Companies must 'step up' on abortion rights, Planned Parenthood CEO says

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in a 5-4 vote on June 24 set off a cascade of trigger laws banning abortion in many states — and individuals and corporations alike have been rushing to assist people affected by those laws. Social media users have been offering to house people who may need to travel for an abortion, while companies from Uber to Amazon have updated employee benefits to include covering travel expenses for abortion care.

But Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tells MAKERS that this workaround cannot become the norm — and that employers need to do more.

"That cannot be a permanent future state," McGill Johnson says of traveling for abortion care. "We cannot normalize needing to get out of state to get the care that you are able to get right now. And companies and culture play a really big role in setting that and demanding something different."

McGill Johnson made the remarks during a virtual MAKERS Community Conversation on July 21. Moderated by MAKERS advisory board member Melinda King, who serves as director of diversity, equity and inclusion at 23andMe, the conversation explored some of the ways employers can help employees navigate reproductive care in a post-Roe world. While helping offset travel expenses for abortions may help in the short term, McGill Johnson says it's just one of many actions companies need to be taking for women's reproductive rights.

"This is about equality. This is about freedom. This is about equity. This is about all the values that companies have said that they are aligned with, and now is the time to really live them," McGill Johnson says.

President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson (center) marches at the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, 2022. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson (center) marches at the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, 2022. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Calls for more corporate action on social issues have grown louder in recent years, with many workplaces amping up their involvement in causes that matter most to their workers. King points out that as social unrest rocked America following the death of George Floyd in police custody in 2020, many companies were awakened to the need for more engagement in social responsibility, pledging time and resources in the fight for racial equity.

"Companies figured out you can't expect employees to separate their personal and professional life when things are happening in their community. We want you to take a stand," King says.

Now McGill Johnson says that means companies need to stand up to anti-abortion groups too — even when business interests may be involved.

"I think it's really important for companies to step up," McGill Johnson said. "I think it's important for them to lock arms so that when the opposition asks them to stop providing support, or suggests that helping anybody travel out of state is going to be something that they're going to fight, that they lock arms and say, 'You know what? We may be doing business in your state, but we're not going to let any state hold a resident hostage. We're not going to let anybody be trapped.'"

But McGill Johnson says employer responsibility doesn't end there. The Planned Parenthood president says part of being a leader in tough times involves inspiring hope and resiliency in your team too.

"My job is to be a hope-dealer," McGill Johnson says. "I got to be out making sure everybody feels the hope, right? Because we can't let what's before us overwhelm us. We got to actually take a deep breath, process it, but also get up every day and keep fighting. And it is a long fight."

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