When Texas lawmakers introduced a bill with restrictive voting rights this year, American Airlines and Dell Technologies, two of the state’s largest employers, were early and outspoken critics of the effort.
But this week, when a law banning most abortions after about six weeks went into effect in Texas, both companies declined to comment on the measure.
American Airlines and Dell were representative of business in general. While many companies take positions on voting rights, climate change, immigration and other important issues, few companies are willing to comment on the abortion law.
Abortion is one of the country’s most politically and emotionally charged issues, and as many as 40 percent of the American public support banning or severely restricting it, according to the Pew Research Center. Opposition to abortion often crosses demographic groups, and most executives would be reluctant to take a public stance that would likely anger or alienate a large group of customers and employees, no matter what they said.
“No one will willingly walk through this door,” said Sandra Sucher, a professor of management at Harvard Business School. “If I’m a political analysis company, it’s just a matter of who I’m going to piss off.”
Two dozen major companies contacted by NewsMadura on Friday did not respond or declined to comment. Among those who declined to say anything was McDonald’s, a sponsor of International Women’s Day; PwC, a strong supporter of diversity and inclusion efforts; and Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, which led a corporate response last year against a restrictive voting law in Georgia, where they are headquartered.
Many of Texas’ largest employers, including AT&T, Oracle, McKesson and Phillips 66, declined to comment. Even companies that are quick to speak out on social issues, such as Patagonia and Levi’s, said nothing about the new law. And Catalyst, a nonprofit that partners with major corporations to “build women’s workplaces,” declined to comment.
“When all these companies participating in things like International Women’s Day don’t speak out about reproductive health care, it shows that they care about the bottom line, not what women need and want,” said Lindsey Taylor Wood, CEO of The Helm, a venture capital firm that finances female founders.
But Elizabeth Graham, a vice president of Texas Right to Life, a group that supports the law, said it would be good for business in the state, claiming the majority of people there are “conservative and pro-life.” is.
“Many of our supporters are small and medium business owners,” she said. “They’re very supportive of it.”
Before the law, known as Senate Bill 8, went into effect Wednesday, some legal experts had argued it would face legal challenges that would delay enforcement or eventually abolish it. The law allows citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or performs such an “AIDS and abets” procedure, a broad definition that can include a driver for a taxi company who takes a woman to a health clinic.
But the Supreme Court refused Wednesday night to block the law, which rules out abortion as an option before most women even know they are pregnant in the second most populous state, while its legal challenge continues in court.
“Businesses were caught off guard,” said Jen Stark, a director of the Tara Health Foundation, which has organized businesses to support reproductive issues. “Usually the courts have intervened.”
In recent days, companies have been hesitating to decide what to say about the new law.
Abortion is an issue closely related to religious beliefs, an area where companies are extremely cautious.
“Keeping religion out of the door is one of the ways companies are trying to create a safe space for everyone,” said Professor Sucher. “This marches straight into the realm of religious views.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who defended the law, has said it will not harm the state economically, including his long-standing efforts to get companies to relocate there from more expensive and more liberal parts of the country such as California and New York. He argued that some employers would be drawn to the state because of its conservative laws, citing Elon Musk, who leads Tesla and SpaceX, as one such executive.
“This is not slowing down the companies coming to the state of Texas at all,” Mr Abbott, a Republican, told CNBC on Thursday:. “In fact, it speeds up the process of companies coming to Texas.”
But while most executives have kept their mouth shut, a few have spoken out.
Bumble, the dating app company founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd and based in Austin, said it donated money to organizations that helped women in Texas seek abortions.
“Bumble was founded and run by women, and from day one we have stood up for the most vulnerable,” the company said in an Instagram post. “We will continue to fight against regressive laws like #SB8.”
Match Group, another dating company based in Dallas, has also set up a fund for employees covered by the law, and Shar Dubey, its chief executive, sent a memo to employees expressing her disappointment with the new law.
Understand Texas Abortion Law
On Friday, some technology companies in Silicon Valley also started speaking out.
Lyft CEO Logan Green said the company would pay the legal fees of all drivers faced with lawsuits under the law. “TX SB8 threatens to penalize drivers for getting people where they need to go – especially women exercising their right to choose,” he said. wrote on Twitter.
Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, said on Twitter that his company also cover the legal costs of the drivers.
And Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief executive of Yelp, released a statement. “The effective abortion ban in Texas not only violates women’s right to reproductive health care, but also endangers their health and safety,” he said. “We are deeply concerned about the impact of this law on our employees in the state.”
A few executives tried to find a middle ground, cheering democracy and opposing discrimination, while remaining silent about Texas law.
Mr. Musk, who said he moved to Texas and invested heavily in the state through Tesla and SpaceX, was one of them. “In general, I believe that government should rarely impose its will on the people and, when it does, strive to maximize their cumulative happiness.” he wrote on Twitter in response to Mr Abbott’s comments. “That said, I’d rather stay out of politics.”
Houston-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise declined to comment on the ban, but said the company “encourages our team members to participate in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and in the voting booth.”
A company spokesperson added that the medical plan allowed employees to seek out-of-state abortions and would pay for lodging for such a trip.
As of Friday afternoon, at least two burgeoning efforts to stage a broader corporate response against the law were underway. It was unclear what would come of the talks, as many companies involved in the discussions were wary of getting involved in the debate.
“No one wants to be first,” said Ms. Stark, the director of the Tara Health Foundation.
Even before the law was passed in Texas, companies were cautious about tackling abortion rights.
A 2019 effort, Don’t Ban Equality, called on companies to provide broad access to reproductive health, including abortion. But it attracted only a handful of large employers.
On Friday, many of the companies that had joined that effort, including Bloomberg, Glossier, Slack and Postmates, did not respond to requests for comment on the new Texas law.
And two years ago, when Georgia lawmakers announced a restrictive abortion law, movie companies that invested heavily in the state remained largely on the sidelines of the debate over the measure, even as some actors spoke out.