Apple's Texas problem

Since September 1, about one in ten women have effectively been stripped of their reproductive rights. That's when an extreme abortion ban went into effect in Texas — home to 7 million women aged 15-49. 

For nearly three weeks, Texas' largest employers, whose employees are now subject to the law banning all abortions after six weeks, have responded with silence. But there are new signs that this posture is unsustainable.

Apple is one of Texas' most important employers. The company produces its Mac Pro at a $200 million facility in Austin. Its 7,000 employees in the city represent the largest concentration of workers outside of its headquarters in Cupertino, California. 

Now Apple, which has had a presence in the state for 25 years, is building a "new $1 billion, 3-million-square-foot campus" in Austin that is slated to open next year. The facility will initially house 5,000 but will ultimately expand to 15,000 employees. That is "expected to make Apple the largest private employer in Austin." Its 2018 press release announcing the expansion featured an effusive quote from Governor Greg Abbott (R), who signed the abortion ban into law.

But, according to a report in the New York Times, Apple's silence on the Texas abortion ban is contributing to "employee unrest" at the company. On Thursday, Apple posted an unsigned statement on an internal messageboard addressing the issue. The message, which was published by TechCrunch, strongly suggests Apple opposes the ban without explicitly stating its opposition:

A message about women’s reproductive health care

At Apple, we support our employees’ rights to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health.

We are actively monitoring the legal proceedings challenging the uniquely restrictive abortion law in Texas. In the meantime, we want to remind you that our benefits at Apple are comprehensive, and that they allow our employees to travel out-of-state for medical care if it is unavailable in their home state. If you need help in navigating your care or that of your dependents, your health plan carrier can confidentially assist you.

Your health and well-being remain our highest priority, and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that you and your families have access to the care that Apple provides.

On Friday, CEO Tim Cook answered a question about Apple's stance on the Texas ban at an all-staff meeting. Cook said that "the company was looking into whether it could aid the legal fight against the new law."

Apple has considerable leverage over the abortion debate in Texas and across the country — but it is not related to its ability to pay for lawyers. Apple's leverage rests in its status as a major employer and driver of economic growth. 

If Apple believes that its employees should be able to "make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health," it could publicly state that it will not expand its workforce in states that limit abortion rights. That would have a major influence not only in Texas but in numerous states considering following Texas' lead

Thus far, however, Apple and other companies have been unwilling to make any public statements about reproductive rights that could impact its bottom line. 

The economic impact of Texas' abortion ban

Texas' abortion ban could make it significantly more difficult for Apple and other major employers in Texas to attract top talent. A recent survey of 1,689 college-educated adults who do not live in Texas found that the state's new abortion ban would discourage them from taking a job in Texas. 

A similar percentage (63%) said they "would not apply for a job in a state that passed a ban similar to [Texas'] SB 8." Half of respondents (49%) said "they would think about moving out of state if a law like SB 8 passed in their state." 

The poll also asked respondents "how they would feel if they found out their company was making political contributions to candidates and elected officials who support abortion bans and restricting abortion access." 64% said those donations would make them feel less positive about their company and just 14% said such donations would make them feel more positive. 

As Popular Information reported earlier this month, top donors to Texas' abortion ban include Charter Communications ($313,000), AT&T ($301,000) USAA ($152,000), Farmers Insurance ($120,000), Anthem ($87,250), General Motors ($72,750), CVS Health ($72,500), and Comcast/NBC Universal ($58,250).

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The extremist behind Texas' abortion ban

The architect of Texas' unusual abortion ban — which delegates law enforcement to private citizens — is former Texas solicitor general Jonathan Mitchell. In a recent brief filed with the Supreme Court, Mitchell revealed a radical ideology that extends far beyond the issue of abortion. 

Mitchell filed an amicus brief on behalf of Texas Right to Life in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health. The Supreme Court will hear the case, which challenges the validity of a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, later this year. Existing Supreme Court precedent protects the right to abortion up to about 24 weeks. 

In the brief, Mitchell argues that abortion is the product of irresponsible behavior by women. Mitchell asserts that women can "control their reproductive lives" without "access to abortion" by "refraining from sexual intercourse." Mitchell claims that today women choose "to engage in unprotected (or insufficiently protected) sexual intercourse on the assumption that an abortion will be available to her later." He encourages the court to fully repudiate Roe v. Wade and asserts that women can "change their behavior." 

Adam Mortara, a lawyer who co-authored the brief with Mitchell, told the New York Times that Mitchell had embraced "radical concepts" in his effort to ban abortion. 

Mitchell also encourages the court, in future cases, to overturn opinions that outlawed criminal cases for gay sex (Lawrence) and legalized same-sex marriage (Obergefell). He describes both decisions as "lawless." He acknowledges the court would have difficulty overruling those cases in a decision about abortion. But he encourages the Supreme Court to write an opinion that leaves Lawrence and Obergefell "hanging by a thread."