Cosmetics retailer Ulta Beauty says it will pay for employees seeking abortions to travel to states where the procedure remains legal after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade struck down the federal right to terminate pregnancies.
Bolingbrook-based Ulta joins U.S. corporate giants including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., CVS Health, Walt Disney Co. and Microsoft, in adding new employee benefits to meet the realities of a post-Roe world where states now can make it illegal for workers to get abortions without traveling out of state.
Ulta, which has 40,000 employees at 1,300 stores in all 50 states, told Crain’s Friday that it will provide travel expense assistance for abortions to employees living where the procedure is restricted.
“We are committed to providing equitable access to quality healthcare options, and to ensuring those enrolled in our medical plan can access covered health care,” Spokeswoman Eileen Ziesemer said in an email.
Other Chicago companies were more vague on their positions when questioned by Crain’s.
United Airlines told employees Friday that its medical plans will continue to cover the cost of reproductive care, including abortions. As for travel costs for workers in states that ban abortion, United spokeswoman Leslie Scott pointed out that employees can fly on United flights for free.
Drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance, with 9,000 outlets across the country, wouldn’t say if it would add travel benefits or otherwise adjust its employee benefit plans in response to the Roe decision.
“As always, we are committed to best supporting the health and wellbeing of our patients and customers,” the company said in a statement. “We’re prepared to adhere to new federal and state laws and regulations, and will update any protocols in certain states as a result of this Supreme Court decision.”
Other local companies with operations in states expected to ban or severely restrict abortion include Caterpillar, Northern Trust and Motorola Solutions. They didn’t respond to requests for comment on Friday.
In much the same manner that the reversal of Roe will create disparities in access to abortion, it isn’t clear that all employers will follow in the footsteps of the larger companies pledging expanded benefits.
When asked by the consultancy Gartner in late May what new policies they might adopt if Roe was overturned, 60% of human-resources executives said they wouldn’t add anything. Fewer than 10% said they’d pay for some or all of employees’ travel costs to get to an abortion, or provide paid time off for procedures.
Support for employee abortion travel has prompted threats from conservative states against some of the companies, particularly Citigroup, one of the largest U.S. banks. A Texas lawmaker said the bank could face criminal charges under that state’s abortion law, and Republican members of Congress called for the cancellation of U.S. government contracts with Citigroup, which provides the credit cards to members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Legal experts say helping employees travel for abortions could expose companies to liability in states that have explicitly criminalized not only abortions but also helping women get the procedure. That includes assistance in traveling to another state for an abortion. Dan Cotter, a Chicago attorney for Howard & Howard, said there’s not safeguards for companies to protect themselves against this kind of liability.
“They need to think about whether there are state regulations or statutes that will potentially expose them to criminal liability for participating or aiding,” Cotter says. “One thing to do is be very discreet about it.”
On the other hand, companies that opt to minimize legal exposure risk losing employees to competitors willing to cover the additional costs of traveling for an abortion. For example, Walgreens archrival CVS Health is making out-of-state medical care including abortion accessible for their employees.
Similarly, Northern Trust, which has five offices in Texas, competes with JPMorgan and Citigroup in banking and wealth management.
The abortion debate is only the latest political and social issue companies are being forced to confront. Many took public stances on same-sex marriage as well as the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Based on the Supreme Court’s opinion published today, it seems other issues like contraceptives and gay marriage could also be up for debate in the coming months or years.
“This is not going to be the last issue like this that’s going to be decided by the court,” Cotter says. “Employers are going to have to think through these issue by issue.”
Bloomberg contributed to this report.