In the wake of the SCOTUS draft leak earlier this month, at least 13 companies, including Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon, are announcing plans to pay for abortion travel across state lines. The decision comes as states divide between abortion bans and protections, with over 20 planning to implement abortion bans if Roe is overturned in June. The “trigger bans” will mirror the current Texas Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks—a time when most people still don’t know if they are pregnant. Since SB 8 went into effect in the fall, abortion care providers in surrounding states, and even as far as Oregon, have reported a drastic increase in patients from Texas. Organizers expect this number to rise once bans sweep across the South and other pockets of the country. The Guttmacher Institute estimates a potential 234% increase in people traveling to Oregon for abortion care once the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. While company-covered abortion travel costs means one less financial burden, advocates say many logistical questions remain, and it won’t entirely solve the problem of abortion access.
After months of union-busting efforts and reports, Starbucks and Amazon released statements regarding employee access to abortion care. Starbucks said they would offer reimbursement for eligible travel expenses when accessing abortion or gender-affirming procedures when those services are not available within 100 miles of an employee’s home. Amazon said they will reimburse employees up to $4,000 annually when they’re forced to travel over 100 miles to obtain an abortion or other medical treatments. As of 2020, an abortion costs up to $750 in the first trimester, and up to $1,500 later in pregnancy, not including the added expenses of traveling.
“I think it goes a long way in saying to employees that this is something we would support you on, in destigmatizing abortion,” said Cristina Parker, the communications director at The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, a Texas abortion fund. “But ultimately, this shouldn’t even be a thing, right? The fact that it’s even something that has to be talked about points to what the real problem is, which is that people should be able to easily, privately, and safely access all of the pregnancy care that they need, without any kind of restriction.”
Parker suggests that the ultimate solution would be for abortion to be paid for by tax dollars. Currently, the Hyde Amendment denies insurance coverage of abortion for people enrolled in Medicaid. President Joe Biden’s 2023 budget proposal does not include the 40-year-old restrictive clause, but the budget still needs to pass the House and the Senate, and in the past, the amendment has been renegotiated back in. Public support for ending Hyde is at an all-time high, with nearly six in 10 Americans supporting health insurance coverage for abortion, whether public or private.
In 10 states, insurance companies are even restricted from covering abortion in state-regulated private plans, and many of those states lack exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, which is even more restrictive than federal policy under the Hyde Amendment. Advocates still do not know how companies in these states, including Texas, will circumvent these restrictions.
“[Microsoft will] continue to do everything we can under the law to protect our employees’ rights and support employees and their enrolled dependents” in accessing critical health care—which already includes services like abortion and gender-affirming care—regardless of where they live across the U.S, said a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement. “This support is being extended to include travel expense assistance for these and other medical services where access to care is limited in availability in an employee’s home geographic region.”
Spokespeople for Amazon and Microsoft did not provide any more details on how the plans would be implemented or how employees’ privacy would be guaranteed. Parker said she thinks corporate insurance policies will be attacked by the state legislature.
“Even if you have private health insurance, the legislators made it illegal to use that to get an abortion,” Parker said. “They would probably just write a law saying that people couldn’t use this because that’s how they respond to everything, and they’re in control and in power, so they probably will do it.”
A key component to the enforcement of SB 8 is that citizens are allowed to sue medical providers or anyone who assists the person in accessing an abortion, with the penalty of a $10,000 fine. Parker said that while there have not been any lawsuits under SB 8, it does raise some privacy concerns.
“Someone would have to, I suppose, disclose to their employer, or at least their health insurance, that they got an abortion,” Parker said. “Which of course is nobody’s business, unless someone wants it to be their employer’s business.”
Once the Supreme Court announces its decision next month, half the country will likely be in a position where traveling for abortion care is the only option. In Texas, Parker said they’ve helped over 1,000 people access abortions since SB 8 went into affect in September 2021; a majority of those patients traveled out of state.
“A few companies can’t solve that problem,” Parker said. “It’s so much bigger.”