Texas-based American Airlines and Dell Technologies, which earlier this year criticized Republican-led attempts to restrict voting access in Texas and other states, have remained silent since the state implemented the abortion ban this week, following the Supreme Court’s decision not to block it.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines also declined to comment, as did Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, which moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to the Lone Star State last year. “This is not a topic that we can comment on,” said Tim Paynter, spokesman for defense contractor BAE Systems, which is expanding operations in Texas.
Many other corporations with large Texas workforces — including Amazon, Apple, Google, Kimberly Clark and AT&T — did not respond to inquiries from The Washington Post.
The silence from a large swath of corporate America reflects a deep uncertainty about whether and how to enter the debate over abortion, a topic that divides the nation on questions of religion, access to health care and women’s rights. Until this week, most companies had been able to avoid the issue. But the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to permit Texas to ban abortions after about six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant — may change that calculation, analysts said.
“Companies have been allowed to be indifferent on this topic. They’ve coasted by,” said Shelley Alpern, who advises institutional investors on questions of reproductive health for Rhia Ventures. “So this development in Texas is a rude shock.”
The unusual nature of the Texas law presents special challenges. Instead of providing for government enforcement, it invites private citizens to enforce the ban by filing a $10,000 lawsuit against anyone suspected of helping women obtain the procedure — a provision that could put ride-share drivers and other intermediaries in the law’s crosshairs.
The prospect of cash bounties will make the abortion ban impossible for companies to ignore, said Anthony Johndrow, a corporate reputation adviser based in New York.
“It’s easy to predict you’re going to have boycotts, you’re going to have women refusing to work for companies [in Texas] — that’s how society works right now,” Johndrow said. “The math that allowed companies to avoid this issue in the past is going to change.”
On Friday, Uber and Lyft said they would cover legal fees for drivers sued under the law. Meanwhile, the Web hosting provider GoDaddy told Texas Right to Life to find a different provider for prolifewhistleblower.com, a site that invites supporters of the law to report people who continue to help women obtain abortions.
“Last night we informed prolifewhistleblower.com they have violated GoDaddy’s terms of service and have 24 hours to move to a different provider,” the company said in a statement.
A few other companies have also taken action. The online dating sites Match and Bumble, the latter of which is based in Austin, have set up funds to help employees who may be impacted by the ban.
For companies, the stakes are high in Texas, which would have the world’s ninth-largest economy if it were a country, as measured by gross domestic product. Nearly 13 million workers live there. Companies love the state’s low taxes and business-friendly regulations. And Texas has pushed in recent years to attract more high-skilled workers, along with corporate headquarters, from traditional tech hotbeds such as Silicon Valley.
The corporate silence on abortion recalls the doubts many companies had years ago about publicly supporting rights for LGBTQ workers, Alpern said. As pressure from LGBTQ employee resource groups forced them to take a stand, some companies feared a public backlash. Instead, she said, they found wide acceptance of more tolerant views.
Whether corporations will follow a similar journey on abortion is hard to say. Johndrow noted that tech firms, in particular, already are under pressure to increase workforce diversity, especially the number of female workers. California-based tech companies Tesla and Oracle have both said they plan to move headquarters to Texas, raising questions about whether the new abortion law will hinder those plans.
“If you’re trying to address that [hire more women] and you’re moving your company to Texas, you’ve got a real problem,” Johndrow said.
Tesla and Oracle did not respond to questions about the abortion law.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has defended the new law, claiming in a CNBC interview this week that his state’s conservative social policies are no hindrance to economic development. “People vote with their feet and this is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas,” he said.
Some previous abortion restrictions have drawn corporate protests. In 2019, when Georgia passed its own restrictive abortion ban, Hollywood companies like Netflix said they would have doubts about working in the state if the law took effect. Disney chief executive Bob Iger said he would understand if actors refused to work in Georgia because of the ban, which was blocked by a federal judge.
Netflix and Disney did not respond to requests for comment on the Texas law.
That same year, more than 150 leaders of mostly small companies — including Warby Parker, Bloomberg, Slack Technologies and Postmates — signed an open letter supporting abortion rights as part of a “Don’t Ban Equality” campaign organized by abortion rights groups.
Jen Stark, who helped organize the 2019 campaign and is now a senior director for corporate strategy at the Tara Health Foundation, said the waves of “no comments” from companies this week “is potentially a positive sign” that companies are taking time to think about how to respond to an issue that is important to female workers.
“The conversation about abortion — from one of being rights-based to one of economics and workforce well-being — is a shift happening right now as we speak,” Stark said.
Some analysts noted that companies also were slow to respond when states began to restrict voting access earlier this year. That changed after Georgia passed a law curtailing the use of voting drop boxes and imposing new ID requirements for voting by mail.
Opponents said the changes would lead to longer lines and more problems, especially for minority voters. That prompted two Black corporate leaders — Kenneth Chenault, former head of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, then-chief executive of Merck — to help launch a campaign to get big companies to object to restrictive voting bills.
The push came on the heels of widespread Black Lives Matter protests last summer, which led many of America’s largest firms to pledge to confront systemic racism — albeit with mixed results.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale University’s School of Management who has helped organize CEO discussions on issues like voting rights, said companies are responsive to stakeholders. But because abortion has not gotten the same attention as other issues, companies may be unsure about how to react to the Texas ban.
“They need to know where their stakeholders are” on the issue, Sonnenfeld said. Corporate leaders “don’t feel they have the authority to speak to every issue — but they do need to be responsive to their constituent groups.”
One potential sign of internal struggles over the Texas ban comes from Facebook. The social media giant’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, quickly took to Instagram this week to denounce the law, writing that it “will hurt women. It will hurt families. And it will not end abortion — it will end safe abortion. We cannot go back to the days when women suffered and died because abortion was illegal and dangerous.”
But when asked to comment on the Texas law, Facebook officials did not respond.