Several major Washington employers responded to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out constitutional protections for abortion with renewed pledges to pay the way for employees who must travel to access reproductive health care.
Microsoft, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, Zillow and others committed Friday to covering travel costs of employees living in places where abortion services aren’t available. Amazon and T-Mobile previously pledged to do the same if federal protections for abortion access fell.
Kaiser Permanente Washington and Providence Health & Services said they will not make changes to their current benefits, while Boeing did not comment.
Many large employers that took action are implementing abortion-related benefits, said Denise Diskin, the executive director of LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group Qlaw Foundation of Washington. Diskin said she was heartened to see businesses, especially those with a national workforce, showing awareness of how this could affect their workers and proactively addressing it.
“Employers that are realistic about the fact that they have human beings carrying out their mission and earning their profits, that really sets a tone,” she said.
Microsoft said on Friday it will provide travel expense reimbursement for employees seeking abortions and gender-affirming care anywhere in the country.
Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates took to Twitter to decry the high court’s decision as a “big step backward.”
“A government in which women have never had an equal voice reached deep into the most private corners of a woman’s life to tell her the choice over what she does with her body is no longer her own,” wrote French Gates, who was previously married to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
She also said women’s voices must be heard in “all levels of society.”
Seattle-based Zillow will reimburse employees up to $7,500 each time travel is necessary for access to health care, according to a company statement Friday. The company’s health benefits cover reproductive health care services, including abortion, whether “patient-elected or medically necessary, or both,” Zillow said.
Starbucks said it will reimburse abortion travel expenses for employees enrolled in its health plan if a legal provider isn’t in a worker’s state of residence or within 100 miles of their home. Similar to Microsoft, Starbucks said it will begin providing gender-affirming care for transgender employees. But it did not say when because “there are more procedures to consider as part of this benefit.”
“Even though we have prepared for this scenario, personally and as a company, I know this decision leaves many of you disheartened or in shock,” Sara Kelly, acting executive vice president, said in a statement Friday.
On June 15, Starbucks also said all partners who are enrolled in the health care plan would have access to the benefits, including those who are in the process of unionizing. But it added that it could not “make promises of guarantees about any benefits” for unionized stores.
“What we can say for sure, is that Starbucks will always bargain in good faith,” Kelly said previously.
The National Labor Relations Board is processing 212 unfair labor practice cases against Starbucks and there is one open charge against Starbucks Workers United, the labor union involved in most of the organizing efforts, the NLRB said.
Washington state’s umbrella labor organization, the Washington State Labor Council, described the high court decision as a blow to workers’ rights. Abortion rights are connected to bodily autonomy, and it’s a decision that impacts wages, benefits and working conditions, the council said in a statement endorsed by Larry Brown, the council president, and council Secretary-Treasurer April Sims.
Alaska Airlines said Friday it would continue to reimburse “travel for certain medical procedures and treatments” if they are not available where employees live.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision does not change that,” Andy Schneider, senior vice president of people for Alaska, wrote in a statement.
“Just as we always have, our company will continue to provide employees with extensive benefits to support their health and well-being, no matter where they live,” Schneider continued.
Two of the region’s largest health care providers, Kaiser Permanente Washington and Providence Health & Services, said they will not change worker benefits, such as added abortion travel coverage.
Kaiser Permanente Washington provides abortion services among its portfolio of women’s health services. Employees also have access to these services in Washington. A Kaiser Permanente Washington spokeswoman would not confirm if staffers would have access to these services in states where abortion is no longer legal.
Providence, a Catholic health care organization, does not provide nonemergency pregnancy termination, but its affiliated Swedish Medical Center provides abortion services.
“The Providence family of organizations will continue to comply with all laws applicable to employer-sponsored health plans and no changes to our plans are anticipated in response to the Supreme Court’s decision,” Providence said in a statement.
UW Medicine said Friday that it is working with the Attorney General’s Office to understand to what extent it can provide abortion services to people visiting Washington. However, UW Medicine said it will continue to teach reproductive health care to students.
It also said its Family Medicine Residency Network, which includes residents in Idaho and Wyoming through universities based in those states, might be implicated. Idaho has an anti-abortion law that will take effect in 30 days. Wyoming has a similar law that went into effect immediately.
Four percent of abortion services happen at a hospital setting, according to Providence. But the court’s decision may have a chilling effect on abortion providers even in states where abortion won’t be criminalized, such as Washington, Diskin said.
“Even if the law hasn’t changed in Washington, the temperature changes,” Diskin said. Health care providers “are more subject to harassment.”
Port of Seattle Commissioner Toshiko Hasegawa said Friday on Twitter that she will work to ensure Port workers have access to health care following the high court’s decision.
Hasegawa said she had abortions when she was younger and unprepared to raise a child, and when she was older but in an abusive relationship.
“Unfortunately, it’s no longer my fundamental right to have a choice,” Hasegawa, who is serving a four-year term, said on Twitter. “It’s my privilege by living in Washington.”
Already, Washington joined forces with California and Oregon to issue a multistate commitment to defend access to reproductive health care, including abortions and contraceptives. Expecting an influx on out-of-state abortion patients, King County is hoping to secure $1 million to bolster abortion care in the state.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport said Friday it would welcome those traveling to Washington for access to safe abortion care. “We are here for you and you are safe at SEA,” it wrote.