How to ask for abortion assistance at work

Companies are offering to cover abortion travel costs. But how do you take them up on it?

A person holds a metal coat hanger, a symbol of the reproductive rights movement, with the words "Ke...
Abortion is Healthcare

As we move at a dizzying pace into this post-Roe era, a lot of folks are trying to ascertain how to access safe reproductive health services. Some employers like Yelp, Patagonia, and Dick’s Sporting Goods have announced that they’ll pay for employees to travel for abortions if they live in states that ban the healthcare procedure. That’s good and important, but how do you even start a conversation so intimate with someone you may barely exchange Slack DMs with?

First of all, it feels crucial to say that the SCOTUS ruling is basically still breaking news. Yes, we were expecting it, but a lot of state trigger laws haven’t gone into effect yet (or have been blocked by courts), and we still don’t actually know all the ins and outs of how exactly abortion bans will impact people across the country. While we do know the right to access a safe, legal abortion is no longer a given, it’s important to remember we’re navigating an issue that’s in flux. That said, if you do want or need your employer’s financial assistance to travel out of state for an abortion, it’s important to go into that conversation prepared. Ahead, experts share how to go about it while making sure your rights — and feelings — are respected.

Stay up-to-date on your state’s abortion laws

One of the scariest things about the reversal of Roe v. Wade is that abortion is already an actual crime in some states, thanks to trigger laws. Before you talk to your employer, familiarize yourself with the most current laws where you live; if you’re in a state that now prosecutes abortion (or will soon), proceed with extreme caution. “This is the problem with state laws like Texas,” Shari Karney, a victim rights attorney in California, tells Mic. “Under a new Texas abortion law, someone who ‘aids or abets’ an abortion can be prosecuted.” As of this writing, a judge temporarily blocked Texas’s trigger law — which is a prime example of how frequently and quickly the legalities in various states are changing, and why it’s crucial to read up on the very latest. If you’re (understandably) confused, consider reaching out to organizations like the ACLU or a local abortion fund for help decoding the law.

That being said, your employer may be an important ally if you need an abortion. “Many companies still consider abortion to be a basic reproductive right,” Mark Sadaka, a trial attorney and public health advocate in New Jersey, tells Mic. In other words, our places of employment may ensure access to the healthcare we need and deserve, even as the government fails us.

Know your company’s written policies on abortion and abortion care

It’s heartening that so many companies have come forward to say they’ll make sure their employees have access to abortion care — but even if your employer is on board, Sadaka says you should still brush up on their specific policies before broaching the topic with your boss.

Your rights within a specific job depend on a combination of federal law, state law, and company policy, so Karney suggests starting with a bit of fact-finding, asking your insurance provider and your company’s HR department the following questions:

  • What does the company or the company's insurance provider cover for abortions, birth control, and emergency contraception?
  • Does the company and/or insurance provider cover health care for people who can get pregnant? If so, to what degree?
  • Will the company offer financial assistance for an employee’s abortion if the company-sponsored insurance provider no longer covers it?
  • Does the company offer time off (paid or unpaid) to travel out of state to obtain an abortion, and will the company report employees violating laws about crossing state lines to obtain a safe abortion where it’s legal?
  • Does the company offer financial assistance to travel out of state for an abortion? If so, what exactly does that entail, and is there a limit?
  • Do employees have a right to privacy regarding medical decisions regarding choice, or abortion? What exactly does it entail?
  • Will the company follow state law and report employees attempting to obtain an abortion in-state, if it’s now illegal?

Keep in mind that you don’t need to disclose why you’re asking any of these questions, or reveal any specific plans. If you determine that your employer is an ally that will maintain your confidentiality, then and only then should you consider discussing your personal health with them. The reality is that having a supportive employer isn’t enough to guarantee that people around the office won’t talk. “There may be employees that work for the company who will say the wrong thing, come off wrong, or just be annoying in the process,” Marhya Kelsch, a psychotherapist in California, tells Mic. “Keep your shares with the company to [the] minimum necessary.” Doing so can help protect you both emotionally and legally.

Practice with someone you trust — and bring them into the conversation

No matter how supportive your workplace is, preparing for and having an abortion can be an emotional experience. And, let’s be honest, going into any kind of conversation with your boss that feels high stakes — whether it’s asking for a raise or abortion assistance — is stressful. As Detroit-based psychotherapist Stefani Goerlich points out, when you’re seeking employer assistance for an abortion, you might not have a say in who exactly you talk to about your most private health information. “Some employers require that you start with your immediate supervisor — who may or may not feel like a safe person to talk to or make a personal disclosure to,” she says.

But even if company policy mandates who you have to speak about the healthcare you need, know that you don’t have to go it alone. To start, Goerlich recommends talking through the conversation and your fears with someone you trust outside of work. “These are overwhelming times, and a lot of scary decisions are being made that we can’t begin to anticipate the ripple effects of,” she says.

You don’t have to leave your support system behind at the trial run, either. “From a psychological perspective, I would recommend taking a support person with you to have the conversations,” Goerlich says, noting that this can also ensure documentation and a witness for HR, should your supervisor respond poorly.

Plan for the emotional after-effects

For some of us, asking for things from people in positions of authority — even when we know we have a right to them — can be really triggering. Prepare to feel emotionally hungover following the discussion, and set up a support system to help you through it. That can be friends, family, therapists, or all of the above — but it’s best to avoid the virtual therapy route. “App-based services have some pretty significant data privacy concerns,” Goerlich says. “This is not a time to discuss your abortion care needs on those platforms.”

That does not apply, however, to credible non-profits dedicated to reproductive rights and abortion care and counseling. If you don’t already have someone to talk to, consider reaching out to an organization like the Reprocare Healthline or the All-Options Talkline.

Even if you don’t personally need an abortion immediately, now is a good time to start organizing like-minded people who are ready to support each other through these difficult times. “This might be a time to bring back the consciousness raising circles of 70s feminism — peer-to-peer group support for folks feeling scared about the state of the world,” Goerlich says. “Nothing says you can’t grab some friends and process all of this together once a week.” Hard agree. We could all use a little extra support right now.