With the overturning of Roe v Wade, America has woken to a new reality, as the legal implications of this decision are sorted and fought through State by State, and the personal impact of a legal decision is lived out in the lives of women, particularly women of colour and minority groups.
The legal situation in Australia regarding abortion is different than in America. Here abortion is protected under State and Territory jurisdiction and is now covered under healthcare legislation in all States apart from Western Australia, where the criminal code still regulates it .
The moral arguments for and against Roe v Wade will continue to be argued and fought over. It is tempting for businesses to tiptoe around the matter or vacate the arena altogether. It is easy to hide behind the mantra that women's reproductive rights are not the arena of business.
However, before, as businesses, we rush to the exit doors, it would do us well to pause and think about our response because I believe there are several potential impacts for businesses.
There are several potential impacts arising from this decision that businesses must consider and be thinking through. I want to consider three of them:
In a previous article on marketing to Gen Z's, the following point was made:
"…their information gathering skills have made Gen Zers eco-conscious and aware of human- kind's impact on the environment. Many have also been involved in fast-paced political discussions on social media. They want to make a difference in the world around them, and they bring this desire into the workplace. More than other generations, they want the organisations they work for to take a stand on social and environmental issues. Organisations can no longer hide behind a mantra of "making a profit". For example, Gen Zers expect organisations to have strong diversity, equity and inclusion practices reflected in a diverse workforce. Organisations still struggling to implement constructive and environmental policies will lose out in engaging with Gen Zers."
It is one thing for businesses to support environmental change. The scientific proof of climate change continues to increase and grow, and there is no longer any argument about companies needing to contribute to a healthy, sustainable environment.
The reproductive rights of women is a much more emotive topic and is much closer to businesses, particularly when many women are employees.
Consumers both for and against abortion, will be looking to support or block businesses they perceive as taking a different position from the one they believe to be true.
DATA, PRIVACY, AND THE LAW
This will potentially become a contested area for many businesses that collect data. What is their responsibility when they collect data from women who may search for abortion online? In the 50s' women often found out about women who assisted with abortions via word of mouth. There was no collection of data from search engines.
I suspect the area of data will be one that will be legally contested as companies try to protect the privacy and confidentiality of clients. While there may be a legal response to how businesses have to respond, there is also an ethical responsibility that companies have to take. This ethical responsibility can go both ways depending on what a person believes; the life of an unborn child or the ethical responsibility to the woman whose life may be in danger.
Ethical areas are, by nature, often complex and never straightforward. It is often balancing two competing decisions and choosing the one with the least detrimental consequences. Of course, the ultimate irony of Roe v Wade is that while this decision may protect the lives of unborn children, the lives of innocent living children and adults can be taken because of America's gun laws.
The area of data collection, privacy and the intersection of data collection and the law have become, I suspect, potentially more complex as a consequence of Roe v Wade. There is likely to be a flow-on in the insurance market as companies seek to mitigate potential claims against them for breach of privacy.
One of the consequences of COVID is the increased awareness of employers' need to provide support and assistance for their employees' mental well-being. There is a greater awareness that safety in the workplace is not just about physical safety but also about providing psychological safety for employees. The need for psychological safety is essential for people of minority groups who can be excluded by the structures of the workplace and hence feel a lack of safety.
Companies need to be aware and continually assess how they provide psychologically safe workplaces and meet the well-being needs of their employees. As mentioned above, companies that have international arms need to think through how they will provide for their employees' well-being, particularly when a woman's choice has been removed by legislation.
What is the business's responsibility to support their well-being, and how can this be done effectively and respectfully?
While Australia may not have a Roe v Wade, it is conceivable that at some stage in the future, an attempt may be made to reverse same-sex marriage legislation. If Australia were to face such a situation, then businesses would be faced with the question of how to support the well-being of LGBTIQ+ people whose right to marry has been removed by legislation.
Roe v Wade has changed the lives of many Americans. It will impact many businesses, and given the international nature of many companies, there will be a flow-on effect. We must consider whether there are potential implications for our companies and how we demonstrate our social responsibility as businesses in such a changing landscape.