Texas abortion law roils businesses
The new abortion law in Texas is roiling the business community, prompting some firms to directly interfere with the controversial enforcement mechanism and putting pressure on others to publicly denounce the measure.
Texas-based dating platforms Match and Bumble set up relief funds to help people affected by the law, while ride-hailing platforms Uber and Lyft decried the statute and said they would cover all legal costs for any of their drivers who get sued for driving a customer to an abortion clinic.
“This law is incompatible with people’s basic rights to privacy, our community guidelines, the spirit of rideshare, and our values as a company,” Lyft wrote in a message to drivers, adding that it will also donate $1 million to Planned Parenthood.
Other companies are taking steps to thwart private enforcement of the law.
Web hosting company GoDaddy dropped an abortion tracking website that was launched to help enforce the six-week abortion ban, saying it violated the firm’s terms of service. The anti-abortion activists moved the site to another web hosting company, Epik, which promptly shut it down as well.
The Texas law, considered the most restrictive in the country, bans abortion as early as six weeks, before most women know they’re pregnant. Under the law, individuals can sue anyone who provides or “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks for up to $10,000 plus legal fees, a provision that has drawn widespread criticism, including from Republican lawmakers.
Still, as of Tuesday afternoon, only a handful of companies have spoken out against the law. Corporate America has mostly remained silent, despite its vocal opposition to Texas’s restrictive voting bill that was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Tuesday.
“It’s not surprising because this is harder than a number of other issues,” said Sandra Sucher, a professor of management at Harvard Business School. “Abortion is particularly contentious because we know that it relates to people’s religious views, which is kind of a no-go zone for companies.”
Some major companies with large workforces in Texas, including American Airlines, Dell Technologies, AT&T, Google and Amazon, have not publicly commented on the abortion law after speaking out against the voting bill. Those firms criticized the GOP-backed voting bill, which Dell CEO Michael Dell slammed as undemocratic.
Houston-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise did not address the abortion issue in a statement to reporters, saying only that it “encourages our team members to engage in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and at the voting booth.”
Amid pressure from employees, investors and customers, corporate America has increasingly delved into social justice issues in recent years. But corporations have long stayed away from abortion even as they waded into other political battles.
“We’re seeing the limits of how far corporations are willing to go to express some kind of viewpoint,” said Douglas Chia, a corporate governance consultant. “This issue has been such a lightning rod for decades now and evokes such an emotional response. Certain issues are just too sensitive to comment on.”
Corporate governance experts said that companies are waiting to see what others in their industry do and how public opinion forms around the Texas law.
They’re monitoring new developments, such as Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Monday statement that the Justice Department will protect women who are seeking abortions in Texas from potential violence.
“Figuring out if this has become sufficiently politically dangerous for them not to say something about, I think, is the calculus they are trying to make,” Sucher said.
Abortion rights activists have called on companies and the general public to boycott Texas over the abortion law. The Portland, Ore., City Council will consider banning trading goods and services with Texas.
In some industries, praising the anti-abortion law is far riskier than condemning it. John Gibson, the CEO of video game developer TripWire, stepped down Monday after tweeting that he was “proud” of the Supreme Court for upholding the law. His tweet sparked intense backlash from the gaming community, including his own co-workers.
Public opinion polls on abortion show varying results depending on how the questions are worded.
Gallup released a poll in June showing that 58 percent of Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects the right to an abortion. Just 19 percent of respondents said that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.
However, Gallup also found that 47 percent of Americans consider themselves to be “pro-life,” compared to 49 percent who are “pro-choice,” a significantly smaller margin.
Corporate America typically backs measures with more clear-cut support. Still, it’s unclear how much of a difference their statements would even make. Corporations’ influence with Republicans has waned as the two forces grow further apart on social justice issues.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed legislation to tighten voting restrictions and take control of local election administration despite outcry from major corporations. The state’s largest employer, Delta Air Lines, called the bill “unacceptable,” and MLB moved its All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest.
More than 150 corporations that together employ 4 million workers, including Target, PepsiCo and Google, urged Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The voting measure passed the House with zero GOP votes.
Major corporations unsuccessfully pushed Republicans to back a popular measure to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The Equality Act, a bill to codify discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals, also has the backing of corporate America but drew little support from Republican lawmakers.