Abortion Access Is the Next Big Labor Issue
Employers are scrambling to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Bob Korn / Shutterstock.com

Abortion Access Is the Next Big Labor Issue

People affected by abortion bans are likely to seek employment in states like Minnesota where abortion remains legal, workforce experts say.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has resulted in a ripple effect that is more like a tsunami than a wave. While pundits and protestors on both sides of the issue continue to debate the merits of the decision, employers are scrambling to determine their next steps.

Especially in states like Minnesota where abortion remains legal for now, the topic is unavoidable.

Jiao Luo, associate professor at the Carlson School of Management, says companies announcing additional resources for workers who may have to travel for abortion are not necessarily doing it as a political statement. On top of social implications, the reversal of Roe v. Wade poses several workforce concerns in an already tight labor market, Luo said. 

“It’s a shock to the labor market,” she said. “It means that to the extent that women have the choice – some women don’t – you will see some women starting to want to move to and seek jobs in places that protect abortion rights.”

Luo, who has done extensive research on corporate social responsibility and the labor market, said this shifting of the workforce will exacerbate already existing inequities “simply because women have less mobility now.” The vast majority of women do not expect to need abortion care, but many would still prefer to have easy access in the event of an unexpected or dangerous pregnancy, she said. That will likely drive many women to move to other states, including Minnesota. 

“If you’re a woman you may not want to take a job in Mississippi or really half of the country because your career or your life may get derailed at any point,” Luo said. 

If more people flood the labor markets in states where abortion is legal, that also would likely lead to further pay and upward mobility inequities, she notes, calling it an issue of labor “supply and demand.” It’s also possible that labor will be paid less or reduced by companies with employees across the county because additional benefits like paid travel for abortion care will be required for the recruitment and retention of many workers. This additional cost will disproportionally affect small businesses, she notes. But travel coverage is just the beginning. 

“Right now, if you have the money, you can travel and get an abortion elsewhere, but there are active attempts to even prohibit interstate travel,” Luo said. “If we get to that point where it’s not even clear if you can travel out of state, why would you choose to work in the state?”

Abortion bans have already gone into effect or are likely to go into effect in more than two dozen states, including states surrounding Minnesota like the Dakotas and Wisconsin. Attorney General Keith Ellison has vowed to defend people from out-of-state who seek abortion in Minnesota from any potential prosecution.

While abortion remains protected in the state due to a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling, many companies based in Minnesota still have out-of-state employees. Target Corp. and Sleep Number are among the state’s largest companies that have announced new benefits that pay for travel costs for reproductive services for employees in states that have banned abortion. Medtronic, while not explicitly saying it is for abortion, has also announced expanded benefits to enable travel reimbursement for employees who need to seek “critical healthcare services” outside of their state of residence.

Nancy Lyons, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based digital agency Clockwork, says her small business is among those that now offer support like reimbursed travel expenses for out-of-state employees seeking abortion care.

“It’s hard enough to attract talent,” she said. “Inflation is looming. We talk about it almost every day. And now we layer in the reality that women and humans who have the capacity to bear children are going to be put in these horrible positions.”

An employee choosing to have an abortion is medical care and should not be an employer’s business, she added. Employee medical needs should be private, she said.

“Suddenly we are in a position where I am happy to be able to provide resources around healthcare, but it’s a position I do not want to be in,” Lyons said. “My people and their families and their family choices are their own. It is not my business. But I will do what I have to do for my employees to seek and get access to the health care they need and the choices they deserve.”

It’s important to see the intersectionality between people when assessing worker needs in the wake of Roe v. Wade‘s reversal, Lyons said. In her view, there’s a wide grey area, even among those who otherwise adhere to one of the two dominant political parties.

“We talk so much about the two parties and the polarization of the two parties … and yet, a lot of people exist at a number of intersections in the context of those polar points,” she said. “I don’t think the way we talk about it — the way we illustrate it, the way we refer to it, even the opportunities we have to vote — represent the intersectionality, the many layers that exist.”