If Indiana’s biggest corporate citizens had wanted to publicly make their feelings known on their state’s plans to dramatically restrict abortion rights, they had plenty of time to do so.
On the same June day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Indiana lawmakers indicated they would consider legislation to restrict abortion rights during their special session in July.
But two of Indiana’s largest companies, Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Inc., waited until after the Legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb enacted a near total-ban on abortion on Friday to issue public statements opposing the measure the following day. Most other major employers, from Roche Diagnostics to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the NCAA, have remained silent.
On Saturday, Lilly issued a statement saying it found the new law so problematic that it would be forced to plan employment growth outside the state. The measure, which takes effect Sept. 15, bans nearly all abortions in the state but allows exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies and to protect the health and life of the mother.
A Lilly spokeswoman declined to say whether the company had made its feelings known to lawmakers during a two-week special session to consider the issue. But in its public statement on Saturday Lilly warned that the new law could make it difficult for the company to attract diverse scientific, engineering and business talent to Indiana.
Cummins expressed similar worries. “We are deeply concerned about how this law impacts our people and impedes our ability to attract and retain a diverse workforce in Indiana – concerns that we have voiced to legislators,” the company said in a statement issued Saturday.
“As we continue to grow our footprint with a focus on selecting communities that align with our values and business goals,” the company added, “this law will be considered in our decision-making process.”
Cummins emphasized that it made its concerns known to legislative leaders and employees before and during the special session.
But the after-the-fact public statements have left some people wondering why the companies didn’t openly testify against the legislation during the special session if the potential impact on them is so great.
Some seasoned political observers said the companies likely weighed the risks, determined it wasn’t worth putting up a fight in full public view and opted to try private channels.
“The risk to them is to irritate a [government] body that [they] work with on a variety of other issues, and for no predictable payoff,” said Michael Leppert, a lecturer at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and a former lobbyist.
Bill Oesterle, the co-founder and former CEO of Angie’s List who helped lead the corporate revolt against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said company executives were likely trying to affect change behind closed doors.
“If I had to guess, there were a lot of behind-the-scenes discussions going on,” Oesterle said. “It’s a delicate decision to act publicly while there’s still some chance you can affect the process privately.”
The backlash against Indiana’s new abortion law is decidedly less pronounced than the fallout from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, a 2015 Indiana law that led to immediate widespread condemnation from the NCAA as well as companies such as Anthem Inc.
Less than a week after RFRA was signed into law, lawmakers passed a “fix” specifying the law did not authorize discrimination against LGBT customers, employees and tenants.
But unlike the RFRA legislation, the debate over abortion rights is happening in roughly half of states across the country, Leppert says.
“The phenomenon that turned out to be RFRA was unique,” Leppert said. “Post-Dobbs, there are maybe 20 or 30 states where this [abortion] debate is going to be raging.”
And the contentious issue of where to draw the line when allowing abortions is a more nuanced discussion than the RFRA debate, which largely focused on equal rights.
“It’s one thing to say you’re for or against abortion, but in between is a whole spectrum of positions you can have,” Oesterle said. “That makes defining a single position much more complicated.”
Some business interests did speak out during the special legislative session.
The organizers of Gen Con, which held its annual tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis as lawmakers debated the issue on the House and Senate floors, denounced Senate Bill 1, saying it would “have a direct impact on our team and our community, and we are committed to fighting for safety, tolerance, and justice in all the places we operate.”
It stopped short of saying it would relocate its convention—an annual event that draws more than 60,000 people to Indianapolis, making it one of the city’s largest events of the year.
The Indy Chamber urged lawmakers to pause their work on the abortion law to give more consideration to its impact on women and health care providers because the expedited legislative process was “at best, detrimental to Hoosiers, and at worst, reckless.”
Several hundred smaller companies in Indiana signed a petition, circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union, opposing the abortion ban.