Dick’s Sporting Goods will help employees get abortions. So will Nordstrom, Disney, Vox Media—the list goes on. Full disclosure: Graham Holdings, the company that owns this very magazine, will also do so.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, dozens of companies promised they will cover travel expenses for workers seeking abortions who live in states where basic reproductive health care is no longer legal.
There is a clear incentive for them to provide this benefit. Companies are probably worried about their ability to attract talent in states where abortion is, or may become, illegal. They may consider announcing this benefit to be good marketing to workers and consumers appalled by the court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. There’s also the fact that paying for an abortion airfare, like the corporate benefit of egg freezing before it, is cheaper than paying for maternity leave. While I’d be surprised if anyone is sitting at Dick’s corporate HQ doing that math, it’s true that abortions can be smart for the bottom line. (I’d also point out that there’s surely savings to be found in ensuring your employees are not traumatized by being forced to give birth.)
Because of all of these things and more, these corporate announcements were met with some healthy skepticism among some journalists as well as voices on the left. “It should go without saying that turning access to basic life-saving women’s health care into a corporate perk to attract and retain talent is the sort of perverse and dystopian outcome you’d only encounter in a country like the U.S.,” writes former Slate staff writer Ali Griswold in her newsletter. (Correct.) “On an individual level, companies getting involved in abortion care puts an awkward onus on workers to go through their employers regarding a personal, private matter,” writes Emily Stewart at Vox. (Also correct.)
One colleague of mine compared abortion travel benefits to McDonald’s offering salads: They’re there so a vegetarian in a group of diners won’t veto a trip to the fast-food chain. If you offer folks with uteruses emergency travel money, maybe they won’t balk at your company continuing to operate in a state that now bans abortion. Rather than accomplishing much at all, this explanation goes, the perks end up reinforcing an unjust status quo. This colleague thought the abortion benefits were a positive thing—but she’s also worried about how they could have an impact on the future.
Right now, though, we’re in a situation where these benefits are extremely good and heartening. They stand to make a material—even life-changing—difference in people’s lives. An abortion stipend is not the same as a rainbow Twitter logo or feminist spokesmodels; it is more material than that. It is access to life-changing health care that otherwise might be denied. What’s more, in some cases, the travel stipend extends beyond abortions. Bank of America noted in a memo to employees that it “will now include cancer treatment, organ transplants at centers of excellence, reproductive healthcare, and hospital admissions for mental health conditions.”
In a better world, we’d be getting exactly none of this stuff from employers and, instead, from some kind of universal health care plan. Taxpayer-funded abortions for all who need them! That’s ideal. But right now, abortion is illegal in many states, and health care, in general, is a corporate benefit. Given that, I think it’s worth celebrating when some companies enhance the perk—and pressure other companies to do the same (only a tiny percentage have gotten on board). While we’re at it, how about more sick days for COVID infections? Expanded mental health services? Comped pet insurance? If corporations want to provide these things explicitly to boost their reputations, so be it.
Sympathizing a little bit with corporations might make me the “this is fine” dog, smiling as the world burns around me. In which case, I say: Yes, I will happily accept a corporate-branded spray bottle.