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Mostly Serious adds new policy after abortion ruling

Other local organizations largely mum following overturn of Roe v. Wade

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Last edited 10:18 p.m., July 28, 2022

In the weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, there’s been some public response from U.S. companies on related health care policy changes. However, the local response has been largely silent – save for one Springfield company.

Mostly Serious LLC, a 12-year-old website design and digital marketing firm, added a reproductive medical care leave and travel expense policy June 30 to its employee health care coverage.

CEO Jarad Johnson publicly announced the policy in mid-July on LinkedIn. It provides paid-time off for any reproductive medical care that is not available in the state in which the employee lives. Additionally, the company will reimburse up to $1,500 in travel expenses incurred by the employee, who is not required to provide specifics of the medical care.

The same day the Supreme Court’s decision was released, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt issued an opinion to execute Missouri’s trigger ban on nearly all abortions. Gov. Mike Parson soon followed with a proclamation that declared the law was now in effect. Under the state’s trigger ban passed in 2019, abortions are now only permitted in cases of a medical emergency.

Health care providers who violate the law can be guilty of a class B felony, which can result in five to 15 years in prison, and have their medical license suspended or revoked. People who receive an abortion cannot be prosecuted in violation of the law.

“Nothing in the text, history or tradition of the United States Constitution gave unelected federal judges authority to regulate abortion,” Parson said in a news release announcing the state’s ban.

Johnson, who was on vacation when the Supreme Court ruling was announced, said after the action was taken by state leaders, he felt compelled to craft a new company policy.

“It just became clear we had to do something to make sure that people can continue getting access to reproductive care,” Johnson said. “My stance on this is it’s each individual’s decision. As a business, because we offer health care, it is our responsibility to ensure people have access to health care that they need.”

He said Mostly Serious employs 13, including five women, and has offered fully paid health care to its employees since 2017.

“I met with our team and looked at the financial considerations for what the company could afford to provide the benefit – we’re obviously not Amazon or Apple, and we can’t match what they’re doing,” he said, noting Amazon is paying its workers up to $4,000 in travel expenses for abortions and other non-life-threatening medical procedures. “But we wanted to offer as much as we could. We landed on the $1,500 for travel expenses and unlimited time off.”

Among national companies with a Springfield presence that have announced company health care policy changes are JPMorgan Chase and Starbucks. Abortion is now included in JPMorgan’s health care travel benefit that covers services that can only be obtained far from home. Starbucks will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to get abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren’t available within 100 miles of a worker’s home, according to officials.

Legal considerations
Johnson said he did not consult with an attorney about legal exposure Mostly Serious might face by enacting the policy, adding he doesn’t believe the company is at risk. [Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated Johnson consulted with a Spencer Fane LLP attorney.]

Since the Supreme Court ruling, companies are questioning what they legally can do regarding reproductive health care policies, said Karen Shannon, vice president of business consulting at Ollis/Akers/Arney. She said the insurance and business advisory firm has received nearly two dozen inquiries from undisclosed clients of all sizes. She started getting calls the day the ruling came down.

“They’re trying to still look at all options,” she said. “That’s what everyone is struggling with. What can we lawfully do?”

Shannon said her firm is yet to provide any guidance for its clients on the topic.

“We’re continuing to look at what those options will be,” she said, noting she plans to listen to a webinar next month presented by Spencer Fane in the hopes it will better educate her on the issue. “The important thing is that we give the proper guidance to know our immediate next steps.”

The webinar will discuss, in part, plan design choices for self-funded group health plans, potential liability for employers under state laws and tax consequences of offering travel benefits for abortion-related services.

Several local attorneys were contacted by Springfield Business Journal for their legal opinion on company liability risks on the issue. However, all either declined to comment or were unavailable by press time.

Among Missouri border states, abortion is legal in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. However, in June, the Iowa Supreme Court overruled an earlier court ruling that recognized a right to abortion under the state constitution. Nebraska lawmakers are looking at a possible future ban, and Kansas voters in August will decide whether to amend the state constitution, which currently recognizes a right to abortion, according to media reports.  

Sensitive issue
The potential impact Missouri’s abortion ban will have on business attraction and retention and economic development is another unknown.

Local chamber of commerce officials from Springfield, Branson, Nixa and Republic declined to be interviewed for the story, while Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Dan Mehan didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Officials with two Springfield-based companies that have a national presence, O’Reilly Automotive (Nasdaq: ORLY) and Bass Pro Shops, also did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The silence on women’s reproductive rights from many local, state and national employers isn’t a surprise based on a new survey from New York City-based nonprofit research group The Conference Board Inc. The study found that only 10% of companies are responding publicly to the recent Supreme Court decision.

However, a majority – 51% – either have addressed, or plan to address, women’s reproductive rights internally, according to the survey.

Since Mostly Serious announced its new policy, Johnson said the response he’s received has been overwhelmingly positive.

“This is a very sensitive topic, and we were aware of that when we made the decision,” he said. “But we have a long history of doing what we think is right for our people and allowing them to make their own decisions on what that means.”

While Johnson said he’s had several people from undisclosed companies privately say they hope their employer makes a similar policy decision, the lone response from a company looking to do so came via LinkedIn from Markus Pope, chief scientist at Springfield software development company Code Scientists. Pope expressed interest in adding the same policy to his company’s benefits, but noted the business currently employs no females.

“We didn’t make the decision to encourage other companies,” Johnson said. “But we did want to make the statement publicly, so maybe a company that is struggling with the outward acceptance of what a decision like this might look like can have faith that other companies are doing things in response. Maybe it provides inspiration to other businesses that can make this decision and do what is right for their employees.”

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