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How big U.S. companies are creating a brand new abortion benefit

Companies that have offered to help cover travel costs for employees who have to go out of state for abortions are trying to figure out how to go about it

Anti-abortion demonstrators pray and protest outside of a Whole Women's Health of North Texas, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in McKinney, Texas.
Anti-abortion demonstrators pray and protest outside of a Whole Women's Health of North Texas, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in McKinney, Texas.Read moreBrandon Wade / AP

The roar of anti-abortion laws sweeping through U.S. state houses is echoing loudly in human resources offices.

Companies that have offered to help cover travel costs for employees who must go out of state for legal abortions are trying to figure out how to go about it. Large corporations such as Citigroup, Apple, Bumble, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are now offering such benefits for reproductive-care services not available in an employee’s home state.

It’s a new world for employers to navigate — one brought on by more restrictive laws being enforced around the United States. Though most health insurance plans cover the costs of abortions, companies must now create an infrastructure to ensure employees’ access to those procedures, protect their workers’ privacy, and fend off any legal actions brought by states looking to block work-arounds to their laws.

Laura Spiekerman, co-founder of New York-based start-up Alloy, said that reimbursing workers for abortion-related travel is the “low bar” of what companies should do. “I’m surprised and disappointed more companies aren’t doing it,” she said.

Spiekerman’s company — which has a handful of employees in states that have passed or are in the process of enacting restrictive abortion laws such as Florida, Arizona, and Mississippi — in January said it would pay up to $1,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners needing to travel out of state for an abortion. Alloy also said it would cover 50% of legal costs up to $5,000 if any employee or a partner had to deal with issues due to anti-abortion laws.

Texas’s S.B.8, which went into effect in September, has paved the way for increasingly restrictive abortion laws in other states. The law bans abortions after six weeks and deputizes individuals to bring civil lawsuits against anyone they suspect or know broke the law. This month, Idaho’s state legislature voted to pass a similar ban, and Florida recently approved a ban on abortions after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule by July in a Mississippi case that could weaken or even overturn Roe v. Wade and let states bar abortion far earlier than the court’s current precedents allow. If the latter happens, 26 states are certain or likely to largely outlaw abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Dallas-based Match Group is partnering with a third party for a similar benefit to Alloy’s. Any Match employee in Texas can call a toll-free number dedicated to the program to reach Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which will arrange travel and lodging paid for by a fund that Match chief executive officer Shar Dubey created last year to cover such costs for staffers and dependents, according to a company spokesperson. Eligibility would be determined through a third-party employment verification vendor.

Sue Dunlap, CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which partners with Match, says the top two considerations in an arrangement such as this are companies making sure workers have access and privacy. The number of people living in Texas who have sought abortion care from Planned Parenthood centers in nearby states has been increasing an average of 6% per month, according to the organization.

"It's hard for me to imagine that there are people who want to tell their employers that they're thinking about an abortion and need help, so you don't want to create a system that puts one more barrier in place," Dunlap said.

She says about 10 companies have reached out to the nonprofit's Los Angeles branch. "Some are fact-finding, some are asking for legal advice, others are calling for one employee, and others are seeing what they can do," she said. "We're in a moment where corporations are asking themselves how to protect their workforce and support their employees."

At Alloy, for instance, one point person in human resources handles all those benefits in order to keep such matters confidential. Reimbursements would show up as an "employee welfare" benefit on any internal financial reports, Spiekerman said.

“It’s not super scalable, but it has worked for us so far,” Spiekerman said. She said she wasn’t aware whether or how many people at Alloy had used the benefit, as it is done confidentially, but she expects it to be a small number.

Other employers have offered other options. When Texas first passed its new abortion law in September, CEO Marc Benioff said the company would help staffers relocate from the state. Solugen, a Texas chemicals company, said the state’s social policies were making it difficult to attract talent so it was planning to open another facility elsewhere. Last fall, Austin-based Bumble said it had created a relief fund for Texans seeking abortions.

Ridesharing companies Lyft and Uber Technologies announced they would cover the legal expenses of drivers sued under a provision of the law that holds anyone abetting an abortion legally liable.

When employers step in to fill in a broken safety net, gaps remain. Benefits such as health insurance and paid parental leave tend to be available only to full-time workers at large companies, leaving large groups of people without any coverage.

Apple’s abortion travel benefits cover retail workers, while Citi’s and Levi’s applies to any employee who participates in their health-care plans.

About a dozen states currently ban state-regulated private plans — often used by small employers — from including abortion coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That does not apply to self-funded plans that are common at bigger companies.

About 10% of workers are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance in which the company has asked their insurer to exclude abortion from their health plan.

Women who want an abortion but don’t get one are four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level.

"We know who gets left behind and it's disproportionately women of color, poor women, women who are newer to the workforce or not in salary positions," Dunlap said. "It's the people who are over and over left behind in our systems."