Companies Expand Abortion Benefits to Counter State Restrictions

Some employers have started to cover out-of-state abortion travel

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS March 24, 2022
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Companies Expand Abortion Benefits to Counter State Restrictions

Update: Amazon told its staff on May 2, 2022, it will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for employees to undergo abortions and other "non-life threatening" treatments. See the SHRM Online article Amazon to Reimburse U.S. Employees Who Travel for Abortions and Other Treatments.


As some states move to restrict abortion access, some employers are changing their benefits so that employees in those states can still obtain abortions.

In Texas, as of last September, abortions are restricted once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can begin six or seven weeks into pregnancy. Other states—including Idaho, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma—have followed Texas's lead in the past year, crafting their own restrictive abortion bills, Fortune reported.

Citigroup Inc., an investment banking and financial services corporation based in New York City, recently disclosed that it will now cover out-of-state travel costs for employees seeking an abortion if they are located in Texas and other states where access to abortion has been restricted. 

"In response to changes in reproductive health care laws in certain states in the U.S., beginning in 2022 we provide travel benefits to facilitate access to adequate resources," Citigroup, which has data offices in Texas, said in its annual proxy statement, sent to shareholders in March.

After Citigroup's disclosure, other big companies including Apple and Levi Strauss said that they, too, would pay for out-of-state abortion travel under their health plans.

Before the end of June, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. Other states that have recently passed laws that restrict abortions would also be affected by the ruling.

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a New York court to reconsider a ruling that upheld a state regulation requiring employer health plans to cover abortions.

SHRM Online has gathered the following articles on Citigroup's expanded abortion benefits and what it may mean for other employers.

Abortion-Related Travel Benefits

Citi's new policy covers employees' expenses when traveling to seek an abortion, including plane tickets and hotels, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The company declined to comment beyond what it published in its proxy.

(CNN Business) 

Revising Health Coverage

Citi appears to be one of the first public companies to officially update its employee health care policy in response to the changing legal landscape. However, Apple, which has a big presence in Texas, confirmed to Axios that its health insurance policies cover abortions, including travel fees if needed. It is possible other employers have similar health insurance policies, but they haven't been talking about them.

The big question now is whether more large companies will step in with policies like Citi's or make public pronouncements, if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Axios)

Different Approaches

Apple's abortion travel benefits cover retail workers, while Citi and Levi Straus's apply to any employee who participates in their health care plans. A spokesperson for Levi's said, "part-time hourly workers can seek reimbursement for travel costs incurred under the same circumstances."

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 percent of workers are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance where the company has asked their insurer to exclude abortion from their health plan.

(Bloomberg Equality)

Legal Risks

Citi's policy presents plenty of murky legal issues. Columbia University law professor Carol Sanger said the bank will be opening itself and its human resources employees up to "aiding and abetting" liability under the Texas law. She said the bank may be gambling it won't get sued "because nobody has been sued yet" under the statute's enabling provision.

Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas School of Law, said Citi's attorneys may have decided the risk of liability is so low and the cost of travel so insignificant, they're willing to take that risk. "The bank's liability is unclear. I'm not certain someone would even have the ability to sue just because Citi paid for an employee's travel. It's not clear that would work."

(BNN Bloomberg)

Other Actions by Employers

A number of companies in other industries instituted policies in opposition to the Texas law after it went into effect in September. The dating app Bumble created a relief fund for people seeking abortions in the state, Salesforce offered to relocate employees, and Lyft and Uber said they would cover legal costs for drivers transporting women to clinics to receive abortions. Shar Dubey, the chief executive of Match Group—which runs online dating sites—created a fund to support employees affected by the legislation.

(The New York Times

Responding to Contentious Issues

Businesses have faced the impact of polarization over social and political issues on an institutional basis. Film companies, for example, threatened to boycott states that passed severe abortion restrictions, while college sports leagues have threatened boycotts of states with "bathroom bills" that are exclusive of transgender individuals. Chick-fil-A took heat for contributing to charities opposed to LGBTQ rights (although the company changed its policy). And Hobby Lobby was sued for refusing on religious grounds to provide coverage for birth control via its health care plan for employees.

(HR Magazine)

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