While the broader implications of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade are just emerging, one thing is clear: the issue of abortion rights and how to support employees is one that founders will have to grapple with.
With more than 70% of startup employees being under the age of 40, safe access to abortions remains paramount for the health, wellbeing and financial security of staff. And given that the US is the international expansion destination of choice for many fast-growing European startups, founders need to have an answer to this issue for their US team members.
That individual states now have the legal right to restrict or ban abortion access means that European founders with teams in the US must be aware of new legal ramifications that may ensue from helping someone get an abortion. Currently, there is no clear understanding of what this may look like, especially as interstate travel remains a constitutional right. Nonetheless, it’s expected to become stricter over the next few months and founders must be prepared.
Founders need to make decisions that ensure employees are supported and provided with practical help, while navigating the new legal changes that will have a direct effect on their livelihoods. And remember that abortion care is not exclusive to cisgender women.
So what can European founders do to support their employees?
Help staff understand the legal framework within their country or state
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, European founders with teams in the US will need to stay up to date with the newest legislation being passed by each state. Different charities and news outlets have updates about state laws in the absence of Roe. It's vital to ensure that your employees are aware of the legal frameworks around their rights, as it may affect the decision of where and how they seek abortion care.
It’s not just in the US that you can support your employees. The European Parliament declared abortion to be a human right last year and most European countries allow for abortion on broad grounds in the first trimester. But since 2021 there has been a near total ban on abortion in Poland. And there are also more informal barriers that can also make access to abortions more difficult in Europe. Those include:
- Waiting periods — the time between when an individual first says that they want an abortion and when they are given the procedure. Waiting periods are put in place to ensure that an abortion is not made as a hasty decision. For example, the waiting period in Belgium is six days.
- A doctor’s right to decide — be it on moral or religious grounds, in some countries, it’s up to the doctor to decide whether they will perform an abortion. In Italy for example, more than 70% of gynaecologists refuse to terminate pregnancies.
Help them locate a doctor, a clinic or external support groups
Providing your employees with a list of locations for them to access safe abortions can go a long way (see here for Europe and here for the US). If you want to go the extra mile, finding charities and NGOs that have support groups are also extremely helpful. You can find a list of European NGOs here, many of which provide talks and workshops for companies.
Provide time off
Your employee might need to have multiple visits to a doctor or a clinic to ensure that the procedure has been safely done. They might also be located in a country with mandatory waiting periods. Making sure that you have a set policy in place for them to take time off will make the process easier.
Provide mental health support
Research has shown that abortion in itself does not cause mental health issues but logistical barriers to accessing abortion care can aggravate symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. More and more commonly within startups today, mental health support and the ability to talk to a professional psychologist have become important differentiators to attract and retain talent.
There are a growing number of mental health startups in Europe and full mental health support should be considered to help employees through abortions.
Help cover costs
Following the suite of large American corporations that have pledged to compensate employees travelling to access care, European startups should consider what their stance will be if asked. If you’re a young startup that can’t necessarily afford to cover the costs associated with an abortion, make your employees are aware of abortion funds that can help support financial and logistical needs.
Make sure that abortions remain confidential
Deciding to have an abortion is a personal choice. A third of women who have an abortion keep it a secret, even from their closest friends and family. More worryingly, women are also more likely to seek out unsafe abortions if they believe that the procedure will be confidential.
Bearing in mind the importance of anonymity when employees are looking for support, it’s paramount that they don't have to express that they want an abortion publicly to access any of the benefits and resources that your company provides.
Anonymous communication lines come in use in this case. At the very least you need to put in place clear procedures to ensure that their request remains private between their HR or people manager. This should also include accountability towards your company if their trust is breached.
To do so, first ensure that all employees, at all times, can access any resources about abortion care without having to ask or login anywhere. If you will be providing cost cover, you can put abortion coverage under "reproductive care" so that there is no need to openly state the exact reason for reimbursements.
Be supportive and inclusive when communicating
No, we’re not just talking about making a post on LinkedIn. If you’re a startup with an international workforce it’s likely that you’ll have varying opinions about abortion rights among your workforce. But it’s a conversation that you can’t shy away from. If your belief is that your employees should have the right to choose, make that clear internally.