The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to undo Roe v. Wade and end federal protections for abortion has propelled companies into the issue of reproductive freedom, with some employers around the country saying they will cover expenses when workers travel to get an abortion.
The topic has taken on heightened importance for Illinois, whose role as a haven of legal abortion care in the Midwest is likely to be amplified as other nearby states have, or are expected to, ban or significantly limit abortion access. Terminating a pregnancy is enshrined in Illinois state law as a “fundamental right.”
But for workers in the roughly half of the states that are expected to curtail or ban abortion, two law professors said plans to cover travel costs to undergo the procedure could face headwinds.
Executives at Bolingbrook-based Ulta Beauty said the company would provide travel expense assistance for “eligible reproductive health services where access to care is restricted,” including legal abortions. The coverage took effect Friday, the same day as the Supreme Court ruling, according to a company statement.
“As always, we encourage our teams and our guests to learn more and act on issues important to them by making their voice heard and their vote count,” company executives said in a statement.
Banking giant JPMorgan Chase will also cover travel to receive legal abortions, according to a company benefits memo sent June 1. JPMorgan has long covered abortion under a health insurance plan, and also covered travel for certain health care services. In July the travel coverage is set to expand to all health care services that can only be obtained far from home, including, for some, legal abortion.
Spokespeople for Ulta Beauty and JPMorgan Chase declined to specify how many employees could be eligible for the policies because they live in states that restrict abortions.
Among the other companies that said they would cover employee travel costs are The Walt Disney Co., Facebook parent Meta, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. Companies like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated after Friday’s ruling previous statements taking similar action. Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia posted on LinkedIn Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.
Chicago-based United Airlines said in a memo to employees that its benefit policies did not change as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. The company’s medical plans cover reproductive health care. In an email to the Tribune, spokeswoman Christine Salamone said employees can fly on United for free.
Chicago-based McDonald’s did not respond Monday to a Tribune question about its policies. The Associated Press reported the company also did not respond to a request from the news organization Friday, and neither did dozens of other big businesses.
Even as companies announce policies in response to the ruling, World Business Chicago, the city’s economic development agency, has already seized on the state’s abortion rights protections, mailing letters Monday to some 300 Fortune 500 companies located in states that have or are expected to limit abortion access, and offering to “highlight the ways in which Chicago remains a welcoming city for all.”
“Residents of those states — including those who work at your company — may suffer as a result of this decision (undoing Roe v. Wade),” the agency wrote in the letters, signed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, vice chair Mellody Hobson and CEO Michael Fassnacht. “Families and individuals can now be punished for private healthcare decisions. Not to mention, many lives will be upended as people are stripped of 50-year-old right.”
Meanwhile, companies that are covering travel to receive an abortion out of state could face roadblocks or confusion. One concern is whether a company paying travel costs might face a lawsuit for violating a state ban on aiding and abetting an abortion. There could also be tax implications for employees, said Robin Wilson, a University of Illinois College of Law professor.
She praised Gov. J.B. Pritzker for calling a special legislative session, saying it was necessary to sort through these and other issues.
“There are these sort of downstream questions,” she said. “It’s what I would call a bramble of issues.”
States could also pass other laws targeting companies that pay for travel to receive an abortion, said Sonia Green, an associate law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.
But overall, companies that pay for travel are likely to have protections, she said. Enforcing some of the laws states could enact would be difficult, and many types of insurance plans are subject to a federal law that restricts states’ ability to regulate insurance. About 65% of workers get their insurance through plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, she said.
“I think the landscape is such that employers could and should provide these benefits and protections, because the potential consequences are, I think, maybe more theoretical than real,” she said.
Even for companies that pay for travel, questions remain about whether employees will take advantage of the policy, Green said. Some women might be reluctant to discuss abortion care with their human resources department.
Ultimately, she said, laws targeting companies that offer travel payment could cause businesses to leave states or make it harder for them to recruit talented employees, especially women, who don’t want to work in a state with an “unfriendly environment.”
“Are states going to risk that?” she asked. “Are they going to risk hurting their economies?”
The Associated Press contributed