Can companies cover the travel costs of workers wishing to have an abortion?

The United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and ending federal abortion protections has propelled companies on the issue of reproductive freedom, with some employers across the country saying they will cover expenses when workers travel for abortions.

The topic has taken on increased importance for Illinois, whose role as a haven for legal abortion care in the Midwest is likely to be scaled up because other neighboring states have, or should, prohibit or significantly limit access to abortion. Termination of pregnancy is enshrined in Illinois state law as a “fundamental right.”

But for workers in about half of the states expected to restrict or ban abortion, two law professors said plans to cover travel costs to undergo the procedure could face headwinds.

Executives at Bolingbrook-based Ulta Beauty said the company would provide travel assistance for “eligible reproductive health services where access to care is restricted,” including legal abortions. The coverage went into effect on Friday, the same day as the Supreme Court’s decision, according to a statement from the company.

“As always, we encourage our teams and guests to learn more and take action on the issues important to them by making their voices heard and their votes count,” company executives said in a statement.

Banking giant JPMorgan Chase will also cover travel to benefit from legal abortions, according to a company memo sent on June 1. JPMorgan has long covered abortion under a health insurance plan and also covers travel for certain health care services. In July, travel coverage is expected to extend to all healthcare services that can only be obtained away from home, including, for some, legal abortion.

Spokespersons for Ulta Beauty and JPMorgan Chase declined to specify how many employees might be eligible for the policies because they live in states that restrict abortions.

Other companies that have said they will cover employee travel costs include The Walt Disney Co., parent company of Facebook Meta, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. Companies like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated after Friday’s decision earlier statements taking similar action. On Friday, outdoor apparel maker Patagonia announced on LinkedIn that it would provide “training and bail for those peacefully protesting for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

Chicago-based United Airlines said in a memo to employees that its benefits policies had not changed as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. The company’s medical plans cover reproductive health care. In an email to the Tribune, spokeswoman Christine Salamone said employees can fly United for free.

Chicago-based McDonald’s did not respond to a question from Tribune on Monday about its policies. The Associated Press reported that the company also did not respond to a request from the news agency on Friday, nor did dozens of other major companies.

Even as companies announce policies in response to the ruling, World Business Chicago, the city’s economic development agency, has already seized state abortion rights protections, mailing letters Monday to some 300 Fortune 500 companies located in states that have or should limit access to abortion, and offering to “highlight how Chicago remains a welcoming city for all.”

“Residents of these states — including those who work in your business — may suffer as a result of this (overturning Roe v. Wade) ruling,” the agency wrote in the letters, signed by Vice Mayor Lori Lightfoot. -President Mellody Hobson and CEO. Michael Fassnacht. “Families and individuals can now be punished for private healthcare decisions. Not to mention that many lives will be turned upside down as people are disenfranchised for 50 years.

Meanwhile, companies that cover travel for out-of-state abortions could face roadblocks or confusion. One concern is whether a company that pays travel expenses could be sued for violating a state ban on aiding and abetting an abortion. There could also be tax implications for employees, said Robin Wilson, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Law.

She congratulated Governor JB Pritzker for call a special legislative sessionsaying it was necessary to sort out these and other issues.

“There are these kinds of downstream issues,” she said. “That’s what I would call a bramble of trouble.”

States could also pass other laws targeting companies that pay for travel to get abortions, said Sonia Green, an associate law professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But overall, companies that pay for travel are likely to have protections, she said. Enforcing some of the laws that states might enact would be difficult, and many types of insurance plans are subject to federal law that limits states’ ability to regulate insurance. About 65% of workers get their insurance through plans subject to the Employees Retirement Income Security Act, she said.

“I think the landscape is such that employers could and should provide these benefits and protections, because the potential consequences are, I think, perhaps more theoretical than real,” she said.

Even for companies that pay for travel, questions remain about whether employees will take advantage of the policy, Green said. Some women may be reluctant to discuss abortion care with their human resources department.

Ultimately, she said, laws targeting companies that offer travel payments could drive companies out of states or make it harder for them to recruit talented employees, especially women, who don’t. do not want to work in a state with a “hostile environment”.

“Are states going to risk this? she asked. “Will they risk damaging their savings?”

The Associated Press contributed

sfreishtat@chicagotribune.com

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

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