On Wednesday, Yelp announced it would cover the costs of out-of-state travel for abortion care for employees and their spouses. The company’s pledge goes beyond that of Citigroup’s last month, which also covers costs for employees affected by Texas’ near-total abortion ban: Yelp will extend its benefit to employees in other states that might be affected by “current or future action that restricts access to covered reproductive health care,” a company representative told the New York Times. This is certainly nice, as dozens of state legislatures seem to be introducing and passing abortion bans on any given day.
As mutations of Texas’ ban spread across the country, companies like Citigroup and now Yelp stepping up might seem like it’s better than nothing: If abortion bans from the government are inevitable, of course our corporate overlords taking action is a good thing, isn’t it?
But abortion bans aren’t inevitable. They’re enacted by anti-abortion legislators, who are elected because certain corporations funnel truly jarring amounts of money to their campaigns. Yelp and Citigroup are notably among these corporations (!!!). Also implicated are Uber and Lyft, which have so graciously offered to cover the legal fees of any drivers who are caught in the web of laws they helped fund and sued for driving someone to an abortion appointment.
Texas’ ban, SB8, took effect last September, and prohibits abortion after six weeks, which is before most people even realize they’re pregnant. The law has prevailed over numerous legal challenges because it’s enforced not by the state, but the threat of wildly expensive civil lawsuits against anyone who provides or helps someone obtain an abortion—including your Lyft or Uber driver—as well as citizen surveillance.
I am, in general, very skeptical of corporate philanthropy—many of the crises and large-scale societal problems that corporations claim to be alleviating with their donations are actually caused by their own greed. This situation is no different: Together, according to the government transparency group Open Secrets, Yelp, Citigroup, Uber, and Lyft have recently donated in the hundreds of thousands to politicians and groups including former President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee, the RNC, and Republican US Senators, including Mike Lee and Ben Sasse. Senate Republicans, you’ll note, recently stopped a federal budget that provided Medicaid coverage of abortion care, reinstating the Hyde Amendment, which forces one in four low-income pregnant people to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
These are the people directly responsible for the current policy landscape that’s seen hundreds of abortion restrictions passed in the last decade alone, reducing pregnant people to state-controlled ovens and increasingly transforming their bodies into crime scenes. And their rhetoric on abortion—framing it as murder, dehumanizing pregnant people for cheap political points—is putting people in immediate physical danger.
To be fair, Yelp, Citi, Uber and Lyft have donated to Democratic politicians and groups as well; but publicly claiming to support abortion rights while bank-rolling the lawmakers leading the charge to end legal abortion in America is about as disingenuous as it gets.
Abortion rights are wildly popular in this country, not to mention the fact that one in four women and pregnant-capable people have sought the extremely common health procedure. Almost certainly, many Yelp, Citigroup, Uber, and Lyft employees are where they are in their careers today because they were able to access abortion care that empowered them to plan their lives and futures. Of course these companies want to publicly present as champions for reproductive freedom—but it’s hard not to notice that their political expenditures tell a different story.
Ultimately, the hypocrisy of the spectacle isn’t even the only problem here. No one should have to tell their boss they’re having an abortion in order to access care. And because not everyone who seeks an abortion is employed by a wealthy tech company and has paid time off, relying on privatized “solutions” to abortion access could just further divide who can and can’t afford one.
The terrifying reality is that abortion rights are hanging by a thread in the US—they have been for a long time, and in a number of states, including Texas, they’re all but gone. We all have a part to play in helping people access the essential, life-affirming abortion care they need. As individuals, that means donating to local abortion funds, volunteering at abortion clinics, and listening to the organizers on the ground who have been doing this work for years.
As for corporations and employers, they could start by ceasing to donate to the architects of these bans. Instead of creating processes that essentially require employees to tell their bosses they need an abortion, and leave out everyone who isn’t employed by them, companies could also simply donate to abortion funds. And they could pay their workers—for example, underpaid and mistreated Uber and Lyft drivers—a living wage to afford abortion care.
Abortion access in the US is an all-hands-on-deck situation right now. Of course employers should be taking action! But let’s be clear: They also shouldn’t be donating to the Republican National Committee, for fuck’s sake.