concerns of your company’s business.
Consider your industry / competitors. Do your company’s rivals offer better abortion benefits? If we’re headed for a recession, leadership is going to be looking for ways to stay ahead of the competition.
Do a little math. Abortion access is a huge topic of conversation right now — justifiably so! And a lot of big companies have already seized on the good PR that has come with offering these kinds of benefits. That might make it seem like they’re only viable for large employers. But that’s not necessarily the case, especially if they already pay for employee health insurance. Look at the current data and calculate how that translates to your company’s workforce numbers.*
If you need help thinking through any of these (including the math part!), we’ve put together questions and calculations in our PDF toolkit.
How to say it (the pitch)
First things first: understanding your leadership’s goals. The economy / markets being what they are, we’re in a period of financial uncertainty and belt-tightening. Companies won’t want to take expensive risks — but they will want to find easy ways to compete as things get more and more volatile. And right now, more than ever, employees and potential talent will be taking note of how companies respond to this devastating news. So your goal is to convince your company that adding this benefit is low risk, high reward.
Secondly, while the broad economic data is important, the decision-makers at your company will likely have more specific concerns, both internal and with respect to competitors. The more fluently you speak your employer’s language — the more your request dovetails with the company’s existing goals — the more effective your pitch will be. Here’s how to make the issue personal:
Recruit allies to help you make your case. Peers, ERGs, unions, and mentors may all have more information and / or influence when it comes to these big decisions. Find strength in numbers!
Think like a CFO / HR director. This would be a significant expense for the company — what problems would it solve? Employee retention? Branding / PR? Staying ahead of competitors? Use the industry data you collected to paint a business-case picture.
What is your company’s mission? What are its values? How does your company talk about its employees and culture publicly? Figure out how to connect these benefits back to them, even if it’s not a mission-driven company.
Provide concrete answers and real options. The goal is to make it as easy and attractive as possible for the powers that be to respond with an enthusiastic “yes.” Do a little digging (see: the math you did above) to find out how to make the case as relevant and feasible as possible to your company specifically.
Who to say it to
Start with a polite initial HR query to understand what you can of their situation — what benefits the company currently offers, whether there’s any future offerings in the works you don’t already know about, and so on. If you feel safe / comfortable doing so,** you could share your individual experience — sometimes the more individuals come asking, the more likely HR will be able to see the company-wide pattern. (Believe it or not, some companies may even be willing to help cover individual cases rather than advertise it broadly.)
Once you’ve gotten the initial query out of the way, then you can offer to share some of the data you’ve found (here or elsewhere), if it’s safe to do so. Get into the details of your proposal only once you have what you think is the most information you’re going to get about your company’s situation.
Finally, it’s worth repeating: Seek out allies. Employee groups like ERGs, but also powerful individuals, if you can — people (let’s be real, women) up the chain who wield more influence and can help preserve your case as authentically as possible. (Again, our PDF toolkit has some scripts if you need to figure out how to word your message and synthesize the thinking you did earlier.)
When to say it
Now. We’re in a bear market, and could be headed for a recession. Put together this proposal ASAP — not only because everyone’s talking about it right now, but also because the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be for companies to free up the cash for this kind of thing.
If you try all of this and nothing seems to be working, don’t give up! Circle back on your (well-researched, carefully planned) ask every so often — business priorities change, and in time, it’s possible the idea of providing these benefits will become more widely expected in the workforce.
If you need help figuring out what’s relevant and how exactly to word your request(s), the the PDF toolkit has scripts; compelling, employer-focused data; and a workbook-style place to collect your most relevant thoughts.
By starting this conversation with your employer, you’re doing important, difficult work. But it’s worth it — and you should be proud of the effort you’re making. We definitely are.
The legal aspect of this remains to be seen, but right now, companies cannot be prosecuted for aiding their employees in accessing out-of-state abortions. Texas threatened Citigroup financially, but so far that hasn’t worked, either.
Caveat: HR acts in the best interest of the company, not the individual employee, so consider that before you divulge.
© 2022 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.
Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.