TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Yogurt company Chobani, which operates a one-million-square-foot plant in Twin Falls, will now cover costs for employees who need to travel out of state or more than 100 miles to receive an abortion, transplant surgery, cancer treatment, or other specialized healthcare.
The Thursday morning announcement comes after a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court revealed that the conservative-majority justices may be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion.
The news has sparked widespread protests and an attempt by the U.S. Senate to codify abortion access into law, which was blocked Wednesday by a Republican filibuster.
Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya tweeted Thursday that the company will help its employees access healthcare - including reproductive procedures - even if they are made illegal in the state where the employee lives.
"Businesses have an obligation to prioritize their employees’ health, safety & well-being," Ulukaya wrote. "That's why Chobani amended its health plans to support our employees’ ability to access specialized healthcare not available locally – including women’s reproductive health services."
The policy will cover more than just abortions.
According to an internal memo sent out to employees, the company will cover travel and lodging costs related to cancer treatment, transplant surgery, bariatric surgery, gender reassignment care, abortion, "and any other specialized, non-routine procedure where it is medically necessary for the patient to travel."
Chobani will cover plane fare or gas, lodging for the person receiving the medical service as well as one caregiver, and reimbursement for childcare costs. The policy covers both employees and their dependents.
Idaho is among 13 states with a "trigger law" that would immediately ban abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Idaho's law, which outlaws abortion after about six weeks of gestation - before many women realize they are pregnant - passed both the Idaho House and Senate with no Democratic support, and was signed into law by Gov. Brad Little in March.
Planned Parenthood in Oregon has said they are preparing for an influx of Idahoans traveling out of state to obtain abortions if the law goes into effect; Chobani's new policy could help facilitate that.
After hearing Chobani's announcement, Planned Parenthood released a statement applauding their efforts and calling on other Idaho employers to follow suit.
"This is a major step to defend the health and safety of Idahoans. I urge other employers to follow Chobani's lead and prove that they truly care about their employees' health and wellbeing," Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, said.
Planned Parenthood says the decision will not only help thousands receive necessary healthcare, but will also recognize the critical importance of abortion care for Idahoans.
"Idaho's anti-abortion state legislators have failed the people of Idaho. In an effort to bow to an extremist minority, they have abdicated their responsibility to protect the health and safety of Idahoans, leaving businesses to pick up their slack," Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, Idaho State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said. "Chobani's decision will make it possible for thousands of Idahoans to get the care they need. But I want to be clear: It should never have come to this point. Idahoans deserve better from their legislators."
In the email to employees, Chobani officials said the decision to cover specialized healthcare, including abortion, is not a political stance.
"We know that some of these issues are not without controversy, emotion, or political and religious implications. We recognize that we have employees with strongly-held views on both sides of this issue and we respect the deeply-held beliefs on both sides," the memo to employees says. "For Chobani, this is not a political stance or posturing – it’s a reaffirmation of our core belief that we will strive to do what’s best for the safety, health and well-being of our employees and their families. We hope other employers will consider following our lead as we navigate this challenging new environment together.
The news came one day after Ulukaya came to Idaho, where he announced a $1 million investment in a Magic Valley-based research dairy to advance innovation in the state's agricultural sector.
More than 1,000 of Chobani's roughly 2,200 employees are based in Twin Falls.
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