Ever since the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v Wade sending the decision on whether abortion will be legal to each state, several companies have announced that they will assist their employees with travel costs if they need to travel to another state to access an abortion. As of the end of June, some of the companies who have said they will do this are Alaska Airlines, Dick’s Sporting Goods, JPMorgan, Lyft, Apple, Disney, Uber, Starbucks, Airbnb and more. Now, a conservative group in Texas is fighting back.
An internal law firm called Sidney with offices in Houston, Dallas, has joined forces with other employers that would help employees to pay for travel obtain legal abortions if that is what they want to do to obtain a legal abortion. The Texas Senate passed the Heartbeat Act in April of 2021 banning abortions after the detection of in the womb along with other states like Ohio, Louisiana, and Utah. Since then, Texas created a “Watch Dog” enforcement committee to go after Companies ignoring the Texas Heartbeat Act.
The Texas Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Sidney Law firm advising that it was brought to their attention that the Firm has decided to provide travel reimbursement for Texas employees electing to travel across Texas borders. The letter cited that Sidney has been complicit to assist with abortions before and after the supreme court’s ruling of ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392. The caucus threatened criminal charges and disbarment if the law firm fails to adhere to the Heartbeat Act. Texas is also trying to pass legislation that will impose felony criminal charges on self-insured medical plans that violates this law. The Lonestar state is adamant that no Texas woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy. If a Texas woman decides to obtain an abortion, it is best not told to anyone as the Heartbeat allows private citizens to sue anyone who pays for an elective abortion or who pays for or reimburses the costs associated with these abortions—regardless of where the abortion occurs, and regardless of the law in the jurisdiction where the abortion occurs.
On the hand, Employers that are self-insured outside restrictions meaning that they are not regulated by state and therefore, state laws restricting abortion coverage or access do not apply to these plans. However, whether a state criminal law could be used against an employer that pays workers’ travel costs for an out-of-state abortion through a self-funded health plan is an open question.
At this point, employers are trying to figure out ways to implement the reimburse travel or how it works since their pledge. The idea of creating a company is an alternate method to offer this benefit, if a pro-lifer finds out this is occurring, they can file a complaint to launch an investigation. On the side of coin women may not be eager to tap into this fund due to privacy concerns.
The one thing we do know is Texas has the most restrictive laws and companies that establish travel reimbursements will find themselves facing federal criminal charges. It will be interesting to see how many employers will aid and embed women seeking legal abortions in Texas. Remember, the Heartbeat gives private citizens the power to sue offenders, not the government. Be careful what you share with your friends and families.
Texas Law Firm Under Fire © 2022 by Felicia Hobbs is licensed under CC BY 4.0