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Opinion | Corporate America somehow became the last firewall for abortion rights

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American employers have become the last firewall against the GOP’s assault on women’s rights — because doing so is in their financial interest.

With the Supreme Court expected to decide soon on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, a growing number of red states are severely restricting access to reproductive care. Last year, Texas effectively banned abortions after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant; the state also enacted a bounty-hunter-style enforcement mechanism, in which private individuals can sue anyone suspected of aiding in an abortion. Women — and, in some cases, sexually abused children — are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or leave the state to seek reproductive care.

Options for care elsewhere are increasingly limited.

Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma have passed their own abortion bans. In other states, similar bills are pending or have passed and will be triggered if Roe v. Wade is struck down.

Women’s rights activists have lately found a somewhat unlikely ally in the fight against these laws: corporate America.

A host of employers with workers in Texas condemned the state’s abortion ban last year. Citigroup, Yelp, Apple, Levi Strauss, Bumble, Match Group and others have also recently expanded employee health coverage of reproductive care, including covering travel expenses for out-of-state abortion care.

Some firms, such as Salesforce, have offered to relocate employees and their families to states that respect women’s constitutional rights to reproductive autonomy. Uber and Lyft announced they will pay legal costs for any drivers sued under Texas’s bounty-hunting provisions.

Companies once studiously skirted divisive social issues, but, lately, they have been forced to take positions. In 2019, there was a similar chorus of corporate opposition when GOP-led states attempted to enact similar restrictions on abortion access. Threats to relocate entire offices, or cancel planned investments, have likewise arisen when states sought laws enabling discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The GOP reaction to such corporate actions is not, alas, respect for the free market. Republicans are no longer preaching reverence for limited government or business leaders’ rights to make their own decisions about employee benefits or investments. Or for firms to locate wherever the regulatory environment is most attractive.

Instead, the GOP response has been driven by vengeance and efforts to exert control — arguably much like the abortion bans themselves.

Right-wing politicians have condemned corporations for their supposedly “woke,” “far-left” health-care benefits. Worse, they have tried to use the power of the state to punish companies offering workers more options for their reproductive care.

One Texas state lawmaker recently threatened Citigroup with criminal prosecution; he also said he would introduce legislation next term barring Citigroup from underwriting municipal bonds in Texas unless it rescinded its policy reimbursing employees for travel out of state for abortion care.

Lest this sound like an idle threat, note that Texas has already implemented similar measures prohibiting government entities from doing business with companies that have adopted policies on firearms or vaccinations contrary to GOP preferences.

As I have written before: In today’s Republican Party, the primary economic goal of the state is no longer to let free markets determine winners and losers; it is to use government to reward friends and punish political enemies.

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In a somewhat Orwellian twist, Republicans sometimes pretend that such punitive, Big Government measures are really motivated by their desire to preserve the free market. They are only punishing firms, they say, for putting “woke” ideology ahead of corporate profits and their fiduciary duty to shareholders.

What these politicians apparently fail to recognize is that these firms are not wading into culture-war clashes because of deeply held “woke” beliefs. Companies are generally amoral. They are offering more reproductive care to workers (or, say, belatedly condemning anti-LGBTQ laws) because they believe doing so will help their bottom lines.

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Companies need to attract and retain talent, including female talent. And conditions in some places are now a hard sell. Imagine telling workers: Join our new branches in Texas or Oklahoma, where if you miscarry you might be thrown in jail!

Or: Move to Arizona, where if your kid gets raped, she can be forced to give birth to her rapist’s baby!

Or: Come to a host of other red states, where, day by day, women are losing say over their own bodies and family size!

Sure, some of these red states have drawn a lot of new workers (and businesses) in recent years. After all, low taxes and warm weather are pretty attractive. But such perks can lose their appeal if the trade-off is loss of bodily autonomy. Companies must prove to employees and prospective hires — at least those with the education and skills to command greater bargaining power — that their rights will be respected, and their families will have access to the health care they need.

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