Corporate America declines to comment on Texas abortion ban

US society updates

Many of the large US companies that have spoken out on everything from voting rights and racial equality to transgender recognition in recent years are so far dodging the polarising debate over abortion as some of the country’s tightest restrictions go into effect in Texas.

The “heartbeat” law bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know that they are pregnant.

It will increase the average driving distance for a Texan seeking an abortion 20-fold, from 12 miles to 248 miles, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It also creates a reward of at least $10,000 for anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider, which critics have called an effective bounty on health workers.

The law, which was left in place following a narrow 5-4 US Supreme Court decision in the early hours of Wednesday, has inflamed the national debate over women’s reproductive rights. But unlike other hot-button social issues in recent years, it has yet to prompt an intervention from a large US company.

Texas-based American Airlines, Dell and AT&T were among more than a dozen companies and business groups the Financial Times contacted that have previously spoken out against controversial legislation in Texas and elsewhere. The companies either declined to comment or did not respond to a request to comment on the new abortion restrictions.

Some smaller companies, however, decided to take a stand. The dating app Bumble said it had created a relief fund supporting the reproductive rights of people seeking abortions in Texas and added in an Instagram post that it would “keep fighting against regressive laws”.

Meanwhile, Shar Dubey, the chief executive of the dating app maker Match, said in a memo to employees that she was “shocked” to live in a “state where women’s reproductive laws are more regressive than most of the world”. Dubey is creating a fund to allow Texas-based employees to seek abortion access elsewhere.

“The past 36 hours caught corporate America pretty flat-footed,” said Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy for the Tara Health Foundation, which campaigns on gender and racial equity issues.

Late on Friday the chief executive of Lyft, Logan Green, tweeted that the ride-hailing company would create a defence fund for drivers who could be targeted under the law.

“This is an attack on women’s access to healthcare and on their right to choose,” he said. Green also pledged to donate $1m to Planned Parenthood and called on other companies to join Lyft.

In 2019 companies including Slack, Square and Yelp signed an open letter arguing that limiting access to abortions was “bad for business”. And several media companies threatened to boycott the state of Georgia if it restricted abortion access. But in previous cases courts stepped in, Stark noted, saving executives from having to state their positions.

Texas has added 4m people to its population since 2010, the most of any US state, and many of its cities rank among the nation’s fastest growing. The state capital Austin, in particular, has lured a flood of technology companies and workers from the US east and west coasts thanks in part to the absence of personal income tax, fewer regulations and a comparatively low cost of housing.

Campaigners warn that the state’s rightward turn on social policy, including tightening voting rules and loosening gun laws, risks turning back the tide of businesses and white-collar workers that have flooded into Texas over the past decade.

“These types of hateful and discriminatory legislative steps only hurt our ability as a state to attract businesses, tourism and top level talent, impacting our continued economic prosperity,” said Tina Cannon, the chief executive of the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Texas governor Greg Abbott denied on Thursday that the abortion restrictions were a threat to his state’s ability to attract businesses and workers from elsewhere in the country. In an appearance on the business news channel CNBC, he said Tesla’s Elon Musk was among the recent Texas transplants that supported the state’s rightward lurch, including the abortion restrictions.

Musk responded with a cryptic tweet saying he believed “government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and when doing so, should aspire to maximise their cumulative happiness”. The Tesla founder added that he “preferred to stay out of politics”.

“I’ve been trying to rally businesses in Texas and it has been crickets,” said Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow Texas, an abortion rights group. “Businesses, as pillars in our community, especially in Texas which has so many tech companies, have a duty to stand up for the values of their employees and the people they serve,” she added. 

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