Texas’ new abortion law has touched off a wave of criticism, including from President Joe Biden, scathing dissents from the U.S. Supreme Court’s liberal wing and protests outside the Texas statehouse — but so far the reaction from most of corporate America has been muted, if anything.
More than a year ago, George Floyd’s murder sparked widespread company denunciations against police brutality and an outpouring of money earmarked to address racial inequity.
Months ago, Georgia’s new voting laws prompted corporate criticism, even the relocation of baseball’s All-Star Game. In 2016, companies lined up to take a stance against the North Carolina law requiring people to use the public restroom matching their gender at birth.
Some big name companies have weighed in abortion laws recently. In 2019, Netflix
both said they’d have to rethink filming and doing business in Georgia if a certain abortion law went into effect. Like the Texas law, the Georgia statute prohibited abortions following a “detectable human heart beat.”
Last year, a federal judge struck down the law. Netflix and Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Texas law.
Now comes enactment of S.B. 8, a law that bans abortions in Texas at roughly the six-week mark and empowers private citizens to sue providers and people who “aid and abet” an abortion. That could even include anyone driving a woman to a clinic.
Some critics of the law say they’re still waiting to hear what companies think of S.B.8 — which also happens to be taking effect in a large, business-friendly and low-tax state.
“Corporate America hasn’t really responded. They’ve been silent,” said Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow, an Austin-based advocacy group pressing to expand abortion access in the state.
To be sure, a handful of companies have made it clear where they stand.
CEO Logan Green announced Friday that the rideshare platform would completely cover the legal bill of drivers who are sued under the law. The company also announced a $1 million donation to Planned Parenthood. “We encourage other companies to join us,” he said on Twitter
Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, said in a tweet that Uber is “in too and will cover legal fees in the same way. Thanks for the push.”
The dating site Bumble, based in Austin, Texas, announced Thursday it was setting up a relief fund “supporting the reproductive rights of women and people across the gender spectrum who seek abortions in Texas.”
On Wednesday night, Shar Dubey, the CEO of Match Group
in Dallas sent a company memo saying she was setting up a fund to cover costs for out-of-state abortion. She noted she was speaking personally, and not on behalf of the company.
They’ve been the exceptions.
which moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Austin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Dell Technologies, which is based in Round Rock, and other large companies with Texas headquarters including Exxon Mobil
had no comment, according to a spokeswoman.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise
announced late last year it was moving to Houston. “As a global company of 60,000 team members, HPE encourages our team members to engage in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and at the voting booth,” a spokesman told MarketWatch, noting the company’s headquarters remain in Houston.
For Arrambide, the overall silence goes deeper than companies avoiding hot button issues. “There’s still so much stigma, that they don’t want to talk about it. They shy away from it under the guise of it being too political,” Arrambide said.
For Jen Stark, however, the relative quiet might be a sign of companies thinking about strategy. “The silence so far doesn’t necessarily give me pause. Folks are in consideration,” said Stark, who is the senior director, corporate strategy at Tara Health Foundation and the former director of corporate relations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Stark said she is talking with large, publicly-traded companies right now that are figuring out what to say and what to do in reaction to the new Texas law. “It’s a really unique moment,” Stark said. “I think they are scrambling to catch up.”
That brings up a larger question: Should companies weigh in on matters that might fall outside their immediate business goals and corporate mission, even if workers have a growing expectation they’ll speak up? One recent survey of 3,000 employees by the consulting firm Gartner found that 75% “expect their employer to take a stance on current societal or cultural issues, even if those issues have nothing to do with their employer.”
James Copland, senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, doesn’t think so. Companies need to have the ability to speak out on laws and regulations that affect them and they have every right to join trade groups and associations to further their interests — and the interests of their shareholders.
That’s where it should stop, he said.
“In general, corporations aren’t playthings for chief executives to play politics with shareholder money. … I think they shouldn’t be at the forefront of cultural wars,” Copland said. For the biggest of companies, “I think most executives and boards will want to stay out of this one.”
Stark noted that companies may be moved to speak against restrictive abortion laws when the matter is couched as a workforce issue.
Two-thirds of people say the new Texas law would discourage them from working in the Lone Star State, according to an approximate 1,800-person poll commissioned by the Tara Health Foundation.
But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t sound worried.
“The people who are not wringing their hands are the people who create jobs that run businesses,” he said during a CNBC interview on Thursday. Abbott noted the financial incentives to come to Texas, such as the absence of a state income tax.
Indeed, Texas’ population has been swelling. As a result of the 2020 Census count, Texas is bringing in two extra Congressional seats. The state has 29.1 million people and an almost 16% population growth rate over the past 10 years, Census data shows.
For Arrambide, the widely-watched stage would add extra force to company responses. “If businesses actually take a stand, that would be so powerful,” she said.