A reader wrote to me last weekend asking why tech companies shouldn't speak out about the Texas abortion law.
What does American Airlines have with abortion? asked the reader. He suggested that American Airlines cannot possibly serve both pro-abortion as well as anti-abortion supporters and that asking them for a position on an issue that is not related to their business would only lead to America's politicization.
This is a common view and the U.S. Department of Justice's decision to challenge the law yesterday, which U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland called clearly unconstitutional, could only reinforce it. It is clear that if anyone should be fighting back against the events in the Lone Star State it should not be companies but other legislators.
There are many reasons for technology companies, particularly Tesla, to get out of the shadows.
While it is a known fact that employers pay more for abortions than they do for their employees, the Texas law could have a devastating effect on tech companies' ability to hire. A study done by Rhia Ventures found that 60% of women would feel discouraged from working in a state that restricts abortion access. The same holds true for a small majority of men.
Texas' abortion law creates an extra-judicial enforcement mechanism which should alarm tech companies. Private citizens can sue abortion providers and anyone who unwittingly assists a woman to have an abortion. This law applies regardless of whether there is a connection or not. A plaintiff can win a significant financial award. Each defendant must pay $10,000 and the plaintiff's attorney fees.
Imagine if this precedent was applied to a topic that affects technology companies such as consumer privacy. Seth Chandler, a University of Houston Law Center law professor, said this to ABC this week. The SB 8 recipe isn't limited to abortion. It can be used to grant any constitutional rights people don't like.
It is possible for tech companies to say that ignoring the Texas abortion debate in Texas would be like jumping on a livewire. This viewpoint is easy to understand. Pew Research says that 6 out 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. However, there are passionate arguments on both sides.
Corporations have always stood firm on controversial issues and shown that corporate pressure can work. A group of 70 corporations including Apple, Cisco and American Airlines joined an effort to block North Carolina's law banning transgender people from using public restrooms that are compatible with their gender identity. They argued the law condoned discrimination and would hinder their ability to hire diverse workers. The ban was repealed in 2017, after facing severe economic consequences.
A few CEOs from Lyft and Uber, Yelp and Bumble, have taken out strong positions against the Texas law. In a Slack message, Salesforce informed employees that they will relocate for anyone who is concerned about their ability to access reproductive health care.
Tesla, a company similar to Google, could have a greater impact on state politics. Elon Musk's arrival in Texas sparked a lot of interest in Texas' tech scene. Texas Governor Greg Abbott was so aware of Musks influence, he stated that Musk had supported his state's social policies just days after the new law was passed.
Musk, whose financial interests include Texas' Starbase city and becoming a local electricity provider, has refused to comment on the law. He answered the question, "In general, I believe that government should not impose its will on the people. But, when it does, we should strive to maximize our collective happiness."
He stated that he would rather stay out of politics.
This could be a mistake, as at least seven states' lawmakers and executives, including South Dakota and Florida, said they are closing the review of Texas' new law and looking into similar legislations.
Nearly 200 CEOs signed a full-page New York Times advertisement declaring that abortion bans were bad for business in May 2019. This included Twitter's Jack Dorsey, and Bloomberg's Peter Grauer. The ad stated that restricting access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, is detrimental to the health, independence, and economic stability our customers and employees.
Musk should be standing up for Texas, even if he believes that government should never impose its will on the people.
He has much to gain and little to lose by doing this.