Walmart expands abortion coverage for employees

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, is expanding its abortion coverage for employees after staying largely mum on the issue following the Supreme Court ruling that scrapped a nationwide right to abortion.

In a memo sent to employees on Friday, the company said its health care plans will now cover abortion for employees “when there is a health risk to the mother, rape or incest, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or lack of fetal viability.”

Previously, the company’s benefits plan had covered abortion only in cases “when the health of the mother would be in danger if the fetus were carried to term, the fetus could not survive the birthing process, or death would be imminent after birth,” according to a copy of the policy viewed by The Associated Press but not confirmed by Walmart.

Donna Morris, the retailer’s chief people officer, said in the memo to staff that the new policy will also offer “travel support” for workers seeking abortions covered under its health care plans — as well as their dependents — so they can access services that are not available within 100 miles of their locations.

Walmart employs nearly 1.6 million people in the U.S. In Arkansas, where the company is based, abortion is banned under all circumstances unless the procedure is needed to protect the life of the mother in a medical emergency. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. That means under the revised policy, Walmart employees can travel out of the state — or any other state that bans abortion for rape and incest — to obtain the procedure through the retailer’s health plans.

Several companies — including Meta, American Express and Bank of America — have said they will cover travel costs for their employees in the aftermath of the high court ruling that tossed out Roe v. Wade, including elective abortions. But a Walmart spokesperson did not immediately reply for a request for comment on whether any of the company’s revised policy will cover elective abortions as well.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s simply not far enough for a company that employs that many women,” said Bianca Agustin, director of corporate accountability program for United for Respect, a group that advocates for Walmart workers. She said the organization will be incorporating “safe abortions” for employees in their list of demands pressing the company for better pay and benefits.

Meanwhile, many other corporations, and organizations that represent some of the nation’s most powerful companies, have continued to stay quiet on the issue.

The careful expansion of Walmart’s abortion policy shows it is attempting to balance different pressures and opinions from employees, investors and other stakeholders, said Vanessa Burbano, a professor at Columbia University’s business school who researchers how companies take social stances.

“It’s much trickier than a lot of people initially think it is,” Burbano said. “It’s not like all of their stakeholders are of the same opinion on any of these issues, which is what makes it so challenging. They’re trying to figure out how to thread that needle.”

In the memo sent Friday, the company said it will also launch a center that provides fertility services to employees, such as in vitro fertilization. Additionally, it vowed to add surrogacy support and increase its financial aid for adoptions from $5,000 to $20,000. In June, Walmart said it would expand its offering of doulas — or people who assist women during pregnancies — to address racial disparities in maternal care.

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