The end of Roe v. Wade is already impacting US retailers. Here’s how

en of reproductive age – 36 million women, and even more trans men, non-binary and gender-non-conforming people – in 26 states are expected to lose abortion access, based on research from Planned Parenthood. 

Over the last few days, dozens of businesses that operate in states where abortion is likely to be restricted have sought to reassure staff that they will receive the same medical benefits no matter where they live. 

Patagonia, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Levi’s, Disney, Nike, Adidas, Apple and Amazon are just some of the retailers that have promised to cover employees’ travel expenses if they need to leave the state to access safe and legal abortion services.

“While we do not know what decision each state will make in response to this ruling, we at Dick’s Sporting Goods are prepared to ensure that all of our teammates have consistent and safe access to the benefits we provide, regardless of the state in which they live,” Lauren Hobart, president and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, wrote on LinkedIn over the weekend.

Retailers revisit health insurance policies

Dick’s Sporting Goods has said it will provide up to U$4,000 in travel expenses for employees or their family members who live in states where abortion is restricted. 

Hobart said the company recognised that some staff members and brand ambassadors will disagree with the policy, but said that decisions involving health and families are “deeply personal and made with thoughtful consideration”. 

“We are making this decision so our teammates can access the same health care options, regardless of where they live, and choose what is best for them,” she said.

Patagonia also released a statement on LinkedIn outlining its support for employees in the wake of the end of Roe v. Wade.

“Caring for employees is the responsibility of business. Caring for employees extends beyond basic health insurance, so we take a more holistic approach to coverage and support overall wellness to which every human has a right,” the outdoor retailer stated. 

“That means offering employees the dignity of access to reproductive health care. It means supporting employees’ choices around if or when they have a child. It means giving parents the resources they need to work and raise children.”

Specifically, the outdoor retailer said that its health plans cover all US employees for abortion care. In states where restrictions exist, the retailer will cover the cost of travelling to another state where it is legal. 

Patagonia will also post bail for any employees who are arrested while peacefully protesting for reproductive justice. 

Silence no longer an option

Nike, Adidas, Disney, Estee Lauder and Ulta Beauty have also reportedly told their employees they will cover the cost of travelling to other states for abortion services if they’re not available locally.

Apple and Amazon had already announced similar policies after Texas outlawed abortion last year, and Levi’s did the same when a draft of the Supreme Court’s ruling was leaked a few months ago. 

However, many of the country’s biggest retailers, including Walmart and Home Depot, have stayed noticeably silent in recent days. 

While research shows that 61 per cent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it is often seen as a divisive issue, and one that businesses historically have avoided. But that may no longer be possible. 

Pharmacies are already starting to see the knock-on effects of the end of Roe, with customers stockpiling emergency contraception. CVS and Rite-Aid have been forced to introduce purchase limits and Walgreens has paused online orders.  

Meanwhile, businesses with head offices in anti-abortion states expect recruitment to become a major issue.

“If PA [Pennsylvania] makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we’ll have to grow our offices elsewhere,” warned Luis von Ahn, CEO of language app Duolingo, on Twitter. 

More than just healthcare

Retail consultant Rosanna Iacono said it’s not surprising that businesses are starting to speak out about abortion.

“Generally, I think the most progressive organisations stand up on all major human rights issues,” Iacono, managing partner at The Growth Activists, told Inside Retail

“This is in line with the rise of ESG and stakeholder capitalism, where businesses are increasingly committed to upholding sound practices across environmental and social impact, that are in alignment with the needs of their stakeholders.

“One of their key stakeholder groups is employees and workers around the world, so we have seen many businesses over the last decade stand up in solidarity with their people on a whole range of issues.”

However, she said that businesses’ tendency to view abortion access purely as a healthcare issue minimises its impact on women’s rights. 

“Under international human rights laws, forcing an unwanted pregnancy, or forcing someone to seek out an unsafe abortion, is a clear violation of rights to privacy and bodily autonomy, and puts women at a distinct disadvantage,” she said.

“Retailers can stand in solidarity with their employees and customers by signalling their opposition to this appalling decision by the US Supreme Court through their actions, especially through policies that protect their employees human rights, and by using their voices on the platforms available to them to signal the decision is out of step with societal values.”

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