June 24th was a very difficult day for many, as the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is no longer a constitutional right. The decision overturned the federal protections of Roe v. Wade, triggering abortion bans and restrictions in several states—with more on the way.
This had an immediate impact on the mental health of women all over the U.S., and will for years to come.
“I have dedicated my life to eliminating every barrier to mental health for as many people as possible,” says Spring Health Co-Founder and CEO April Koh.
“I believe the Supreme Court decision represents a step backward in the pursuit of that mission. The reversal of Roe v. Wade has caused deep, immense sorrow and distress for millions of women today, and it will continue to pose preventable barriers to mental health in the future.”
Spring Health’s Co-Founder and President Adam Chekroud adds this: “The Supreme Court decision is a devastating step backward for women’s rights and for gender equity in the USA. The reversal of Roe v. Wade unnecessarily causes serious mental distress and preventable deaths.”
The impact on employee mental health
Addressing employee mental health isn’t limited to workplace issues. We all bring our whole selves to work, and 68% of employees say their mental health is more important than their career.
Which is why it’s necessary to talk about this ruling and how it impacts employee’s mental health.
Half of women in the U.S. are at risk of losing abortion access. Mental health effects include:
- Worse maternal mortality outcomes
- Loss of bodily autonomy, which is dehumanizing
- Threat of further restrictions on contraception
- Negative impact for economic equity
Using inclusive language
There are many people directly affected by abortion restrictions who do not identify as women, and not all women are able to get pregnant. Trans men and nonbinary people are part of this conversation and we acknowledge them, too.
The mental health impact of losing reproductive freedom
In a country where maternal mortality already ranks last among wealthy nations, the added danger of millions of people losing access to safe abortion is devastating to mental health.
Alongside a higher incidence of maternal mortality, when abortions are denied or restricted, women report:
- More anxiety symptoms and stress
- Lower self-esteem
- Lower life satisfaction
- More physical health problems
- Being more likely to stay with an abusive partner
- A higher chance of living in poverty
The mental health toll of that collective set of burdens is tremendous. There’s no way to adequately articulate the degree of mental, emotional, and physical suffering that women are going to endure in the upcoming years in relation to their reproductive health.
Here are four ways to help bolster resilience and prioritize mental health—for you and for your employees:
- Take it one moment, and one day at a time. Focus on what you need right now, and one step you can take to continue processing this news.
- Process your feelings in healthy, productive ways. Talk, exercise, go for walk, get outside, read, journal.
- Be specific and intentional with news updates. Avoid ongoing coverage that repeats the same information or social media that inflames negative feelings.
- Get involved in organizations that align with your values. This helps channel your energy and boosts feelings of productivity and satisfaction.
We must also acknowledge that the burdens are even more severe for women and people from marginalized communities.
The disproportionate effect of Roe v. Wade on marginalized communities
There are already massive health disparities in U.S. maternal health outcomes for BIPOC women. Rates of maternal mortality and morbidity are rising, exacerbated by the pandemic and increasing systemic inequalities that affect overall health outcomes.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights published an extensive report in 2021 on racial disparities in maternal health that illustrates how stark the existing situation is.
“Black women in the U.S. are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women in the U.S…Moreover, the risk of pregnancy-related death is so elevated for Black women in certain regions of the U.S. that it is comparable to the rate of pregnancy-related deaths in some developing countries.”
Along with worse maternal health outcomes, there’s also the overlapping effects discussed in the previous section, including:
- Worse mental health outcomes for BIPOC women
- Exacerbating economic inequalities as women have less control over their reproductive options
- Lowering the amount of BIPOC women in the workforce and in leadership positions, already a huge source of inequality in the workplace
Sociologist Courtney Boen points out, “It’s this feedback loop where reproductive rights and autonomy are tied to financial and economic security and justice.”
I would also add mental health to Boen’s feedback loop, as it’s deeply intertwined with reproductive freedom and economic security.
How People leaders can lessen the mental health burden for employees
As the ripples of overturning Roe v. Wade spread outward over time, People leaders are important resources for employees navigating the new post-Roe landscape.
The first step in effectively supporting your employees is to communicate how changes in both federal and state law affect reproductive health and benefits coverage.
Next, make sure they understand their reproductive health benefits, whether that’s paid time off or reimbursement policies. Many employees are unaware of their benefit details.
In the face of additional mental health burdens, it’s helpful when employees don’t have to hunt for this information while dealing with the stress of pregnancy or contraceptive concerns.
It’s equally important to ensure that your EAP or mental health benefit is meeting your employees needs, especially as we all navigate this new landscape. If it’s not, consider leveling up your offering with expanded access to mental healthcare.
Fast access to a diverse network of providers during times of turmoil can give your employees the mental health support they need, while increasing their productivity by up to 24%.
It’s also important to remember that this issue affects People leaders’ lives as well. Self care and mental health support are just as important for People leaders, both for their own wellbeing and so that they are able to better support employees.
How companies can offer support to their employees
Employees spend a significant amount of their time and energy invested in their work. And as we discussed earlier in this article, 68% of employees say their mental health is more important than their career.
With that in mind, there’s an opportunity for companies to lighten mental health burdens following the Roe v. Wade ruling, in the form of offering:
- An out-of-state abortion reimbursement policy, which many companies have already implemented
- Paid leave for traveling, necessary for some maternal health related abortions as well as elective abortions
- Flexible scheduling for dealing with pregnancy or maternal health issues
- Paid parental leave, childcare benefits, and adoptive benefits
- An innovative EAP or mental healthcare benefits
- Health savings account contributions for employees
Supporting women’s mental health is more important than ever
For almost 50 years, women and people who are able to get pregnant have been able to join the workforce in record numbers, due to the reproductive freedom that Roe v. Wade allowed.
That freedom is suddenly in jeopardy for millions of people. On top of narrowing options for workplace participation, women now have to worry that their lives are at risk in the face of pregnancy dangers.
The mental health of many employees may be significantly impacted in the coming years due to this ruling, making People leaders an important resource for employees to lean on as they navigate the new landscape: for information, for company support, and for emotional support.
Read this blog next to learn more ways to support women’s mental health.