The biggest food and agriculture companies in the U.S. are largely staying silent in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to an abortion, sparking outrage among liberals and celebration from conservatives. Major American companies such as Amazon, Meta, Kroger, Microsoft and Target announced plans to reimburse employees who travel out-of-state for abortion services. Leading agriculture corporations, however, have not said whether they will be following suit.
Investigate Midwest repeatedly called and emailed 11 major agricultural companies over the past month. Eight did not respond. Two declined to comment. Only one, Bayer, provided a detailed statement describing the company’s position on abortion access.
In response to questions, an ADM spokesperson wrote in an email, “This isn’t a topic we are discussing in interviews at this time, but we appreciate you reaching out.”
On July 5, a Smithfield Foods spokesperson stated, “we are still analyzing the impact of the decision on our benefit plans.” On July 19, the spokesperson said he had no update on the company’s benefit plans.
The only company that made a strong statement on either side of the abortion access debate was Bayer, which released a statement on the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The company said it will continue its policy of covering out-of-state medical care for its employees, including reproductive services, spokesperson Susan Luke said in a statement to Investigate Midwest.
“Let us be clear: We do not support any attempts that take away contraceptive choices, and we oppose efforts to limit these healthcare options,” she said. “We believe that access to safe and effective contraception options is a right and a private and personal decision. We will fight to safeguard that belief.”
Overall, the 11 Big Ag companies’ political donations are mixed on abortion rights, favoring Democrats on the federal level and Republicans on the state level, according to campaign finance data provided by OpenSecrets.
In the past two presidential elections, Bayer has given more than $170,000 to the Democratic candidates and less than $50,000 to Trump, the Republican candidate in both elections. But in state-level races since 2012, the company gave $238,000 to Republicans and $39,600 to Democrats.
Luke also said employees seeking an abortion will maintain their privacy because employee health insurance is through a third-party and no personal information is shared with the company.
Through July 28, Investigate Midwest has found no press releases, social media posts, or public statements discussing the reversal of Roe v. Wade from the 11 Big Ag companies it sought comment from.
According to a report by independent journalist Judd Legum, Tyson Foods sent an email to employees stating that the Arkansas-based company would cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions. Arkansas state law bans all abortions except those needed to save the life of the mother.
Tyson Foods did not respond to questions about the report.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, an influential agricultural organization, and United Food and Commercial Workers, the union representing thousands of food processing workers, also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Supreme Court decision could harm food chain workers, advocates say
Frontline workers — those who perform the essential labor of processing America’s food — could suffer disproportionately from Roe’s overturning, workers’ rights groups say.
“It is outrageous and very scary,” said Elizabeth Walle, development coordinator for the Food Chain Workers’ Alliance, a group of workers’ rights organizations advocating for better working conditions for food and agriculture workers.
“Frontline workers in the food system are poor,” she said. “A lot of them are immigrants. A lot of them are from BIPOC communities. And so for us, we're very concerned about what the material impacts are going to be on them right away.” (BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.)
More than 450,000 people work in the farming, fishing, and forestry sector, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median wage for these workers is less than $15 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that women who were denied abortions had worse socioeconomic outcomes than women who received wanted abortions. Those who were denied abortions were more likely to be in poverty and less likely to be employed full-time four years after being turned away from an abortion clinic, the study found.
But workers shouldn't have to rely on their employers to access abortions, Walle said.
“For us, rather than seeming like a saving grace, it just seems like more corporate employer control over what should be the legally protected freedoms and choices that we all should be able to make about our own bodies,” Walle said.
Big Ag political donations show support for candidates on both sides of abortion issue
Big Ag companies donated more money to Democrats in recent presidential elections but contributed more to Republicans in state races, which have long been a battleground over abortion.
In the 2016 presidential election, 86% of the campaign donations from the 11 companies went to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who supported abortion rights. OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that tracks money in U.S. politics, provided the data to Investigate Midwest.
Republican President Donald Trump’s appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 then gave the court a clear conservative majority. The court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 with a 6-3 vote along ideological lines.
During Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020, more money from the 11 Big Ag companies went to Democratic candidate Joe Biden than to Trump. Only two companies that Investigate Midwest tried to contact, JBS and Tyson, donated slightly more to Trump over Biden, who supports abortion rights.
However, state races saw the opposite trend.
Each of the companies have donated several times more money to Republicans than Democrats in state races since 2012, according to state campaign finance reports collected by OpenSecrets.
For every $10 donated by the 11 Big Ag companies in state races, $8.50 went to Republican candidates, according to an Investigate Midwest analysis of data compiled by OpenSecrets.
The OpenSecrets campaign finance data also shows individual contributions from companies to state lawmakers, governors and other public officials.
Before the fall of Roe v. Wade, Republican-led states had long sought to limit abortion access without outlawing the procedure entirely. Now, with the reversal of federal abortion rights, states have the option to institute total abortion bans.
Nebraska currently allows abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy, but following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced he would support an abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother.
ADM, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Ricketts since 2014.
When the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, released a statement calling the ruling “a significant victory in our fight to protect the unborn.”
ADM and John Deere each donated around $25,000 to Ricketts since 2018.
Shifting legal landscape poses legal issues for companies supporting employee abortions
June’s Supreme Court decision resulted in a rapidly shifting legal landscape for reproductive health care and employer-offered insurance.
When Politico released a draft version of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in May, companies including Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple vowed to reimburse employees who have to travel out of state for abortion services.
After the Supreme Court officially struck down federal abortion rights, even more companies made similar statements to cover travel expenses for their employees seeking abortions.
But the changes to employer health care policies raise legal questions in states where abortions are banned or strictly limited, employee benefits attorney Matthew Secrist said.
States including Texas, Missouri, South Dakota, Mississippi and Alabama passed “trigger laws” in recent years that banned all abortions, with limited exceptions, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
While federal law still allows employer health insurance policies to cover abortion services, certain policies are underwritten by state law, and therefore may not cover abortions, Secrist said.
Some employers are concerned about laws such as Texas’, which makes aiding abortion a criminal offense. It’s unclear whether providing reimbursement for abortion-related costs via health insurance would qualify as criminally aiding abortion, Secrist said.
“It's ever changing from week to week what the legal landscape looks like, but a lot of employers are really concerned about these aiding and abetting statutes,” Secrist said.
When Lyft announced plans to support Texas and Oklahoma residents seeking abortions in other states, Texas Republican state lawmakers threatened to take action against the company and others who materially support abortion access.
Anti-abortion state lawmakers around the country have expressed interest in passing laws that would prohibit residents from traveling out of state for abortions.
Biden, Democrats move to codify reproductive rights
In response to increasing abortion restrictions, President Biden signed an executive order July 8 reiterating his administration’s support for abortion access and announcing steps to increase abortion access.
In the order, Biden called on Congress to codify abortion protections in federal law, announced initatives to expand access to medication abortions and contraception, and launched plans to protect sensitive health information.
The Department of Health and Human Services also issued guidance July 11 stating federal law requires “all patients receive an appropriate medical screening examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary, irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures.”
July 15, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills seeking to protect abortion rights. The first bill, H.R. 8297, would prevent states from punishing residents who seek abortions out-of-state. The second, called the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, would codify abortion rights.
And, on July 21, the House passed a bill to codify the right to access contraceptives.
The evenly-divided Senate is likely to reject all of the bills, reports The New York Times. The Women’s Health Protection Act already failed to pass the Senate with a 51-49 vote in May with Democrat Joe Manchin joining the Republicans in opposition to the bill.
Investigate Midwest reporters Madison McVan, Mónica Cordero, Kendall Little, Aruni Soni, Heather Robinson, Mary Norkol and Marley Schultz contributed to this report.
Top image: ADM facilities in Decatur, Illinois, on Friday, March 6, 2015. photo by Darrell Hoemann, Investigate Midwest