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Montana companies tell lawmakers restricting abortion would be bad for business

The Montana State Capitol
Jackie Yamanaka
Yellowstone Public Radio
The Montana State Capitol

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, more than 100 Fortune 500 companies, including Wells Fargo, Walmart, and Dicks Sporting Goods, began offering financial support for employees traveling to other states for an abortion.

Now, as Montana legislators consider a slate of bills to restrict access to abortion at the state level, some Montana companies with Fortune 500 clients are saying that would be bad for business here.

Business leaders are worried that if the Legislature passes constitutional amendments or anti-abortion bills it could cause them to lose clients and deter employees from moving to Montana.

Twenty high-growth companies, representing hundreds of jobs and average wages close to $100,000, have signed a statement urging lawmakers not to pass legislation that would interfere with access to reproductive health care.

YPR’s Olivia Weitz spoke with Abby Schlatter, CEO of the Bozeman-based technology services business commonFont, about how restrictive abortion policies could impact her business and other firms in Montana.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Olivia Weitz: Why, in your view, would passing restrictive abortion policies be bad for business in Montana?

Abby Schlatter: To me, this issue is really about jobs, jobs, and jobs. commonFont is a job creator, and we rely on the ability to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse and talented workforce to serve our clients. And we also want our clients to continue doing business with us in our state.

My concern is that restrictive policies related to women's reproductive healthcare could negatively impact both of those dimensions, which are fundamental to our business.

So, in the statement you write, “We worry that if Montana's brand becomes associated with restricting reproductive healthcare, this pool of talent will dry up.” What are your concerns here? 

Over 50% of our workforce is female. And the introduction of this type of law could make Montana a much less attractive place for employees to live and stay.

I will add that the Institute for Women's Policy Researchestimates that state level abortion restrictions could cost state economies around $105 billion per year because the introduction of those restrictions reduces labor force participation and earnings levels and increases turnover and time off from work among women of a certain age group.

It seems like it's not just about your bottom line, it's also about perceptions — how your clients might view doing business in Montana. Can you comment more on that? 

Sure. We as a business, Montana is definitely part of our brand. It's part of how we show up to our clients.

We host a conference here, which our last conference took place in September of last year. It was a great event. All of these clients came to Montana; they love Montana; they love the outdoors; they love connecting with each other in the spirit of community here. And I'm concerned that this type of measure could make our clients perceive Montana and by extension, commonFont much less favorably and as a much less welcoming place.

And for you, you're a small, but growing business, I'm wondering what losing one or two clients could mean for your business?

commonFont is indeed a small, growing and mighty business. We’ve been here in Bozeman growing for the past 10 years. We've been on the Inc 5,000 list of fastest growing companies in the United States for the past five consecutive years.

And also our entire client list is only around 20 clients. Many of these clients are really critical to our business from a revenue and cash, sustainability standpoint in losing just one or two….our largest client comprises roughly 20% of our revenue base. So, you can just imagine what losing that client, for example, could do to our business. It would be absolutely devastating.

So in the statement you bring up Indiana and legislators there passed restrictive abortion policies and after that the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, which is headquartered there, they spoke out and said, this move is gonna make it harder for us to attract employees to come here, and it's also gonna force us to look outside of the state of Indiana when it comes to future business growth. I'm wondering why you brought up that example in the statement and what stood out to you there?

I would add that other states that have introduced restrictive measures have had indicators from large companies that suggested that they would move away from doing business in those states or do less business in those states.

I'll call out Indiana as a primary example, where several large firms, after that state introduced restrictive measures, several large employers said that they would be turning away from doing business in the state.

As we're wrapping up, I wanna know, what is your ask of Montana legislators this session as it relates to abortion policy?

My ask of the Montana legislature is that they hear the voice of the Montana business community and consider the negative impact to our business and that of other businesses in considering this type of restrictive measure and that they moderate their approach and do not seek to redefine how we conceive of privacy in the state of Montana.

Looking forward, what are your hopes for commonFont in terms of being able to grow your business and hire talent in Montana? 

We chose deliberately to locate commonFont in Montana. We considered it a great state to attract, retain, and grow our business again, which is a services business, which relies on high talent employees, and that was a very deliberate choice.

I want to continue growing my business in Montana and continue to be able to attract and recruit and retain this high quality talent that really fuels us. And my hope is that we'll be able to continue doing that going forward.

Montana Free Press reports five anti-abortion bills are being debated in the state House of Representatives this week.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.