Companies: Protect Workers. Teams: Protect fans.
That means no conferences, events, or in-person work requirements in anti-abortion states.
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With the Supreme Court overturning Roe and close to half of US states either banning abortion immediately or gearing up to do so, a few companies have tried to step up, pledging to cover the cost of employee travel for abortion services. How that will work out remains to be seen — I don’t think anyone wants to report their abortion to their boss or their HR rep, and I doubt these benefits extend fully to wage laborers and part-time workers — but it’s an important step and a good start.
Just as important, though: Companies cannot require workers to be in-person in states that restrict abortion rights. And no company should hold an event or conference in a state that limits the right to abortion; no sports teams or musicians should ask their fans to travel; and certainly the Democratic Party should not demand that its campaign staffers, delegates, and supporters spend days or weeks on end at a convention in a state that puts them at risk.
I keep thinking about this story of an American woman who took a “babymoon” to Malta with her husband to celebrate an impending new addition to their family, only to wind up nearly dying — she had a miscarriage, and Malta’s “pro-life” laws meant that even though her fetus was not going to live, she couldn’t be given the care she needed to save her life. The chance of fetal death was close to 100 percent; the chance that she would die along with her baby if she didn’t have a procedure to complete the miscarriage — an abortion — also ticked up by the minute. If your cervix is open and there’s a dying fetus inside of you, your chances of getting an infection and going into septic shock skyrocket. And sepsis will kill you.
The woman in question was eventually taken to Spain, where she was able to get a safe, legal abortion — and was able to live because of it. Not all women are so lucky. Savita Halappanavar of Ireland died under similar circumstances, and her death — and her husband’s insistence on speaking out about it — galvanized the nation to liberalize its long-stand restrictive abortion law.
It’s not just death that pregnant people risk when they travel to misogynist, anti-abortion states. It’s also criminalization. When abortion is outlawed, every miscarriage is suspect. If a woman is miscarrying and goes to the hospital, or even confides in a coworker, she risks investigation, arrest, and even jail time if a health worker, acquaintance, family member, or supposed friend reports her (this is, notably, an excellent tool of control for abusive men). Any person — including those who cannot get pregnant — similarly risk criminal penalties for “aiding and abetting” abortions in states where the procedure is outlawed.
Can companies, in good conscience, require that their employees travel to or live in states that might prosecute them for helping their child end a pregnancy, or refuse them help in a medical emergency if they’re pregnant? Should sports teams and event planners encourage people to travel to states where they might experience the same? Everything from the Kentucky Derby to the Masters to the Superbowl draw huge crowds — and will bring tens or even hundreds of thousands of people to states that now outlaw abortion, and, as a result, put people’s lives and freedoms at risk.
I’m not advocating a total boycott of anti-abortion states (although I can tell you I will be very hesitant to spend my money in places that treat women as second-class citizens). Big companies pulling their diverse and college-educated workforces from conservative states can push those states farther right and pull people who are trying to make change out of places where change is badly needed; there must be a careful calculation of potential harm, and “boycott anti-choice states” isn’t quite it.
But while people should have the option to live and work in places that limit women’s rights, that should be a choice made by individuals — not one mandated by a company. There really is no excuse to hold conferences or events meant to draw an out-of-state crowd in anti-abortion states; doing so doesn’t buoy progressive movements or shift the makeup of state legislatures, it simply normalizes brutal, misogynist laws and exposes workers, fans, and attendees to unnecessary risk.
If big companies want to demonstrate that they value all of their employees, refuse to put them at unnecessary legal risk, and do not believe that their female workers and others who can get pregnant deserve to have their bodies and intimate lives regulated by the government, they need to do more than offer a travel benefit. They need to cease all donations to anti-abortion politicians. And they need to protect their workers (and for sports teams and events, their players, employees, fans and followers) — which means not actively putting them in harm’s way by requiring they travel or live in places that see them or their loved ones as less than equal citizens, and would throw them in jail or let them die in the name of “life.”
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