For Your Benefit

Support Grows Among Businesses for Reproductive Rights
Varying laws between states are causing companies to rethink their benefits.
By Andie Burjek
M

ost women find a clear connection between reproductive freedom and success in the workplace.

Some 70 percent of people find that reproductive freedom — defined by the World Health Organization as the basic right of all couples and individuals to select the number, spacing and timing of their children and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health — is crucial to women’s empowerment and equality, according to a new study. Meanwhile, 64 percent believe it is crucial for women’s economic stability, the study notes.

“The Business Case for Supporting Reproductive Rights,” a 2019 research from Harris Poll and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, a nonprofit that advocates for reproductive rights, found that 80 percent of adults believe that reproductive freedom is a human right and 70 percent of employees want abortion to be safe and legal.

There’s a business and human-rights case to support these rights through benefits and policy, according to Amy Everitt, NARAL’s vice president of special projects. The business case includes attracting talent. Employees want to work at companies that are invested in making their employees successful and supporting their reproductive autonomy, Everitt said.

Reproductive rights don’t just entail an employee’s decision to not have children or terminate a pregnancy; they also include employees who want a family.

The American Association of University Women, a 138-year-old nonprofit that promotes equity and education for women and girls, also supports the business case.

“It’s not just no-copay birth control and access to abortion care,” Everitt said. “It’s things like paid family leave [and] having good pregnancy or anti-pregnancy discrimination policies on the books.

California-based online food ordering platform ChowNow opened an office in Kansas City, Missouri, last year, before a wave of restrictive abortion laws were passed in several states. When Missouri passed a bill in May that would criminalize abortion eight weeks into a pregnancy, ChowNow employees voiced concern to company leadership.

The process of getting employee feedback was a different experience that CEO Chris Webb was used to with politically charged events. With the 2016 presidential election he could tell which employees were happy and which ones were disappointed with the results. But with reproductive rights, people kept to themselves until Missouri’s legislation.

“It was a delayed reaction I wasn’t used to, and then it became very clear that there was a lot of concern within the company,” Webb said. Part of his response was to sign the “Don’t Ban Equality” letter that appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times in June. Leaders from over 180 companies, including Yelp, The Standard, Warby Parker, The Muse and Bloomberg L.P. affirmed their support for reproductive care.

Chris Webb
Chris Webb
Amy Everitt
Amy Everitt

Webb said his decision to sign the letter wasn’t based on his own beliefs but from the collective point of view of the company, which has about 220 employees. “I think it would be an abuse of my power and my position if I went out and started signing things that I personally agree with and no one else at the company did,” he said.

Reproductive rights don’t just entail an employee’s decision to not have children or to terminate a pregnancy; they also includes employees who want a family. That’s why ChowNow recently updated its family-centric policies and benefits and expanded parental leave.

The company is also interested in exploring its benefits regarding birth control and abortion, but it’s too early to do anything concrete, Webb said. Recent abortion laws across the country still have to go to court, and outcomes of that are still uncertain.

Meanwhile, ChowNow wants to ensure that employees in Missouri and California have comparable benefits whatever the courts decide.

“California employees have more freedom around their bodies than employees in Missouri, which doesn’t seem right or consistent,” Webb said, also noting that in the previous year many ChowNow employees transferred to the new Kansas City office. “Trying to convince people to move somewhere where they’ll have less freedom is a challenge we’re wrestling with.”

Webb also noted that if states want to bring in more jobs and attract more companies, restricting reproductive care could be troublesome. Last year the leaders at ChowNow “fell in love with” the city when the state encouraged them to relocate. But the current legal landscape in the state would make the decision to move much harder, he said.

“If you want to attract progressive tech companies from California and other parts of the country where policies are different, you’re going to have to understand that this is going to hurt your case,” Webb said.