Two of Canada’s largest insurers have joined the growing number of employers in the United States that are extending health benefits for their employees after a ruling by the U.S Supreme Court that will soon make abortion illegal in some states.
Both Sun Life Financial Inc. SLF-T and Manulife Financial Corp. MFC-T, which have large operations in the United States, are joining a wave of U.S companies – including entertainment giant Condé Nast, JP Morgan Chase JPM-N, Citigroup Inc. C-N, The Walt Disney Co. DIS-N and Goldman Sachs GS-N – announcing they will add new travel benefits to their employee group health plans to cover the cost of out-of-state travel for legal abortions.
Sun Life Financial has about 6,000 U.S. employees. The company will now offer all employees – and their dependants – who are enrolled in its group health plan a “medical travel and lodging reimbursement benefit” for any covered medical treatment or procedure that is not available within 100 miles of their home, the company said on Friday.
“We believe strongly that everyone should have equal access to health care, and we support the right of every employee to receive medical treatment regardless of where they live,” Sun Life spokesperson Rajani Kamath, said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Manulife said on Friday it will cover travel, lodging and other costs for any employee, spouse, or dependant to travel outside of their state, together with a companion, “to secure access to reproductive health care” if the services are not provided in their home state.
“We also understand that access to reproductive health care is a deeply personal matter, and we believe our colleagues should have the opportunity to make the choices they feel are best for themselves and their families,” the company said in a statement.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion and legalized it nationwide. The U.S. court also voted 6-3 to uphold a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The result could now lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.
Four of Canada’s five largest banks, which all have U.S. operations, either declined to comment or did not return requests for comment on their health insurance plans for U.S. employees. Royal Bank of Canada RY-T has about 14,000 U.S. employees, while Toronto Dominion Bank TD-T has 25,000 employees in its U.S. retail arm.
A spokesperson for Royal Bank said it is “committed to supporting the health and well-being” of all employees and is currently “assessing the impact of this decision on the health care options and benefits available to our U.S. colleagues.”
Many companies in the United States were quick to respond to the ruling on Friday because the decision was leaked to the public earlier this year when the U.S. media outlet Politico published a document that showed a potential majority decision by the court.
In early June, JPMorgan Chase notified its employees that it would add travel benefits for any covered service that can only be obtained more than 50 miles from home. Previously, health care travel benefits at the U.S. bank only covered a limited number of services requiring travel, including organ transplants, but as of July 1 will now include “all covered health care services” that can only be obtained far from an employee’s home, including legal abortions.
It’s as-yet unknown whether anti-abortion states will impose outright bans on their residents from seeking abortions out of state, or even whether such laws would be constitutional.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of four justices who sided with Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling, said states don’t have the right to stop women from travelling to other states to obtain an abortion.
“May a state bar a resident of that state from travelling to another state to obtain an abortion?” he wrote. “In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”
However, Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion is not legally binding.
What’s even less clear is whether states can punish employers who pay for that travel.
In December, Missouri state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a Republican, introduced a proposal that would allow citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps a woman obtain one, even if it occurs outside Missouri. The proposal didn’t get a vote but that could still happen there or in other anti-abortion states.
“Companies are looking hard at the scope of their benefits and to what extent there might be some legislation that tries to restrict that,” said Teresa Johnson, partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP in San Francisco. The firm is part of an alliance of more than 20 regional and national law firms that have pledged to provide free legal representation to women seeking abortions and abortion providers.
“Limitations on travel that would penalize people from being able to travel for abortions are just one of the many leading-edge issues that are coming up in the post-Roe world,” she said. “It feels like the list of questions this one decision striking down Roe is going to give rise to is a parade of horribles.”
With Friday’s decision, attention has also turned to the potential economic fallout from the ruling, with many economists arguing abortion access is not just a social issue, but one that could have a lasting impact on the U.S. economy and women’s financial wellbeing.
Last September, 150 economists filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing against the ban and outlining research on the effect of unwanted pregnancies on women’s education, labour force participation and earnings.
Among the research they cited was evidence that young women who obtained a legal abortion and delayed an unplanned start to motherhood by just one year saw an 11-per-cent increase in their wages later in their careers.
Likewise, research has also shown that access to abortion for young women who experienced an unintended pregnancy boosted the likelihood they would finish college by nearly 20 percentage points.
“We know from our research and other studies that reducing abortion access is going to create a lot of economic and financial hardships for women,” said Sarah Miller, an assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and one of the economists to sign the amicus.
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