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Dick’s, Duolingo join major national companies in covering abortion-related travel costs for employees

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The U.S. Supreme Court's holding that overruled Roe v. Wade Friday, June 24, touched off a wave of protests across the country, including in downtown Pittsburgh. Dozens of U.S. companies have objected to the justices' decision, siding with a majority of Americans who believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

At least two locally based companies joined dozens of corporations Friday in punching back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to undo its landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade.

Dick’s Sporting Goods and Duolingo announced they will offer reimbursements to employees who must travel for abortion services. The Supreme Court decision put the question of abortion into the hands of the states, which have a broad range of policies on the procedure. It is still legal in Pennsylvania during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy — but together, Dick’s and Duolingo employ more than 50,000 people across the country.

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

The companies have previously taken stands on controversial issues. In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in February 2018, Dick’s said it would stop selling semi-automatic weapons. It’s since scaled back all gun sales at its stores. Meanwhile, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn said in 2020 that former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies could lead him to move his company to Canada.

He made a similar threat Friday, tweeting that Duolingo will open future offices outside of Pennsylvania if the state enacts new restrictions on abortion.

“I love that [Duolingo] is headquartered in Pittsburgh and that y'all use it as an example that successful tech companies can start here,” von Ahn wrote in a tweet directed at state politicians. “If [Pennsylvania] makes abortion illegal, we won't be able to attract talent, and we'll have to grow our offices elsewhere.”

Duolingo and Dick’s joined major companies such as Amazon, Apple and Disney when they unveiled their abortion-related benefits Friday. The companies' response builds on a national trend in which corporations feel compelled to weigh in on social and political issues, such as gun violence, police shootings, LGBTQ rights — and abortion.

“We're finding that consumers do want to hear from the companies that they interact with,” said Stacy Rosenberg, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who focuses on public policy and communications.

“When you don't get a statement, it feels like the company doesn't care,” she said. “And so I think that whether it's their consumers or their employees that are affected by these policies, [businesses] want to demonstrate by making these official announcements that they are empathetic and also hopefully trying to influence policy in some way.”

The Pew Research Center found in March that 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, depending on when it takes place and the risks associated with a pregnancy. In the day following the Supreme Court's decision, 56% said they oppose the ruling, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Companies that show support for abortion services, Rosenberg said, “are in line with the majority of consumer sentiment on this issue, and likely the majority of their employees.”

But the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, has remained notably silent on the matter, perhaps reflecting, Rosenberg said, its clientele's conservative leanings.

High-profile businesses that opt to speak up, she said, can help to shape government policy by using their platforms to frame public discourse. They also wield substantial financial heft if, for example, they threaten to shift their operations to states were abortion remains legal, she added.

She noted that Google notified its workers Friday that they could apply to transfer out of states that curtail access to abortion. The tech giant said employees would not need to provide any justification for the requests.

“By doing that, [employers are] taking people out of the state. So the tax revenue goes down,” Rosenberg said. “And ultimately, there is an economic impact on red states that are taking highly restrictive views on reproductive health. [And] anyone who doesn't have the ability to relocate is ultimately going to suffer economic harm as companies pull out of states that are being highly restrictive.”

Duolingo’s von Ahn appeared to follow that logic with his statement Friday that Pennsylvania’s abortion laws would influence where his company chooses to expand.

Based in East Liberty, the language-learning tech company employs more than 500 people globally. Most of them reside in the Pittsburgh area, and just this year, the firm opened a new office about a block from its original Penn Avenue location. The space nearly doubled Duolingo's footprint within the city.

Dick’s CEO Lauren Hobart similarly focused on workforce priorities in announcing abortion-related travel reimbursements at her company.

“We recognize people feel passionately about this topic – and that there are teammates and athletes who will not agree with this decision,” she wrote Friday on LinkedIn. (The company refers to its employees as teammates.)

“However, we also recognize that decisions involving health and families are deeply personal and made with thoughtful consideration,” Hobart continued. “We are making this decision so our teammates can access the same health care options, regardless of where they live, and choose what is best for them.”

She said Dick's will provide up to $4,000 in travel expense reimbursements to employees who reside in states that limit access to abortion. The Coraopolis-based retailer employs more than 50,000 people in the U.S. Those workers can use the travel funds for themselves, a spouse or a dependent, as well as one support person, Hobart said Friday.