In 2015, as multiple states enacted laws permitting discrimination against gays and lesbians, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to The Washington Post to decry the trend. “Discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” he proclaimed. Salesforce canceled its events in Indiana after the state passed its religious freedom law.
Since then, tech companies have denounced anti-LGBTQ legislation, pledged support to Black Lives Matter, and called out restrictions on voting rights. But as states move to restrict abortion and the Supreme Court considers overturning Roe v. Wade, Apple and other big tech companies have been noticeably quieter. The contrast is most pointed in Texas, which in September implemented a law effectively banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, just as tech firms were flocking to the state.
It’s not entirely clear why companies that spoke out on other issues have been silent on abortion. Abortion is a deeply moral issue for many, but so are LGBTQ rights. Until recently, though, the constitutional right to an abortion has seemed safe. Companies have been slow to acknowledge the threat to Roe, and employees, an important source of pressure on LGBTQ issues, are only just beginning to mobilize around the issue in significant numbers.
“It wasn't an overnight phenomenon that corporations began to speak out about LGBTQ equality,” says Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet. “That was years and years of organizing at the shareholder level, at the consumer level, and among employees.”
Anthony Johndrow, who advises businesses, including tech firms, on their social issue positioning, says companies were “caught flat footed” by the threats to abortion rights. Many hoped the courts would resolve the issue so they wouldn’t have to weigh in. “Now they're kind of scrambling.”
As some advocates worry that Saturday’s 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade will be its last, pressure is building on companies to help protect abortion rights, both from advocacy groups and workers themselves.
Tech companies decamping from Silicon Valley for the less regulated, lightly taxed pastures of Texas are confronting a political climate out of step with much of their progressive-leaning workforce. Between January 2018 and June 2021, at least 113 California companies relocated to Texas, according to Stanford researchers, including Oracle and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with the pace accelerating in 2021; Tesla joined the exodus last fall. Apple plans to open a $1 billion campus in Austin this year, and just last week, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said it would lease half of Austin’s tallest building. During the same period, Texas has passed laws restricting reproductive care, voting, and transgender rights, and Governor Greg Abbott has blocked Covid-19 vaccine and mask mandates. Employee resistance has been muted while they’ve been allowed to work remotely, but that could change if Covid wanes.
Some companies have spoken out and taken action. In 2019, after several states passed laws restricting abortion access, more than 180 CEOs signed an open letter titled “Don’t Ban Equality.” Published in a full-page New York Times ad, it called anti-reproductive-freedom laws bad for business, harming companies’ diversity and inclusivity initiatives and their ability to recruit top talent. A second letter titled “Don’t Ban Equality in Texas” signed by more than 80 companies—including Netflix and Yelp—ran last fall on the heels of the Texas law. The online dating company Bumble signed the letter and also set up a fund for women seeking abortion care outside of Texas. So did Lyft, which pledged to pay drivers’ legal fees if they were sued for transporting passengers to abortion clinics.