Planning For The Post Roe v. Wade Operating Environment

Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, companies started announcing policies to offer benefits to their employees who may need access to abortion services but live in states that have criminalized the reproductive health care practice.

For arts and culture organizations, orchestras in particular, the situation forces a new subject into the growing list of social issues that organizations are staking positions, such as the decision by San Francisco Symphony in 2016 to cancel an appearance in North Carolina in response to that state adopting a law which overturned protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

It’s folly to predict outcomes but what the field can do is quantify the current operating environment.

  • Any laws at the national level reaffirming a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion will take years to pass and survive legal challenges.
  • 11 states have passed laws outlawing or heavily restricting abortion and 12 more have laws in motion to enact similar restrictions.

Simply put, there’s no hope for a quick fix or reversal which means orchestras operating in those states will need to make decisions on how to address this issue. While turning a blind eye may buy a little time, there’s no way to avoid the reality that they will need to codify policies.

In turn, those decisions may impact their ability to attract and retain top level talent both on stage and in the office.

Orchestras that operate in states with abortion bans can expect to address this issue initially for admin hires. Many organizations are still attempting to rebuild after pandemic era cuts and the sooner a policy is in place, the better. Having a firm statement that details positions, benefits, and support can go a long way toward making sure they remain an attractive option for the best available talent.

The impact on musician hires will take more time to play out. It isn’t unusual for musician and admin stakeholders at orchestras with budgets large enough to offer excellent health care to believe there are never more than a few potential candidates good enough to fill positions. Setting aside the merits of that position for another time, let’s assume it is accurate. If so, failing to have a policy that offers benefits for traveling out of state for abortion services makes it increasingly difficult to lure established musicians from peer orchestras and attract up and coming talent.

For example* the Fort Worth Symphony ($57,472/year), Milwaukee Symphony ($62,355/year), and Nashville Symphony ($60,000/year) all operate in states that currently ban abortions or have a trigger law that institutes a ban by the end of July 2022. The North Carolina Symphony ($60,518/year) operates in a state that protects a woman’s right to seek abortion services.

And unlike other social justice issues, this one has direct legal consequences that limits women’s rights. While there may be some employees that find abortion bans an incentive, there’s little evidence to support a position that they would counterbalance those who might disqualify opportunities at orchestras that fail to provide some form of benefit and support for seeking abortion services.

For executives navigating board and large donor dynamics that are already too political, the immediate decision is whether to engage the topic. For those who do, it should come as no surprise that you will reach a point where political conversations enter the discussion. Here’s my advice: at the onset, framing the decision as one of competitiveness in the face of a political landscape that will take years to settle could go a long way toward making those other conversations less problematic and that much easier to garner as broad of support as possible.

Moving forward, if your orchestra operates in a state that currently bans abortion or plans to enact a ban soon and has already announced a policy to offer benefits to their employees who may need access to abortion services, I would be grateful to learn more about the details.

*Figures drawn from the 2021-2022 American Federation of Musicians Wage Chart.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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