With landmark ruling sunk, supportive bosses win praise but risk backlash

With the US Supreme Court overturning a ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, major companies are stepping up to pay the expenses of employees needing to travel to another state for the procedure.

Amazon, Apple, Disney, Lyft, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase are among the companies that announced plans to provide those benefits through their health insurance plans in anticipation of Friday’s overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Disney, which has been embroiled in controversy over its opposition to a Florida law that prohibits sexual topics from being taught to young children in public schools, told employees that the entertainment giant remains “committed to providing comprehensive access to quality and affordable care for all of our employees, cast members, and their families, including family planning and reproductive care, no matter where they live”.

Banking heavyweight JPMorgan said: “Our healthcare plans have historically covered travel benefits for certain covered services that would require travel. Beginning in July, we will expand this benefit to include all covered services that can only be obtained far from your home, which would include legal abortion.”

Companies including health insurer Cigna, tech pioneer PayPal, Alaska Airlines and retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods, which is offering $4,000, also announced reimbursement policies on Friday.

As with all politically charged issues in the United States, people have taken to social media to weigh in. “You have a new customer,” tweeted Keela Young to Dick’s Sporting Goods.

But, in response to a letter by Dick’s chairman and chief executive announcing the policy, Roger Gean tweeted: “Never again will I spend a dime at any of your stores”.

Stark divide

A poll released on Sunday highlights the stark divide on the issue.

About 77 percent of Democrats called the court’s ruling a “step backward”, while 64 percent of Republicans saw it as a “step forward”, according to the CBS News poll.

Abortion restrictions that already were on the books in 13 states either went into effect immediately as a result of Friday’s ruling or will within 30 days, and at least a dozen other Republican-led states are expected to ban abortion.

Meanwhile, some Democratic-led states are moving to bolster access to abortion. Corporate policies supporting abortion could expose businesses to lawsuits and even potential criminal liability, legal experts said. The companies will have to navigate a patchwork of state laws and are likely to face opposition from antiabortion groups and Republican-led states if they adopt policies supportive of employees having abortions.

State lawmakers in Texas already have threatened financial company Citigroup and transport operator Lyft, which had earlier announced travel reimbursement policies, with legal repercussions.

A group of Republican lawmakers in a letter last month to Lyft CEO Logan Green said Texas “will take swift and decisive action” if the company implements the policy.

“If you can sue me as a person for carrying your daughter across state lines, you can sue Amazon for paying for it,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois.

For many large companies that fund their own health plans, the federal law regulating employee benefits will provide cover in civil lawsuits, several legal experts said.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 prohibits states from adopting requirements that “relate to” employer-sponsored health plans. Courts have for decades interpreted that language to bar state laws that determine what health plans can and cannot cover.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, on Sunday urged President Joe Biden to use federal land as a haven for abortion in states that ban or restrict the practice. Forcing women to carry pregnancies against their will “will kill them”, Ocasio-Cortez said on NBC’s Meet the Press program.

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