In the last month, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has unleashed a tidal wave of political power to secure a plethora of long-standing ideological goals, including leveling the administrative state, tearing down the barrier between church and state, and gutting reproductive freedoms that Americans have enjoyed for generations. With the right mounting up for ever more destruction in the not-too-distant future, it’s only natural that the people who have gotten screwed by all of the Supreme Court’s wheeler-dealings might seek out some equal or opposite societal energy that might be harnessed to push back in the other direction. One such force that’s recently emerged as a ray of hope is corporate America.
Those who look to Big Business for succor in these trying times might have been uplifted by The New York Times, which reported this week that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision is “threatening to reshape the lines of economic competition between conservative and liberal states.” As Alexander Burns reports, the loss of reproductive freedom could cause a “disruption to the calculus” that has made some Republican-run states attractive to businesses—the idea being that as more onerous restrictions come online in various states, it will be harder for firms to attract talented potential hires to move to places where they’ll have fewer rights.
As the Times reports, some Democratic governors have acted upon this premise—North Carolina’s Roy Cooper, for instance, has vowed to veto any abortion ban on the grounds that it would hurt the state economically. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has, in similar fashion, maintained that “the states imposing rigid abortion bans were all but certain to suffer economically.”
It’s understandable why people might look to corporate America to be a corrective force. A brain drain is certainly possible as young and talented workers avoid states with abortion restrictions or choose not to attend big state universities where top firms recruit. And there’s some logic in the idea that stability is good for business and upheaval is bad. We’ve even seen corporate America step forward to play a role in tempering such upheaval, when business leaders joined the campaign to get President Donald Trump to hew to the peaceful transfer of power. Perhaps the end of Roe’s protections are, in a sense, bad for business.
Since the Dobbs decision, we’ve been hit with a tidy barrage of stories about certain major firms, from Amazon to Citigroup, offering to help affected employees cover travel costs in order to get abortions out of state if necessary. It’s easy to talk a good game about these commitments in these early days, when nothing is certain but that the nerves of employees need to be calmed.
But even now, not every firm is speaking with encouraging words about reproductive rights: Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Snapchat have been guarded in their responses about whether they’ll hand over private data to police investigating recriminalized abortions. Some firms have already initiated crackdowns on their employees talking about their rights in both public and private fora.
I’ve expressed skepticism about corporations being a reliable ally of reproductive rights because sooner or later, all roads lead to corporations’ monomaniacal goal: increasing profits to shareholders. What’s going to happen when the cost of transporting the employees affected by abortion bans, and the possible legal expenses that accompany recriminalization, start cutting into bottom lines? I have some personal experience with this situation: In 2014, the company I worked for—AOL—attempted to rook its employees by reducing the generosity of our benefits packages on the grounds that two employees covered by our health insurance plans had “distressed babies” that imposed onerous expenses on the firm. AOL was certainly no model of corporate excellence. But if two employees’ medical bills can rattle a firm to that extent, imagine what happens when it’s hundreds of employees incurring new expenses.
If you’re feeling sinister, I suppose you might note the dark irony of how, in this narrow instance, two abortions would have been more cost-effective to AOL than two “distressed babies.” But that’s not the world we should be seeking to build. And frankly, neither is a world where some companies celebrate themselves for making less-than-ironclad commitments to workers about providing reproductive health care. As Today in Tabs’ Rusty Foster noted, while “eliminating the right to abortion unless you work for a certain employer” certainly “brings abortion in line with the rest of our national health care policy, where only the submissive employee has a right to any health care at all,” this is not the future for which we should be fighting.
As it stands, we might be kidding ourselves about this imagined future. Even if every rosy assumption becomes reality—liberal states outcompete Republican-run states for talent, workers relocate to reclaim lost rights, red states suffer economically—we should remember that if the national abortion ban conservatives are pushing for now comes to pass, none of that will matter. And as corporate America continues to fund the campaigns of anti-abortion politicians, you shouldn’t presume that they haven’t already thought of this.
This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.