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Big Law Firms Tout Abortion Access Help for Attorneys, Staff (2)

June 28, 2022, 7:35 PMUpdated: June 28, 2022, 10:29 PM

At least five Big Law firms have pledged to protect their employees’ access to abortion services in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

McDermott Will & Emery, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Morrison & Foerster, Ropes & Gray and Vinson & Elkins say they will pick up travel expenses for employees forced to leave their home states to seek abortions. The announcements came after the US Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion in a landmark June 24 decision.

The ruling cleared the way for states to impose strict new restrictions on the medical procedure. At least 16 states have new restrictions pending or on the books.

“Ropes & Gray has long dedicated itself to the protection of civil rights and individual liberties—whether those rights are grounded in federal, state or local law,” said Ropes & Gray chair Julie Jones in a June 24 memo viewed by Bloomberg Law. “We will remain steadfast in that mission in the weeks and months to come,” she said.

The overturning of Roe has spurred major employers, like the Walt Disney Co. and Facebook parent company Meta, to ensure that their employees have access to abortion services.

Ropes & Gray’s health benefits plan will continue to cover abortions, including related surgical procedures and prescription medications, according to a firm spokesman.

Ropes employees who live in a state that restricts abortion services can obtain an accommodation allowance to travel to a nearby state to receive those services where they are legal and available.

Morrison & Foerster echoed a commitment to ensuring access to health services.

Chairman Larren Nashelsky said in a June 24 memo following the high court’s decision that the firm has “moved quickly to protect the health and well-being of our employees, including through reimbursement of expenses related to lodging, transportation, and meals in a U.S. state where they can legally receive an abortion.”

Morrison & Foerster currently has offices across the US, including in Austin, Texas. On Tuesday, a Texas judge blocked officials from reviving a law from the 1920s that would enact an immediate ban on abortions. The firm represented the plaintiffs in the challenge.

The Houston-founded Vinson & Elkins “will, as part of its health plan, provide a travel benefit for covered health care services that are unavailable locally,” a spokesman said via email.

McDermott chair Ira Coleman in a Tuesday memo said the firm will continue to ensure that employees on the firm’s benefits plans will have access to reproductive healthcare, regardless of their location. He added that the firm would pay for the cost of travel to obtain such services.

“Our full support of gender and health equity across all communities is unwavering,” Coleman said.

Morgan Lewis chair Jami Wintz McKeon similarly told employees in a June 24 memo that the firm’s healthcare plan has and will continue to cover abortion services for its employees.

“Our firm’s healthcare plans have covered reproductive healthcare, including pregnancy terminations, for many years, and we continue to believe that these important healthcare services should be available to all of our partners, employees and their families no matter where they reside,” McKeon said.

The firm-sponsored ERISA health benefits plan covers abortion care, a Morgan Lewis spokesperson said Tuesday. The plan also provides reimbursement for travel and lodging expenses incurred when necessary to travel outside of a participant’s home state to obtain such care, the spokesperson said.

Other Big Law Efforts

Law firms are also getting involved in abortion rights in other ways.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday that she’s joined forces with 24 national law firms and eight reproductive rights organizations. The group is launching a hotline to provide legal guidance and other resources to patients, healthcare providers, and supporters.

Morgan Lewis, MoFo and Ropes are participating in the effort. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Debevoise & Plimpton, Fenwick & West, and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, are among others involved.

Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison is co-leading the initiative.

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs overturning Roe, women seeking access to abortions have an urgent need for information about their legal rights,” Paul Weiss chair Brad Karp said in a statement.

Elizabeth Olson contributed to this report.

(Updated to include information on Vinson & Elkins and McDermott Will & Emery throughout. A previous version of this story was corrected to update the date of the Supreme Court ruling and the date of the Ropes & Gray memo.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com