Big business silent on Supreme Court Roe v. Wade abortion ruling

Protesters hold signs during a protest outside the US Supreme Court, after a leaked draft majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito bracing for a court majority to overturn the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade on abortion rights later this year, in Washington, United States, May 3, 2022.

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

As protesters gathered and politicians rushed to speak, the nation’s biggest corporations remained largely silent on Tuesday after a leaked Supreme Court draft ruling said conservative justices are about to overturn a landmark decision that guarantees access to legal abortions.

Dozens of companies, including Walmart, American Airlines and Disney, have yet to release statements or respond to CNBC’s requests for comment. The Business Roundtable, a trade group made up of top CEOs, said in a statement that it “does not have a position on this issue.” Microsoft, JPMorgan and the US Chamber of Commerce, another leading voice for business in America, all declined to comment.

Corporations and large trade groups have remained reluctant to intervene, even as the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the authenticity of a leaked draft of the majority opinion, which would reject Roe v. Wade and nearly 50 years of abortion protection if the judges stand by their position. position when a decision becomes official. The preliminary vote was reported for the first time Monday night by Politicowho got the draft opinion.

The report threw businesses into an unexpected and urgent communications challenge. The Supreme Court’s leaked ruling is a draft, not the final ruling expected around the end of June.

The ruling would permanently alter the healthcare decisions of thousands of their employees and customers, but it’s also a divisive issue in US politics – and the leak has stoked passions just months before the US election. half term in Congress. Additionally, the harsh backlash against Disney and other companies that have recently taken a stand on social issues may have a chilling effect.

“There’s no benefit to talking about this alone. That’s why they have to work collectively,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, professor and senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management. “Nobody wants to have 40% of the country mad at them.”

Sonnenfeld said trade groups, historically the strongest and safest way for companies to get out, have become “overcautious” and “neutered” by professional teams playing ping-pong between jobs. lobbying and don’t want to make waves.

“They prefer to write tedious, inconsequential, tedious working papers that don’t lead to any clear guidelines, so the more you read, the less you know,” he said.

A new era of uncertainty

Some companies said they were taking a wait-and-see approach.

Home Depot, for example, declined to comment through a spokesperson, saying that “since this is a draft, it would not be appropriate for us to speculate on the court’s final decision. “. CVS Health, which owns thousands of pharmacies and health insurer Aetna, said in a statement that it is “closely monitoring the situation and evaluating how we can better meet the coverage needs of our colleagues, customers and consumers.”

By remaining silent, companies can court a harsh response from customers and employees. About 58% of Americans said they would not like to see the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, compared to 32% who would, according to the latest available Gallup poll, which was conducted in May 2021. An NBC News poll of September shows that 54% of Americans think it should be legal to have an abortion in all or most cases.

A few companies, however — mostly in the tech industry — responded directly to the draft ruling.

Crowdsourced review site Yelp said in a “staggering Roe vs. Wade will jeopardize the human rights of millions of women who risk losing the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies. »

“Reversing the progress made by women over the past 50 years will have a seismic impact on our society and our economy,” the company said. “Congress needs to codify these rights into law. In the meantime, more companies will need to step up their efforts to protect their employees and provide equal access to the healthcare services they need, wherever they live.”

OkCupid, a dating app owned by Match Group, wrote on Twitter, “The reversal of #RoeVWade is unacceptable. OkCupid has proudly supported reproductive rights for years, and we’re not stopping now. Gender equality is at stake and more brands need to step up.”

The company asked its followers to tag the brands they want to see take action and sign a petition to “advocate for reproductive health care”. Match himself did not provide comment on the draft decision.

Facebook parent Meta did not comment on the report, but the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, released a statement about it. personal facebook page.

“It’s a scary day for women across our country,” said Sandberg, who has long been an advocate for disparities for women in the workplace. “If the leaked draft advice becomes the law of the land, one of our most fundamental rights will be taken away from us. Every woman, wherever she lives, should be free to choose if and when she becomes a mother. things are more important for women’s health and equality.

A way forward?

Some companies declined to respond directly to the draft notice and the possibility of Supreme Court action, but reiterated previous commitments to help employees access abortion services.

Previous measurements of Amazon and Apple, created in the wake of several Republican-backed state laws that have sought to restrict access to abortion, hint at how the companies could respond to a broader crackdown on the right to abortion. ‘abortion. (Amazon’s policy only applies to U.S. employees enrolled in company health plans, a company spokesperson told Vice’s Motherboard.)

The two companies added travel reimbursement for employees who are forced to have abortions or other out-of-state medical care, as more governments across the nation’s Sunbelt adopt laws that close abortion clinics or otherwise limit access.

Uber and Lyft each said they would cover the legal costs of drivers sued under an early abortion law in Oklahoma and a recently passed law in Texas that bans most abortions after about six weeks. of pregnancy. Under both bills, people who facilitate abortions, including those who transport them to clinics, can be fined up to $10,000.

CVS said Tuesday it has also “made out-of-state care accessible and affordable for employees in states that have instituted more restrictive laws,” but declined to elaborate. The company has approximately 300,000 employees.

Yale’s Sonnenfeld said the stakes are high for companies to speak out. Sonnenfeld is a leading advocate of corporate accountability and has compiled a long list of corporate actions in Russia around the war in Ukraine in recent months.

Corporate brands have retained a high level of trust, he said, even as Americans’ trust in other institutions has eroded. Still, some companies have been reluctant to tackle the issues and become targets of governors, he noted, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans.

This risk recently played out in Florida between DeSantis and Disney, one of the state’s best-known resident companies. DeSantis signed a bill last month that would remove longstanding privileges that have allowed the Walt Disney Co. to essentially self-govern the area around its theme park.

Critics and Democratic members of the Florida legislature have argued that the move, which has sweeping tax implications, was prompted by a back-and-forth with Disney over the so-called “Don’t Say” bill. Gay” from Florida that limits early education teachings about sexual orientation. and gender identity.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek has come under fire from employees and creative executives for initially keeping quiet about the bill, but later apologized for not speaking up sooner and said that the company would suspend donations in Florida.

Although the bill eliminating Disney’s special district status passed about a month after the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, Florida State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican, told CNBC at the time that it was not a retaliatory measure. However, he also said that “when Disney kicked the hornet’s nest, we looked at special quarters.”

DeSantis is widely considered a top contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Disney did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the Supreme Court’s draft ruling.

Sonnenfeld said business leaders have demonstrated that their words and actions can make a difference, especially when they come together.

In 2017, the CEOs of major companies, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, spoke out in a letter that opposed the so-called “toilet bill” in Texas which reportedly banned transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

The bill ultimately died in session, after rejection by business leaders and civil rights groups.

“There is a story where they make a difference,” he said. “These companies are not fringe progressive companies, but speak to the heart of the nation.”

— CNBC’s Jessica Bursztynsky, Leslie Josephs, Hugh Son, Morgan Smith and Lauren Thomas contributed to this story.