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Starbucks on Monday announced it would be covering “eligible” travel expenses for employees enrolled in its health care plan in accessing abortion or gender-affirming medical care, when those services are not available within 100 miles of an employee’s home.
The benefit will also apply to the dependents of Starbucks workers that are enrolled in the coffee chain’s medical insurance plan, Starbucks said Monday in a post affirming its “commitment to quality healthcare and support for our partners.”
“We consistently listen to and collaborate with our partners to evolve our benefits based on their different benefits needs and preferences,” the company said.
In a letter to employees announcing the new coverage, Sara Kelly, Starbucks acting executive vice president of partner resources, wrote that she was “deeply concerned” by the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning the court’s landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which has protected the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly five decades.
“I know this is weighing on many of you, so let me be clear up front – regardless of what the Supreme Court ends up deciding, we will always ensure our partners have access to quality healthcare,” Kelly wrote on Monday. “And when actions impact your access to healthcare, we will work on a way to make sure you feel supported.”
Starbucks will offer reimbursement for travel expenses for abortion and gender-affirming care “soon,” but has not yet indicated when that policy will take effect.
Starbucks joins a growing number of corporations who have pledged to cover the travel expenses of employees that may need to leave their home states to get an abortion in the wake of the leaked draft opinion, authored by conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
Should Alito’s draft abortion opinion become the majority ruling, “trigger laws” that will automatically ban or restrict abortions will be immediately enacted in 13 states, leaving millions of women and others of reproductive age without abortion access.
A smaller number of companies have committed to covering the cost of travel for employees seeking gender-affirming medical care. Last week, Microsoft announced it would extend previous coverage for gender-affirming procedures to include travel expense assistance, Reuters reported.
Starbucks’ health care plan in 2018 was updated to include coverage for gender-affirming medical care that had previously been considered cosmetic, like breast reduction or augmentation surgery, facial feminization and hair transplants. The company has covered gender-affirming surgeries for employees enrolled in its medical insurance plan since 2013.
Access to gender-affirming medical care for minors has been hotly debated in dozens of state legislatures over the past year, although laws banning or restricting such care exist in just four states – Arkansas, Tennessee, Arizona and Alabama.
In July, a federal judge temporarily blocked the enforcement of the Arkansas law pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seeking to overturn it. The Tennessee law bans gender-affirming care for “prepubertal” minors and the Arizona measure outlaws gender-affirming surgeries for individuals under the age of 18 – both of which are already not recommended by major medical organizations including the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and the Endocrine Society.
A recently enacted Alabama law making it a felony for state doctors to provide or recommend puberty blockers, gender-affirming hormones or surgeries to minors was partially blocked by a federal judge over the weekend.