Opinion: I Have A New Challenge As A CEO: Protecting My Staff In Anti-Abortion States

Anti-abortion laws are forcing businesses to consider how we would operate in places where women’s health services are made illegal.

I have a newborn in my lap as I write this. I’m on parental leave from the company I founded, having welcomed my fourth daughter to the world just last week. But I don’t consider writing this to be “working” — this is something larger. It’s my obligation to my future, my business and colleagues, my daughters, and my country.

I recently signed my company onto a campaign for reproductive justice, along with leaders from more than 180 other companies. I want to talk more about why I did that, and how the rising tide of anti-abortion politics is forcing CEOs like me to think long and hard about how our businesses can operate in places where essential women’s health services are being made illegal.

For so long, the subject of abortion has been too controversial to bring up in mixed company, sometimes considered taboo to discuss among friends and family, and surely not one that private companies have addressed. All this despite the reality that 71% of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Why, then, do we still view making a pro–abortion rights statement as a huge unnecessary risk for a CEO or company? I am proud — PROUD — to loudly assert that abortion is health care and that reproductive justice is core to any pursuit of equity.

It’s also a business concern, and one with which I increasingly have to grapple with from my seat as a CEO and founder of The Riveter, a coworking and community membership network focused on women. 75% of our membership is female, and our staff is almost entirely women. Our business entails opening spaces in different states — we will be open and operational in six states by the end of summer.

One of those states — Minnesota — has been toying with abortion bans. And we have two locations in Texas where lawmakers considered a bill this year — that, thankfully, did not advance — that would have allowed the death penalty for women who have abortions and for the doctors who provide them. We have plans to open in Atlanta next year. What do we do for our employees in these states? What do we do for our members? Do we consider pulling our business from these places, or do we hold strong?

It might seem that the “right” move is to bypass states moving the needle backward when it comes to equity for women. But is that the most we can do? Stacey Abrams argues not, and I agree. My company will stand shoulder to shoulder with the women of Georgia, Mississippi, and other states where abortion bans are being enacted, and will leverage our platform and work to amplify their voices through our physical presence and the power of our community — not just by sending goodwill from the “safety” of our Seattle headquarters.

I know that if my employees cannot make the very personal choice of when to start a family, it’s not only an ethical issue, but bad for the bottom line. It’s both a business question as a moral one. We've contemplated the legal implications of offering more tangible access to services and resources where we to have employees in states with abortion bans — we’re exploring options including travel reimbursements for employees needing to go out of state for access to banned services.

Our health insurance, for instance, treats pregnancy termination like any other medical procedure, except in Utah, where there are restrictions today. We would reimburse any employee living in Utah for their procedures. We are also doing what we can to drive resources to those fighting these bans and providing resources to women in need. Two weeks ago we launched We Choose: Outmatch The Bans, a $30,000 matching fund for donations to any reproductive justice organization.

Our company is focused on gender equity in work and business, and the right to our own bodies is absolutely critical to any pursuit of equity. Any other approach is an injury to women everywhere. Period. If we are blocked from the legal right to determine our futures as individuals, the proclamation is clear: women are not equal to men. If we are criminalized for what we do with our bodies, the reality is clear: women do not own our bodies.

Speaking out against and developing policies for how to support our members and employees threatened by these bans is imperative for a company like ours, but is equally pressing for any company. Women will only be equal to men when the law guarantees us full autonomy and control over our bodies, as it always has for men. It is not only a moral imperative, it is essential for good business.

Amy Nelson is the founder and CEO of The Riveter, a national membership network focused on women in work.

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