It’s hard to find a more controversial and polarizing topic than abortion. It not only is an extremely personal issue but also straddles the intersection of three subjects that are generally best avoided in the office: religion, politics, and sex.
Supreme Court Decision Creates Controversy
But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned half a century of constitutional abortion protections under the Roe v. Wade precedent, many companies are taking a more progressive, activist approach to support for employee reproductive care.
“Although many companies have remained quiet on the subject, some firms have confirmed they will provide support to workers who want abortions,” writes Christine Ro in an article for BBC Worklife.
“This often includes emotional support such as counselling; financial support, such as paid medical leave and out-of-state travel expenses; and legal support in case it is necessary, including coverage of legal expenses. Mostly, only certain kinds of companies are speaking out and enacting policies; many more appear to be opting for caution, in part due to perceived repercussions or potential logistical hurdles.”
Addressing a Sensitive Issue with Sensitivity
The decision to take such a public, active stance in the discussion around something as controversial and polarizing as abortion is potentially risky for employers. Abortion is controversial and polarizing precisely because millions and millions of Americans oppose abortion in all cases (about 37%, according to a Pew Research Poll), and many are extremely passionate about their opposition, seeing abortion as the murder of an innocent child and abhorrent to their religious beliefs.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that many companies have kept a low profile when it comes to vocalizing a position on abortion laws or increasing support for employees seeking abortion care. “Laura Gitman, chief operating officer of sustainability consultancy BSR, has observed that women lead a number of the companies particularly active and vocal in offering abortion benefits,” says Grace Dean. “Companies headquartered in the coastal US, which tends to lean politically liberal, are also overrepresented, as are major tech firms. At some of these companies, the decision to expand reproductive health policies will have come from the top.”
Companies looking to respond to the recent Dobbs decision need to do so carefully and thoughtfully. Policies that vocally and publicly express support for abortion rights may alienate pro-life employees, and staying silent or showing support for the Dobbs decision may alienate pro-choice workers. It’s this polarization that has kept workplaces largely silent on abortion for decades.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.