For years Austin was an easy sell for tech company recruiters trying to lure talented employees to the Lone Star State. Like other Texas cities, the state capital offered good food, warm-ish winters, and relatively cheap real estate. Young recruits looking to pad their resumes knew they’d be part of a larger ecosystem of tech companies and creative-minded young people.
But in the two years since Texas passed extreme abortion restrictions—including a law that places $10,000 on the heads of those who assist Texans in getting the procedure after fetal cardiac activity can be detected and a “trigger law” that made performing an abortion a felony punishable by life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—the city has lost some of its luster.
At Bumble, the women-centered dating app that calls Austin home, executives say that about one third of their 150 Texas employees have left the state entirely, opting for remote work. Though the woman-led company went public during the pandemic and company executives remain eager to continue growing, plans to invest heavily in the company’s Austin hub and attract employees here are on hold. The reason: It’s not just hard to keep talented employees in Austin in a post-Roe world, where doctors might not perform even medically necessary abortions for fear of reprisal, it’s also hard to attract them to Texas in the first place. Company executives say that policies promoted by politicians under the guise of being “pro-family” are making it harder for families to form.
“We are a dating company that is full of people who believe in the importance of people meeting one another and starting families,” said Laura Franco, Bumble’s chief legal and compliance officer. “Our employees are no different, and they want to know they can also do that safely and they’re going to receive medical care during their pregnancies and not have to wait for a lawyer who is sitting on the sidelines to step in and tell doctors when they can intervene if an emergency occurs.”
Bumble executives say the lack of access to reproductive health care in Texas isn’t just bad for their employees’ well-being—it’s also bad for business. In addition to increasing business costs by forcing companies to pay for employees’ out-of-state travel costs, they say, laws that effectively ban abortion are driving away talent and undermining the kind of innovative office cultures that tech companies rely on. This week, citing what executives described as their “duty” to speak out, Bumble became the lead signee on an amicus brief in Zurawski v. State of Texas, a lawsuit filed by 22 plaintiffs. They include twenty women who suffered severe complications during their pregnancies and were denied urgently needed medical procedures which they say placed their health and lives at risk.
The suit doesn’t seek to reverse the state’s stringent abortion laws, but instead asks courts to clarify when physicians have the authority to provide life-saving and medically necessary abortion care. Bumble is joined by 35 other companies and four individuals doing business in the state, including the internationally famous South By Southwest festival for music, film, and tech, and Amalgamated Bank, as well as Texas law firms, investment firms, a church, physicians, and real estate and hospitality companies.
In August, a state district judge in Austin’s Travis County issued a temporary injunction on enforcement of the law against doctors who treat patients with what they determine in good faith are life-threatening pregnancy complications. The Texas attorney general filed an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, blocking the injunction. Oral arguments in the case will be heard later this month.
Together, the companies and individuals who filed the brief say that the state’s abortion bans are costing Texas $14.5 billion in lost revenue each year, citing a 2021 estimate based on research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. that studies gender inequality. According to that organization’s research, the lost revenue primarily stems from reductions in labor force participation among women ages 15 to 44. The research suggests the same cohort is subject to lower earnings from mandated abortion counseling sessions and doctor visits, and increased turnover and time off from work to get out-of-state abortions. “Restrictions like these will also have a devastating impact on state economies and the financial security of women and their families,” Dr. C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said. “Texas is restricting its own economic growth in its quest to restrict women’s freedom.”
The impact on Texas businesses is expected to worsen if nothing changes. The brief cites a poll conducted in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, that found that 44 percent of young women (ages 18 to 34) in Texas are considering moving or making plans to move to a state with comprehensive reproductive health care protections. It also cites a separate 2021 survey that found that 65 percent percent of college-educated workers nationwide say they will not consider a job in a state where politicians are trying to restrict reproductive health care rights.
Sarah Cummings Stewart, a lawyer leading the pro bono legal team that prepared the amicus brief, cited other impacts such as travelers and professional organizations declining to visit Texas. “We highlight a pregnant woman who canceled a business trip because she was worried about experiencing a health emergency,” she said. “We also provide examples of organizations, such as the Society of Women Engineers, which has forty thousand members and received such a backlash from holding an event in Houston that they have announced that they won’t be hosting future conferences in Texas.”
The brief includes myriad examples of hopeful parents who left Texas or who’ve refused to relocate to the state for jobs because of fears that Texas’s “restrictive laws” make it too dangerous to carry a pregnancy there. In one instance, an attorney (and native Texan) and her husband, who’d worked in the state’s oil and gas industry for more than a decade, decided to uproot their lives and move to Colorado because of Texas’s draconian reproductive landscape.
Also included are the stories of several health care workers, such as Alireza Shamshirsaz, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist who relocated to Boston after he was unable to treat a pregnant woman who suffered “irreparable health consequences” because of concerns he’d run afoul of state laws. As Texas Monthly previously reported, doctors who practice maternal and fetal medicine began reluctantly leaving as state lawmakers made such care increasingly difficult to practice in recent years. Given the challenges they face, Stewart said nobody should be surprised that health care providers would feel compelled to head elsewhere. “The ambiguity in the exceptions is the issue,” she said. “If doctors guess wrong,” regarding whether urgently needed care will be considered an exception to Texas abortion laws, “they are facing decades in prison, and so they are gambling with their own lives in addition to their patients’ lives.”
Influential proponents of Texas’s restrictive abortion laws have rejected concerns about their effect on the state’s business climate and, in at least one instance, portrayed resistance as an exercise in misguided futility. In the weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Texas’s trigger law went into effect, Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Governor Greg Abbott, told a reporter that the state maintained “unmatched competitive advantages” owing to its young, skilled workforce, a predictable regulatory environment, and “no corporate or personal income taxes.” (As of press time, Eze had not responded to a request for an interview on the lawsuit.) Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, meanwhile, shrugged off those who said they’d boycott the state because of its abortion laws. “A boycott will hurt them, not us,” he tweeted. “Texas’ economy is stronger than ever.”
Back at Bumble, executives say the company is still growing—just not in Texas. At the company’s recently opened London office, in a city where abortion restrictions begin at 24 weeks of pregnancy, employees have largely returned to in-person work. “We’ve been able to bring in food and create more of an active office, which helps us build towards our larger mission,” Franco said. “Unfortunately, the laws in Texas have hampered our ability to do the same thing in Austin.”