Group Warns Oklahoma’s Abortion Laws Could Hurt Business Hiring, Economic Development | New

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s new anti-abortion laws will hurt the state’s economic development, as businesses concerned about legislative interference in business decisions and fearful of lawsuits will think twice before coming forward, warned an investment group this week.

Oklahoma lawmakers, however, ignored those concerns, saying that if there was an economic price to pay to protect unborn life, Oklahomans were willing to pay it.

Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement for San Francisco-based Rhia Ventures, said Oklahoma companies should be concerned that lawmakers are dictating the reproductive health insurance choices they offer to people. employees. They should also fear being sued under the civil enforcement mechanisms included in the state’s last two abortion measures that ban abortions during fertilization and when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The measures allow anyone to sue anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or encourages the performance or incitement of an abortion” or intends to engage in such conduct. This specifically includes payment or reimbursement of abortion costs through insurance.

Whether those lawsuits would persist and whether a plaintiff would prevail against an Oklahoma company would depend on the facts of the case and whether a company has an insurance policy governed by state regulation, said Alpern. State insurance officials said about 65% of Oklahoma businesses have self-funded insurance plans that are largely governed by federal regulations. The rest are governed by state regulations.

“The law that Oklahoma just passed is a very concerning signal that Oklahoma state legislators could pass even tougher legislation that would bind businesses even more,” Alpern said. “So if I was a company thinking about whether to expand into Oklahoma or relocate or open a new facility, it would definitely make me think twice if I wanted to provide inclusive benefits and competitive.”

Rhia Ventures works with investors who are broadly invested in the stock market, who own shares of publicly traded companies nationwide, and who identify as Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) investors. They also emphasize the business case for full access to reproductive health care, which includes access to abortion. Their investors are taking a closer look at social policy and how companies respond to environmental, social and governance challenges in addition to looking at traditional financial metrics.

In a letter sent earlier this year to lawmakers, the group estimated that state-level abortion restrictions cost Oklahoma more than $1.7 billion in economic losses in 2020.

Alpern said a growing number of companies are offering more comprehensive reproductive and maternal health care policies and access to fertility treatments in an effort to give them an edge in a competitive job market and keep women in the workforce. their workforce.

She said 83% of women said having the power to choose when to start a family played a huge role in their careers. When women are denied abortion, they are three times more likely to drop out of the labor market and four times more likely to end up in poverty.

“By default, the business community usually sees this as a social issue they don’t want to get involved in or just a hotly debated moral issue that’s just a headache and not a business issue,” Alpern said. “But it really has its implications.”

The state Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on whether it was concerned that anti-abortion legislation could hurt existing businesses or hamper recruitment efforts.

“Social issues often impact economic development in ways we couldn’t predict,” the state Department of Commerce said. “The Oklahoma Department of Commerce will continue its ongoing recruiting efforts to attract business, investment, and jobs to Oklahoma.”

State Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, who has been a strong supporter of anti-abortion legislation, said it comes down to what Oklahomans are willing to sell themselves for and what they are ready to to give up for an economic investment. He also said Oklahoma shouldn’t be for sale, especially when it comes to protecting unborn babies.

Olsen said he’s heard “the assertion from the left” before that businesses won’t want to come to Oklahoma and people won’t want to live here.

And while he recognizes that there may be some people who don’t want to come to Oklahoma because of his position, the state’s values ​​could also attract others.

“The flip side of that is that there will probably also be people and businesses that want to come here…they’re looking for a place of refuge, and they might find it in a place like Oklahoma,” he said. Olsen said.

Senate Speaker Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said it will be “decided in the courtroom” whether the bills could allow an individual to sue companies that pay for their employees get abortions out of state.

“I believe there’s a potentially viable way to do this, but we’ll have to determine as we move forward if that’s true,” Treat said.

Asked about the potential effect this could have on economic development, he replied: “That’s not a legitimate argument against it.”

“I think protecting life, if we have to pay an economic price for it, I’m willing to pay an economic price for it,” Treat said.

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