Friday, August 19, 2022
Aug. 19, 2022

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Major Washington employers commit to maintaining abortion access for employees


Many 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 and others committed Friday to covering the 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.

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,” French Gates wrote.

She also said women’s voices must be heard in “all levels of society.”

Microsoft said on Friday it will provide travel expense reimbursement for employees seeking abortions and gender-affirming care anywhere in the country.

“Microsoft will continue to do everything we can under the law to support our employees and their enrolled dependents in accessing critical health care,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email Friday after the Supreme Court’s decision to void constitutional access to abortion.

The company did not say whether it will change its data practices to improve privacy for people seeking abortions, a concern experts expressed when the Supreme Court draft was leaked.

Microsoft can gather and sell users’ data, and experts seem to believe governments where abortion has been criminalized can make use of it to prosecute people seeking abortions.

“That availability, that data, could put people at risk,” U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D.-Wash., said previously.

Starbucks said it will reimburse abortion travel expenses for partners enrolled in its health care plan if a legal provider isn’t in the partner’s state of residence or within 100 miles of their home.

The company also said it will begin providing gender-affirming care for partners. 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,” said Sara Kelly, acting executive vice president, 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 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.

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,” Scheinder’s statement read.

The decision by the court’s conservative majority overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport also said Friday it welcomed anyone traveling to Washington for access to abortion care. “We are here for you and you are safe at SEA,” it wrote.

After a leak last month of the Supreme Court’s expected decision to overturn the ruling, companies including Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks said they would cover or reimburse travel expenses for employees related to medical procedures, including abortion services.

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.

The Port doesn’t control policies directly related to abortions, Hasegawa said. Besides giving workers access to health care, the Port can build inclusive facilities and space for women and families, as well as train, employ and empower women, she said.

She also said the Supreme Court decision is a result of elections.

“I’ll put every ounce of my political capital towards supporting candidates who will adamantly advocate for our rights,” she said on Twitter.

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 said on Twitter. “It’s my privilege by living in Washington.”

Hasegawa has been on the commission since 2021 and is serving a four-year term. She currently has a young daughter.

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