Tech Companies Wade Into Abortion Politics in Texas

In 2021, corporations are expected to take a stand on even the most divisive issues.

First came the statements from reproductive organizations. Then came the tech companies.

The day after the US Supreme Court decided not to block a law in Texas banning most abortions after six weeks, Dallas-based Match Group, which owns Tinder, OkCupid, and Hinge, sent a memo to its employees. “The company generally does not take political stands unless it is relevant to our business,” CEO Shar Dubey wrote. “But in this instance, I personally, as a woman in Texas, could not keep silent.” The company set up a fund to cover travel expenses for employees seeking care outside of Texas. Bumble, headquartered in Austin, set up a similar fund.

Senate Bill 8, which took effect last week, enables private citizens to sue anyone “aiding and abetting” an abortion, including providers, counselors, or even rideshare drivers providing transportation to a clinic. Uber and Lyft, which are based in California, said they would cover legal costs for drivers implicated by the law. “This law is incompatible with people’s basic rights to privacy, our community guidelines, the spirit of rideshare, and our values as a company,” Lyft wrote in a statement to drivers. The company also said it would donate $1 million to Planned Parenthood.

“We are deeply concerned about how this law will impact our employees in the state,” wrote Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp, which has some employees in Texas. Stoppelman had previously signed a 2019 open letter calling abortion bans “bad for business,” along with the CEOs of Twitter, Slack, Postmates, and Zoom.

Such overtures have become more common in recent years, particularly among prominent technology companies. Businesses in 2021 are required to have a point of view, it seems, and have used their platforms to advocate for policies on immigration, gay rights, and climate change. Last summer, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, nearly every major tech company put out a statement denouncing racism and vowing to support anti-racist work. “To be silent is to be complicit,” the official Netflix account tweeted. (Speaking out has not shielded companies from criticism of their own records, particularly on diversity and inclusion.)

One could say that corporate opinions have become the norm, at least among a certain kind of company. Companies that have remained silent on SB 8—including a number of major Texas-based employers—have been criticized for not taking a stand. Hewlett-Packard, which moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Houston last year, encouraged employees “to engage in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and at the voting booth.” Abortion rights have become one of the most divisive issues in the United States: Six in 10 Americans say it should be legal in all or most cases, according to a recent Pew survey; nearly 4 in 10 believe the opposite.

Few major companies have come out with full-throated praise of the Texas law, which is among the most restrictive in the country. (On Thursday, the Justice Department sued Texas to stop it.) When the head of Georgia-based video game company Tripwire Interactive tweeted in support of the Supreme Court’s decision, he was criticized by thousands online, including some of his own employees. He soon stepped down from his role; the company issued a statement apologizing and committing to fostering “a more positive environment.”

For a tech company, a strong stance on social issues can be an extension of its brand, and even a recruiting tool. One LinkedIn survey, from 2018, found that the majority of people would take a pay cut to work somewhere that aligned with their values.

Pushing certain values as a priori can backfire. Conservative employees at Google have complained that the company is an “ideological echo chamber.” Some companies have tried to ban political conversations altogether, to avoid internal division on polarizing issues. In October, the CEO of Coinbase instituted a policy of “political neutrality” at work. Basecamp, which makes project management software, created a similar policy this spring. “Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy,” CEO Jason Fried wrote in a blog post. “These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It’s a major distraction.” About one-third of Basecamp’s employees left the company after its ban on political conversations.

Tech employees have taken a mixed view of such policies. This summer, the Information surveyed 1,500 technologists based in Silicon Valley and found that 54 percent wouldn’t work at a company that banned political speech at work—but the other 46 percent didn’t have a problem with it. “It used to be that tech in particular was pretty liberal, and so a ban on expressing liberal views would almost be like a curtailment of freedom of speech, and people would be outraged,” Martha Josephson, a recruiter, told the Information. “Today, people I talk to are sort of relieved to have politics be a no-no, and that’s because things have become so divisive.”

This division is at least partly responsible for some technologists leaving Silicon Valley, which they see as too politically homogeneous for their liking. Elon Musk, who moved to Texas last year for its laxer regulations, has become a poster boy of this movement. Texas governor Greg Abbott has even held Musk up as an example of why Texas is poised to gain more tech talent. “They are leaving the very liberal state of California,” he said on CNBC. “Elon had to get out of California because of the social policies in California. Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas.” Musk responded on Twitter: “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness,” he wrote. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”

Updated 9/9/2021, 4:49 pm EDT: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Yelp has an office in Dallas.

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