While there are currently no rules prohibiting abortion travel, companies may have to navigate a complex patchwork of state laws when supporting employees seeking to exercise their reproductive rights.
Peden Doma Bhutia
A large number of large U.S. companies have said they will cover travel expenses for employees who have to leave their home states to have abortions, legal experts said, but these new guidelines could lead to lawsuits from companies, and even that could include you one subject to potential criminal liability.
Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Lyft Inc., Microsoft Corp. and JP Morgan Chase & Co. were among companies that changed their health insurance plans in anticipation of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overturning the Roe v. Wade is canceled from 1973. announced plans to provide these services, which would legalize abortion across the country.
Within an hour of the decision being issued, Condé Nast chief executive Roger Lynch sent a memo announcing a travel reimbursement policy for employees, calling the court’s decision “a crushing blow to reproductive rights.” The Walt Disney Company unveiled a similar policy on Friday, telling employees it recognizes the impact of the abortion decision but is committed to providing broader access to quality health care, a spokesman said.
Companies including health insurers Cigna Corp., PayPal Holdings Inc., Alaska Airlines Inc. and Dix Sporting Goods Inc. also announced reimbursement policies on Friday.
Abortion restrictions already in place in 13 states went into effect as a result of Friday’s decision, and at least a dozen other Republican-led states are expected to ban abortion.
The court’s decision, inspired by its Conservative majority, upheld Mississippi’s statute banning abortions after 15 weeks. Meanwhile, some Democratic-led states are scrambling to improve access to abortion.
Companies have to navigate this patchwork of state laws and are likely to be drawn to anti-abortion groups and Republican-run states if they implement policies to support workers who have abortions.
Texas state lawmakers have already threatened Citigroup Inc. and Lyft, which previously announced travel refund policies with legal repercussions. In a letter to Lyft CEO Logan Green last month, a group of Republican lawmakers said Texas would “act swiftly and decisively” if the ride-hailing company implemented the policy.
Lawmakers also outlined a number of abortion-related proposals, including a bill that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay state residents to have abortions elsewhere.
According to University of Illinois law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson, it’s only a matter of time before companies face lawsuits from states or anti-abortion activists who claim abortion-related payments facilitate or assist abortions. and violate government abortion restrictions. and specialist lawyer for health law.
“If you can sue me as an individual for taking your daughter across state lines, you can sue Amazon to pay for it,” Wilson said.
Amazon, Citigroup, Lyft, Conde Nast, and several other companies that announced refund policies did not respond to requests for comment.
For many large companies that fund their own health plans, the federal law regulating employee benefits would provide significant coverage in civil claims over their reimbursement policies, several attorneys and other legal experts said.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) prevents states from passing requirements that “refer” to employer-sponsored health plans. Courts have for decades interpreted the language that bypasses state laws that dictate what health plans can and cannot cover.
ERISA regulates benefit plans funded directly by employers, called self-insurance plans. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of 2021, 64 percent of American workers with employer-sponsored health insurance were covered by self-insurance plans.
According to Katy Johnson, senior health policy advocate at the American Benefits Council, a trade group, any company suing over the need for abortion travel reimbursement will cite ERISA as a defense. And that would be a strong argument, she said, especially for companies with general reimbursement policies for essential medical trips, not companies that perform abortions.
Johnson said reimbursements for other types of medical-related travel, such as visits to hospitals called “centres of excellence,” are already common, although abortion-related policies are still relatively rare.
“While this may sound new, it’s not in the usual sense and the law already tells us how to deal with it,” Johnson said.
Logic has its limits. Fully insured health plans, where employers purchase coverage through a commercial insurer, cover about one-third of workers with insurance and are governed by state law, not ERISA.
Most small and medium-sized American businesses have fully insured plans and cannot argue that ERISA prevents states from capping abortion insurance.
And ERISA cannot prevent states from enforcing criminal laws, as in many states that make it a crime to support and promote abortion, allowing employers who implement reimbursement policies to be prosecuted by state and local prosecutors. are sensitive.
But since most criminal abortion laws have not been enforced in the decades since Roe’s decision, it’s unclear whether officials will seek to prosecute the companies, according to Chicago-based attorney Danita Merlau, who handles performance issues. Advises companies.
(Reporting by Daniel Weisner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Grant McCool)
This article was written by Reuters’ Danielle Weisner and is legally licensed through the Industry Dive Materials Marketplace. Please direct any licensing questions to [email protected],