Abortion: Ought to firms take a stand?

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“Corporations used to have the luxury of staying out of politics,” but they can’t just sit on the fence when it comes to abortion, said Liz Plank in Fortune. They’ve already “taken stands on other controversial issues,” ranging from gay marriage “to Black Lives Matter to the anti-trans bathroom bill.” Their “enthusiasm” on those issues contrasts with an astonishingly “tepid response on reproductive rights” as the country looks to the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Some major corporations, including Apple, Citigroup, Amazon, and Tesla, have said they will pay travel expenses for employees who leave their state to find an abortion provider. But only “a handful of companies, including Levi Strauss, Airbnb, and Bumble, have slowly trickled in with statements supporting women’s right to choose.” Women make up half the workforce. Don’t companies want to signal to female employees that they have their backs?

It’s not that simple, said Joe Nocera in The New York Times. Corporations are spooked by what happened between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who stripped the company of its special tax status for speaking out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act — frequently called the Don’t Say Gay law. “Business leaders I spoke with were convinced that abortion was likely to generate a wave of employee activism that dwarfed anything that came before,” but many are also terrified about retaliation from other red-state leaders. “Compared with taking a public position on abortion,” political outcries of the past look like a cakewalk. 

Corporate leaders should be scared if they keep “giving in to the woke mobs,” said Charles Gasparino in the New York Post. Their silence on abortion shows conservatives that the C-suite has finally learned “something about a new brand of GOP politics.” DeSantis simply “did what lawmakers should have done” when he counterpunched the virtue-signaling Disney. “There’s already talk of public hearings” if the GOP takes the House and Senate, “forcing CEOs to explain why they think it’s in the best interests of their shareholders to weigh in and support lefty issues.” Taking a position on hot-button debates really isn’t in the purview of CEOs, said Andy Serwer in Yahoo Finance: Companies have “zero obligation to take a stand on any social or political issue.” But the more “tribal” and dysfunctional our politics become, the more corporations are asked to step in.

Employees are stakeholders who can’t be ignored, said Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times, and “few public policies have as far-reaching an effect on the health and welfare of the American workforce as access to health care.” That is what’s being threatened by the possibility of a repeal of Roe v. Wade. State health-care policies will almost certainly “play into decisions by prospective employees, including well-educated women,” about where to accept jobs. Whether that will “outweigh the lure of low taxes and less regulation” in red states vs. blue is an open question. But businesses will take note “if valued workers start voting with their feet.”

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here