What Citi's abortion policy means for companies as Supreme Court considers tighter restrictions

Citigroup quietly expanded employees' health coverage in January to include paying for travel to obtain an abortion, a decision other large employers are likely to face as states impose new restrictions. 

Illustrating the sensitivity of the issue, Citi did not proactively tell workers of the benefit change. Instead, the bank disclosed it on Page 20 of a 152-page investor proxy filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing said, “in response to changes in reproductive healthcare laws in certain states in the U.S., beginning in 2022 we provide travel benefits to facilitate access to adequate resources.” 

Citi is the first major bank and one of a handful of corporations known to cover the expenses associated with getting an abortion since Texas instituted one of the nation's most restrictive abortion limitations last year. The law makes it illegal for Texans to have an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.

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Last year Texas enacted a law that bans people from getting an abortion after six weeks into a pregnancy. More states could follow suit pending a key Supreme Court decision on abortions.

Citi’s policy change covers all U.S. employees under the company insurance plan, from executives to bank tellers, including more than 10,000 workers based in Texas.

Citi's health insurance plans already covered abortion procedures and travel required for other medical procedures, such as organ transplants. The expansion of that policy to cover abortion-related travel wasn't included in a pamphlet outlining changes for the 2022 health insurance elections. 

The single sentence in the March 15 SEC filing is the only public record of the policy change.

That’s likely not an accident, abortion policy experts told USA TODAY.  

Citi’s approach “is a reflection of the challenges employers are going to have across the country if one by one states are banning abortions,” said Leila Abolfazli, director of reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center, referring to a pending Supreme Court decision that could uproot abortion access. 

Underscoring that, Citi faced prompt blowback from Texas politicians once it made the SEC disclosure.

Citi takes a stance on abortions

But it's not the company’s responsibility to tell workers if abortion-related costs are covered by their health insurance, though that is the case with every other area Citi's health insurance covers, said a source familiar with the situation, who insisted on anonymity because she was not allowed to use her own name in describing the policy.

“I don't think it's unreasonable to think would you maybe ask or question 'Oh, could this also be covered as a benefit?’” the person added, referring to health insurance coverage for abortions.

But even asking an insurer, which must comply with confidentiality laws, might feel “personally risky” in a state with a law like Texas,’ which rewards private citizens for reporting someone who does anything to help a person get an abortion, said Jen Stark, an executive at the Tara Health Foundation, a philanthropic organization aimed at improving health outcomes for women.  

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Citi is the first major bank to cover pay for travel expenses employees encounter to get a safe abortion outside of states like Texas where restrictive laws are in place.

If companies with a presence in states that restrict abortion access don’t offer financial assistance to workers seeking one, they’ll likely have a hard time attracting and retaining women, she said. At the same time, “the ire of lawmakers is something that companies need to mind.” 

“The ‘travel benefits’ offered by Citigroup is nothing more than a PR stunt by a ‘woke’ company to support a culture of death,” George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner running for the Republican nomination for attorney general, told Bloomberg. “Texas is a pro-life state, and if elected attorney general, I will hold actors who attempt to find loopholes in our laws accountable.”

And Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain said he would introduce a bill to ban local governments from doing business with any company paying for abortion or related expenses as part of their coverage, the New York Times reported.

That is among the reasons Citi may have chosen to make its policy changes discretely. 

Nevertheless, including it in the SEC filing was significant because it means Citi is acknowledging abortion access is a workforce issue, Stark said. “Not shining a spotlight on the change is fairly standard for a lot of large companies.” 

Shelley Alpern, director at Rhia Ventures, a private equity firm that focuses on reproductive health, applauded Citi for including the change in its proxy statement. (Rhia Ventures receives funding from Tara Health.)

“We’ll be asking companies in the future to do the same thing,” Alpern said, because it targets a key investment community. “But companies can't do that alone because it's not where the average employee goes to look. If there are any policy changes it should be communicated before the annual enrollment period.” 

Supreme Court is set to rule on Mississippi abortion case

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on abortions past 15 weeks. If the court greenlights the ban or overturns Roe v. Wade, more than half of the U.S. states are planning to ban abortion in some form, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and policy organization.

If that happens, employers “can’t hide around it because it’s going to affect so much of their workforce,” Abolfazli of the National Women's Law Center said.  

But “most of the companies we talked to say we'll deal with that if and when it happens,” Alpern told USA TODAY.

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After Texas’ ban took effect, some companies whose headquarters are in the state or have a large part of their workforce based there took an initial stance. 

For instance, Apple instituted a policy similar to Citi’s, and Salesforce offered to help employees move out of Texas. Match Group’s CEO Shar Dubey started a fund administered by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles to cover all Texas-based employee expenses associated with traveling to LA to get an abortion. 

Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd announced in September that the company created a relief fund to support Texas-based organizations that facilitate abortions. Bumble told USA TODAY it also directly covers the costs of getting an abortion outside of Texas for employees.  

Charles Schwab and Oracle, which relocated their headquarters from California to Texas last year, have remained silent on the issue. It’s unclear if they provide any financial assistance to employees seeking an abortion. Neither company responded to USA TODAY’s request for comment. 

Citi’s actions “could really herald a sea change,” said Alpern. “I certainly expect that their top competitors and industry peers will try to match that policy.”