Tech companies aren't prepared to be the 'center of the storm' over abortion access

An expert on the intersection of gender and technology warns that "tech companies are about to be at the center of the storm surrounding abortion access and reproductive rights" after the expected Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic, explained the dynamics in a new analysis for Wired magazine.

"Tech companies will wake up on the day the Dobbs v. Jackson opinion is issued to immense challenges moderating their products and services, while competing demands from the public, employees, and legislators create an unwinnable situation. The mortal threat to Roe was not taken seriously by many in corporate America, and that apathy will now come back to haunt them in the form of a hellscape of legal and policy challenges unlike any they have faced before," she wrote.

Tech companies, she explained, will face immediate pressure to respond to the decision internally.

"If the draft opinion is issued formally, companies will suddenly be forced to take a stand when it comes to protecting their employees’ rights to access abortion and demonstrate solidarity with the overwhelming majority that support Roe. At the same time, they will have to navigate a minefield of Republican legislators seeking political payback against any company that challenges them on conservative social policies. Amazon, Citi, and Yelp have already had to address this issue by offering their employees coverage to leave the state for an abortion, a move that has earned Citi threats of retribution by House Republicans," she explained.

That's not the only way that the companies could be targeted by the far-right.

"Beyond internal policies, the services these companies provide will be scrutinized by overzealous legislators and anti-abortion activists. Apps and app stores could be targeted for regulation by states seeking to aggressively limit residents’ access to abortion," Caraballo explained. "But it’s not just the apps and services that are at risk—it’s their users, too. Companies that traffic in personal, geolocation, advertising, or other data could become digital crime scenes for eager prosecutors armed with subpoenas. For instance, payment apps could present a legal risk for anyone who uses them for donations to abortion funds."

She warned Venmo, Paypal, Cash App, Facebook Pay, Zelle, and Google Pay to not offer "meaningful protections for users" like Apple Pay.

While the situation is troubling, she noted that tech companies "now have fair warning and time to prepare. Even before an official decision is issued, companies should come out with clear policies that support their employees. If Roe is overturned, these firms must support any staff member’s request to relocate to another state while providing coverage that allows employees who stay to seek out-of-state abortions. Beyond looking out for their own ranks, tech companies have an obligation to protect users."

Read the full analysis.