The recent overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court has dominated the headlines and left a wake of political, religious, economic, and civil activity. It also exacerbates inequities that have plagued some groups and will add new challenges for many.
According to the CDC, Black women are 4 times more likely to have an abortion than white women. And Latina woman are twice as likely. Reuters (among many news outlets) reported that health experts trace the higher abortion rates to inequities in healthcare access such as lack of insurance and contraceptives. This is especially prevalent in underprivileged, underserved (lower socioeconomic) communities.
And with over half the states poised to ban abortion, the communities least able to access and/or afford contraceptives, travel expenses to states that allow abortion, healthcare for themselves and their dependents, and childcare, will not have access to abortions either.
Therefore, independent of whether we are for or against the recent ruling and its implications for abortion accessibility, we have the opportunity, as part of professional communities, to take action to address these inequities.
Being part of the solution starts with understanding the problems
There are many joys and challenges that come with children. Children demand an endless stream of time, attention, and care. From constant supervision and interaction when they are young to education and support as they grow. As dependents, parents are responsible for their food, health, home, and safety. And, for children with special needs, these demands can be far greater.
This can be overwhelming even for those who have a strong support network and financial stability. Imagine if you have neither.
Many who will be impacted by the inaccessibility of abortions lack both the support network and financial stability. They cannot afford daycare and/or aftercare necessary to work. They cannot afford the health insurance premiums to cover themselves or their children necessary for health and peace of mind which is critical for productivity. And, they do not have the support network to look after their children when their workdays grow long or they need to pick up an extra shift or attend that job interview.
This means some of our current and future workforce are facing challenges that put them at a disadvantage for finding and accepting positions, for thriving within positions, and for competing for promotions and pay raises. And, as these disadvantages disproportionately impact women of color, if not addressed, these disadvantages will drive down our diversity, and all the valuable benefits that come with it.
So, what can we, as professional organizations, do to ensure that all of our current and future employees have equity in access and opportunity so that we all thrive?
Tearing down the barriers to empower our people
There are many things we, as professional organizations, can do to increase equity and accessibility for those who will be impacted by the ramification of abortion bans. Let’s examine a few of the prevalent barriers, and how we can address them. And, as an organization, you can evaluate which actions make the most sense for you and your workforce.
Access to reproductive care
Some major organizations are already modifying their benefits in response to the Supreme Court decision by expanding benefits for its employees to include covering travel costs for employees who need to travel out of state for care. Disney, Netflix, Airbnb, Starbucks, Tesla, Yelp, Lyft, Google, Microsoft, to name just a few.
Some organizations are even going as far as to allow employees to apply for relocation “without justification” so employees can choose which states best align with their needs.
For organizations who desire to provide access to reproductive care for their employees, there are options.
If it’s financially viable, consider health benefit augmentations such as covering or subsidizing travel for employees in states with strict reproductive policies. Don’t forget to consider the time required for travel (i.e. will you cover time off for those who must travel for procedures).
And, for those organizations for which travel coverage is not financially viable who want to provide a similar service, look for help. There are non-profits and associations designed to help women reach reproductive care. Find and partner with these organizations. Providing financial or resource support to the organizations will, in turn, create more opportunities to support your employees. Share the information and resources with your employees to ensure they have access to these providers. And don’t forget to expand benefits to include the time off required for health-related travel.
Access to healthcare
Pregnancy, childbirth and children require healthcare to ensure a healthy, safe pregnancy, birth, and life. Unfortunately, healthcare and, in many cases, health insurance is expensive. For those that don’t have the financial means to pay for health coverage, pregnancy could put them and their future child at risk.
If it’s financially viable, ensure that affordable health insurance is available for all employees (including part time). Affordable means both that the coverage is adequate to protect the mother and child, it is accessible to all employees (i.e. covers locations employees can reach in a reasonable timeframe) and, it doesn’t require the employee to pay more than about 10% of total income (including for dependents).
If it’s not financially viable to provide affordable health insurance to all employees, look for help. Partner with community organizations (such as healthcare facilities and non-profits) catering to providing safe, affordable healthcare to the underprivileged and underserved. Provide financial and/or resource support as you can to these organizations to help their efforts which, in turn, will allow them to support your employees. Share the information and resources with your employees to ensure they have access to these community providers.
Access to childcare
What does someone do if they don’t have access to childcare? Childcare is expensive, and not everyone has the financial means or the family/friend support network to ensure their child is safe while they’re working. With no one to care for their children, they are unable to work.
If it’s financially viable, consider providing childcare. This can be onsite facilities or through partnerships with existing childcare facilities. Make sure the coverage is adequate for the hours you require of your employees (for example, parents who must work night shifts need childcare for those night hours).
And, for those organizations where providing childcare is not financially viable, consider ways to supplement childcare services. For example, offering childcare subsidies to make it more affordable for your employees, partnering with other smaller organizations or organization communities (such as Chambers of Commerce) to pool resources in order to provide childcare coverage, and partnering with non-profits working to provide financially accessible childcare services.
Ability to be present
Children require time. Birth and bonding, health and wellness, those school ‘holidays’ that exist on no calendar but the school calendar, all take time. Ensure your leave policies provide the needed time for all your employees.
Expand parental leave to cover the full range of your employees (including part time employees). Allow employees to use their sick leave to care for dependents and ensure they have enough to do so.
For employees with non-standard hours, such as hourly shifts or rotations, revisit policies to ensure that parents have the flexibility they need to align shifts with the operation hours of childcare facilities.
Access to answers
Understanding options during emotional situations such as an unexpected and/or unwanted pregnancy can be stressful and challenging when everything is stable. Add the confusion of many states scrambling to define, modify, or change their laws, some will find understanding and navigating options daunting.
Provide employees with guidance on what’s available to them. Make the information accessible anonymously and, if possible, provide an anonymous hotline so employees can ask questions.
Start with what you provide, for example reproductive services, prenatal and postnatal health, parental leave, adding dependents, mental health coverage, childcare support, adoption process support, parent resource groups, sick leave to care for dependents, and any other relevant benefits.
Add information about the current state laws and keep it up to date. This can be as simple as links to state websites that outline the relevant laws.
You can also augment this information by providing links to other relevant resources as they align to your organization’s values – such as community parent support groups, adoption agencies, healthcare providers, etc.