Some firms expand health coverage after abortion ruling, others mum

Abortion rights demonstrators protest in downtown Atlanta in response to The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Abortion rights demonstrators protest in downtown Atlanta in response to The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Many of Georgia’s biggest employers silent on landmark case.

Several top entertainment and technology companies with operations in Georgia said Friday they would move to expand employees’ access to abortion care in states where the procedure will be banned or curtailed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

But many of Georgia’s biggest employers declined to comment or were reticent to discuss their response to the polarizing ruling.

Entertainment giants with major Georgia operations, including Comcast, Disney, Meta, Netflix and CNN-owner Warner Bros. Discovery, each reportedly said Friday they would provide reimbursement for employees who live in states that ban abortion to travel out-of-state to access abortion services.

“We are immediately expanding our health care benefits options to include expenses for employees and their covered family members who need to travel to access a range of medical procedures, including care for abortions, family planning and reproductive health,” Adria Alpert Romm, Warner Bros. Discovery chief people and culture officer, said in an email to workers, including 5,000 based in Atlanta.

Abortion remains legal in Georgia for now. A challenge to a 2019 Georgia law that dramatically restricted abortion has been pending before a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta. In September, the panel put the case on hold, deciding to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Mississippi.

Now that the high court has ruled on the Dobbs case, it is likely the Georgia law will be upheld. But it is unclear when and how that might happen.

On Friday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said his office filed notice to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals requesting it overturn a lower court ruling and allow the law to go into effect.

Companies including Amazon, Starbucks, Salesforce and Levi Strauss promised to adopt new policies to expand employees’ access after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that signaled a majority of the court was prepared to reverse Roe.

On Friday, Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Lauren Hobart said on LinkedIn the retailer would also cover travel costs of up to $4,000.

About half the states in the U.S. will likely ban or heavily curtail abortion access in the wake of Friday’s ruling.

In Georgia, the state’s 19 Fortune 500 companies — including Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and Coca-Cola — either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as of late Friday afternoon. The Georgia Chamber and Metro Atlanta Chamber also were mum.

Georgia’s abortion law, if upheld, would largely ban the procedure when cardiac activity can be detected, generally at about six weeks, which is before many women know they’re pregnant.

Companies that are self-insured have more flexibility than others in setting up health benefits, said Emily Dickens, head of government affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management.

In a survey taken in anticipation of Friday’s decision, the most common company answer to providing better reproductive care was to permit paid time off, she said.

However, about 30% of organizations said they would increase support for reproductive care within their employee assistance program. And almost as many said they would offer benefits that covered travel for reproductive care in another state.

“But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of the legal risks involved,” Dickens said.

‘Rule out half of the country’

In recent years, corporations have waded into hot-button social issues in Georgia such as racial equity, voting rights and so-called religious liberty bills. Hollywood and big business pressured then-Gov. Nathan Deal to kill a 2016 bill critics said could have been used to discriminate against LGBTQ residents. Deal struck down the measure saying it would threaten the state’s welcoming image.

But corporations were less vocal about Georgia’s abortion bill.

Abortion is simply a different type of issue, said Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie.

Polling shows most Americans are opposed to overturning Roe, including in Georgia. An AJC poll earlier this year found Georgia voters were more closely split on the state’s abortion law.

Still, some companies may be reticent to make statements “because they recognize a significant portion of Americans don’t support abortion rights,” Gillespie said, including their employees and customers.

And, in other issues such as voting rights and gay rights, “the perceived injured parties are clear, definitive, well-organized,” she said.

Companies “may be waiting to see what individual states do before they make a decision on what to say,” she said.

It’s unclear how the Supreme Court ruling and the likely eventual enactment of abortion restrictions in Georgia might impact the state’s economic growth.

Georgia is on a recruiting hot streak, recently landing the two largest economic development projects in its history, securing electric vehicle plants from Hyundai Motor Group and Rivian that promise to employ more than 15,000 people. Hyundai and Rivian did not respond to requests seeking comment.

The state’s Department of Economic Development, which actively recruits companies, predicted business as usual in Georgia.

“Georgia has a long history of welcoming and celebrating diverse people, thoughts, and opinions. Companies are drawn to our state because, quite simply, Georgia has what business wants. Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t impact the business-friendly environment that has been cultivated here over decades. Our message tomorrow will be the same as it has been before: Georgia is the best place in the country to live, work, raise a family, and grow a business,” said Pat Wilson, who heads the department.

Many of the state’s target industries are more left-leaning like film and tech.

In recent weeks, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, made an extraordinary appeal to seven unnamed companies with deep roots in Georgia to relocate their businesses to protect female employees from the “dangerous potential new reality” that Roe would be overturned.

Part of Murphy’s pitch centered on talent attraction and retention in states with strict abortion laws. Murphy’s office didn’t name companies, but said they sent letters to firms in digital media, financial services, information technology and manufacturing.

In all, Murphy’s office sent letters to more than 50 companies in states with anti-abortion laws, including Florida, Missouri, Ohio and Texas.

“You may see a corporation take a location out of the running because of the state’s law on abortion,” Gillespie said. But, “can you really rule out half of the country in terms of being able to locate a business there?”

-Staff writers Spencer Donovan, Drew Kann and Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this report.