With reproductive freedom being severely curtailed by a new law in Texas, business prospects are starting to look less sunny.
One of the landmark accomplishments for the Republican-dominated Texas government this year was the passage of a draconian set of restrictions on abortion that went into effect on September 1. The law bans abortion after six weeks, based on an unscientific belief that this is when a fetus develops a heartbeat (it’s actually just electrical impulses on a cardiac pole). As this is before many people even realize they are pregnant, the law all but bans abortion in the state. Those found aiding or abetting people seeking abortions after the six-week ban can be sued by private citizens for a minimum of $10,000 and court costs. The bounty hunter aspect of the law is what allowed it to survive an emergency stop from the Supreme Court, who declined who step in on whether the law counts as a state overturn of Roe v. Wade.
Though polling on the new law is fairly evenly split amongst Texans, it’s very unpopular with an important part of Texas’ economy: knowledge workers. Vaguely defined as “someone who thinks for a living,” these workers make up a huge part of the economic boom in the state. They’re scientists and analysts and planners for a variety of industries, especially ones that are seeing growth.
“Knowledge workers are overwhelmingly opposed to this sort of thing, and they are the single biggest resource for high growth companies,” Ray Perryman, a former economist at Baylor University in Waco who has been tracking the Texas economy for 40 years, told Fortune.
For all that “don’t California my Texas” is a favorite Republican battle-cry, the fact is that both Governor Greg Abbott and his predecessor Rick Perry have spent a lot of time courting big industries from the west coast to put jobs in Texas. The most successful of these was getting a Tesla factory set up in Austin, but Microsoft, Dell, Google, and PayPal all have major presences in the state.
Officially, none of these companied have really stood up to the new law, though internally many of them are making arrangements so that their employees can have access to reproductive care. The employees at the companies are typically well off and can likely afford travel accommodations to circumvent the Texas law, or the penalties if they are caught helping others.
However, the very fact that they have less reproductive freedom in the state means that some of those workers may not choose to live here. Other knowledge workers who are homegrown may choose to seek employment outside of the state rather than stay, leading to brain drain. If the state continues to pass laws that are abhorrent to its burgeoning tech middle class, it could eventually stall whatever economic optimism the state has recently seen. Already, two-thirds of millennials say they would not want to move to Texas for work because of the abortion ban. That is going to affect companies’ ability to hire.
There’s also the fact that other states are now looking to cut ties with Texas. Portland, Oregon has already announced a boycott of services from the state that will cost Texas millions. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick seemed undisturbed by it, calling the city “depraved” and a “dumpster fire.” Other boycotts may follow. Whether they have enough effect to change Republican minds on abortion is unknown, but the state has become recently toxic to potential outside revenue earners. If enough forced birth knowledge workers can’t be found to replace them, it will affect the economy negatively going forward.