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Could anti-abortion laws hurt business? CEOs, top Montana lawmaker disagree

Eliza Wiley/MTFP

Montana saw a large influx of highly skilled workers moving to the state during the pandemic. But technology companies say a big barrier to growth continues to be attracting and retaining top talent.

Now, as state lawmakers consider a series of bills restricting abortion services, some business leaders say it’ll make that barrier worse: They’re worried if the legislation passes, it could cause their companies to lose clients and deter employees from moving to the state.

“Montana, historically Bozeman, has been very good to us from a business standpoint," said Alan Moore, the CEO of XY Planning Network, which provides a platform for financial advisors to work with Gen X and Millennial clients. "But the winds are certainly shifting from a legislative standpoint in terms of making it more difficult to do business and to be able to attract and retain the right talent."

About a half dozen bills under consideration in the Legislature would limit access to abortion in the state. Moore and the CEOs of more than 20 other companies — including Profitable Ideas Exchange and Next Frontier Capital — have signed a statement saying they are concerned that the Legislature is going to move away from privacy protections in the state’s constitution towards policies that restrict access to reproductive health care.

Note: The companies named on the statement above agreed to be listed publicly. Other companies signed onto the statement but asked to remain unnamed.

Moore — whose company is on the Inc 5000 listof fastest growing private businesses in the U.S. — says the topic has been brought up by current and prospective employees.

“This is something that candidates who are out of state who would be potentially relocating have asked us about," he said. "This is something as well that’s a concern for existing team members who are in Montana and are having the conversation about leaving Montana because of this."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe last year, more than 100 Fortune 500 companieshave come out in support of women’s access to abortion. Companies include Wells Fargo, Walmart, and Dicks Sporting Goods, among others.

Abby Schlatter, CEO of the technology services business commonFont in Bozeman, says more than 80% of her clients are Fortune 500 companies.

“We as a business, Montana is definitely part of our brand. It’s part of how we show up to our clients,” she said.

commonFont hosted an experience management conference in Montana last fall.

“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," Schlatter said. "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."

Schlatter says her largest client makes up 20% of the company’s revenue. Her business is growing, but she says losing just one or two clients would be “devastating.”

The Montana House of Representatives has in the first half of the session passed a handful of bills that would restrict abortion access.

One of them, House Bill 721, would prohibit a type of second trimester surgical abortion, known as a dilation and evacuation procedure, after 12 weeks. Medical professionals could face fines of up to $50,000, prison time and a minimum one year suspended license.

Republican Speaker of the House Matt Regier, who introduced the bill, calls the dilation and evacuation procedure a “dismemberment abortion.”

The bill, he says, "restricts just one procedure of an abortion and that’s dismemberment abortion, so it’s not the abortion debate," he said. "It’s not about a timeline. It’s about a procedure."

A legal review notesays the bill could raise issues as it relates to constitutional privacy protections. While the bill says there are some exceptions for medical emergencies, attorneys with the state Legislative Services Division write as it is narrowly defined “ appears that HB 721 prohibits dismemberment abortion procedures at all stages of pregnancy in non-emergency and emergency situations.”

Regier disagrees with the legal note. And, though he says he hasn’t read the business owners’ statement, he doesn't see a correlation between his bill and an impact on businesses.

“I guess my question to them would be, HB 721 doesn’t restrict abortion access. It restricts a procedure, the procedure of dismembering a live baby inside the womb," he said. "If you need to live in a state where you tear apart a live baby inside the womb then Montana is not the state for you."

If highly skilled workers choose to live elsewhere, CEOs like Alan Moore say their companies will suffer — and Montana’s economy will feel the impact too.

“We are a significant net positive economic impact to Montana because 99 percent of the revenue that we generate is generated from outside the state of Montana because our customers are all over the country. And our number one expense is team member salaries," he said.

"And so we’re ultimately collecting revenues from outside the state paying salaries into Montana, which state taxes get paid on and all of the other things, and then that money gets spent locally."

The Montana Chamber of Commerce and the Montana High Tech Business Alliance declined to be interviewed for this story and haven’t issued any statements.

commonFont CEO Abby Schlatter says she hopes lawmakers listen to the voice of businesses like hers as they consider legislation that would restrict access to reproductive healthcare. Regier maintains his bill will not impact Montana’s economy and future growth.

“The business threats here are from radical political ideology of businessmen that want to try and cross that bridge that’s not there, and once again that’s their choice. If they want to take a business because of their political ideology to a different state they better be careful because there’s a lot of other states that have already done this,” he said.

HB 721 and a handful of other bills seeking to restrict abortion access that passed the house of representatives earlier this month will soon go to the Senate floor for debate.

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.