WASHINGTON -- Shareholder groups that have won corporate boardroom concessions on climate change and diversity are beginning to press corporations on women's reproductive health issues, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a case that could fundamentally alter abortion rights in the United States.
A group of 36 investors managing $236 billion in assets sent a letter to CEOs of more than 30 companies asking them to discuss their positions related to sexual and reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, according to a copy of the letter reviewed by CQ Roll Call.
Shareholders involved with the effort have already filed five proxy proposals for 2020 annual meetings including at Macy's Inc. and Progressive Corp.
Campaign leaders and corporate governance experts, including a lawyer who reviewed shareholder proposals at the Securities and Exchange Commission, say they haven't seen requests related to abortion since the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that protected a woman's right to an abortion without excessive government interference.
In 2019, some Republican-leaning states passed new restrictions or bans on abortion in certain cases as some Democratic states established new protections.
The flurry of state activity came as the Trump administration sought to implement policies aimed at restricting access to abortions and as two Supreme Court justices nominated by President Donald Trump, who oppose abortion rights, were confirmed by the Senate and shifted the court to the right. Trump has said he would like to overturn Roe.
The high court will hear oral arguments March 4 in June Medical Services v. Gee, a case that looks at whether Louisiana can require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. It's the first abortion-related case since the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a swing vote on abortion.
"If Roe is either overturned directly or effectively, then companies and their employees will be faced with a situation where ... the company may insure coverage of abortion but the employees will not necessarily have access to it unless they go out of state," said Shelley Alpern, shareholder advocacy director at Rhia Ventures, an investment firm advocating corporate responsibility on reproductive health.
"Companies really are not yet thinking about the implications upon their employees and themselves of a post-Roe environment, and that's why we prepared the business case," she added.
The letter organized by Rhia Ventures amasses almost six times more capital than a previous investor sign-on letter from Trillium Asset Management on reproductive health that didn't address abortion by name. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees the city's $215.5 billion public pension funds, is among the signatories of the Rhia Ventures-led letter.