The US’s largest private employer, Walmart, is expanding its abortion coverage for employees after staying largely mum on the issue following the supreme court ruling that in June scrapped a nationwide right to abortion.
In a memo sent to employees Friday, the retail giant said its healthcare plans will cover abortion for employees “when there is a health risk to the mother, rape or incest, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or lack of fetal viability”. The plans will be “effective immediately”, the memo added.
The company’s benefits plan had previously covered abortion only in cases “when the health of the mother would be in danger if the fetus were carried to term, the fetus could not survive the birthing process, or death would be imminent after birth”, according to a copy of the policy viewed by the Associated Press but not confirmed by Walmart.
Walmart’s chief people officer, Donna Morris, said in the memo to staff that the new policy will also offer “travel support” for workers seeking abortions covered under its healthcare plans – as well as their dependents – so they can access services that are not available within 100 miles of their locations.
“Given how recent events are resulting in state-by-state healthcare environments, we will expand our travel coverage,” the memo said.
Walmart employs nearly 1.6 million people in the US. The company is headquartered in Arkansas, where abortion is banned under all circumstances unless the procedure is needed to protect the life of the mother in a medical emergency. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
That means under the revised policy, Walmart employees can travel out of the state – or any other state that bans abortion for rape and incest – to obtain the procedure through the retailer’s health plans.
According to the memo, which CNN also reviewed, Morris said that Walmart decided to make the changes after “listening to our associates about what’s important to them”, adding that “we strive to provide quality, competitive and accessible health coverage that supports you and your families”.
The company said it will also launch a center that provides employees fertility services, including in vitro fertilization. Additionally, it vowed to add surrogacy support and increase its financial aid for adoptions from $5,000 to $20,000. In June, Walmart said it would expand its offering of doulas – or people who assist women during pregnancies – to address racial disparities in maternal care.
Some other large companies – including Meta, American Express and Bank of America – have said they will cover travel costs for their employees in the aftermath of the high court ruling that tossed out the federal abortion rights established by the landmark decision in the 1973 case titled Roe v Wade, including elective abortions. But a Walmart spokesperson did not immediately reply for a request for comment on whether any of the company’s revised policy will cover elective abortions as well.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s simply not far enough for a company that employs that many women,” said Bianca Agustin, director of the corporate accountability program for United for Respect, a group that advocates for Walmart workers. She said the organization will be incorporating “safe abortions” for employees in their list of demands pressing the company for better pay and benefits.