Big US law firms are mostly quiet about the abortion ruling, and are walking a tightrope

June 26 (Reuters) – The largest US law firms did not take a public stand after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, diverging from the approach of some major firms that have made public statements on the closely watched abortion issue.

A 6-3 Dobbs Supreme Court decision upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Many countries are expected to impose further restrictions or bans on abortions after the ruling.

Reuters on Friday asked more than 30 US law firms, including the 20 largest by the total number of lawyers, to comment on Dobbs’ ruling and whether it will cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions.

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The vast majority had not responded by Saturday afternoon, and only two, Ropes & Gray and Morrison & Foerster, said they would enforce this travel policy.

Morrison & Foerster, which has nearly 1,000 attorneys, was the only large firm to issue a public statement on Saturday afternoon.

The company’s president, Larren Nachelsky, said Morrison and Foerrester “will redouble our efforts to protect abortion and other reproductive rights.”

Dobbs’ decision has been expected since a draft opinion was leaked in May.

Many major American corporations, including The Walt Disney Company (DIS.N) and Meta platforms (META.O) On Friday, it said it would cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions. Read more

Industry experts say law firms could talk about Dobbs in the future if employees and clients push them to take a public stand. For now, corporate leaders appear to be carefully weighing the benefits and drawbacks of the suspension, including the potential to alienate customers, experts said.

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“This is a walking tightrope for companies,” said Kent Zimmermann, a law firm counsel at the Zeighauser Group. “They have diverse views between their talents and their clients.”

Some companies have issued internal communications to employees regarding the decision. Ropes & Gray president Julie Jones said in an internal memo seen by Reuters that the company will hold several community gatherings to discuss the ruling and offer “comfort.”

“As the leader of Ropes & Gray, I am concerned about the impact of this decision on our community,” Jones wrote, acknowledging that her memo may cause “an insult to parts of our community.”

A Ropes & Gray spokesperson told Reuters on Friday that employees enrolled in its medical plan are eligible for financial assistance to travel out of state to have an abortion.

A spokesperson for another large US law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, emphasized the US workforce’s holiday on Friday. The spokesman did not immediately respond to other requests for comment.

Although public data is scarce, a number of law firms had indicated publicly prior to the ruling that they planned to provide free legal support to women seeking abortions if Roe was rescinded.

New York Attorney General Leticia James and San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, together with the San Francisco Bar Association, have held free, volunteer-based initiatives at law firms. Participants include Paul Weiss, Gibson Dunn, Crocher, O’Melvini and Myers.

Brad Karp, president of Paul Weiss, called Dobbs’ decision a “crushing loss” in an internal letter the company sent on Friday to Reuters. Paul Weiss and O’Melvini, who represent Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, respondents in Dobbs’ case have deferred comment on the ruling for their co-counsel, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

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The center said in a statement that the court “has reached a new level by withdrawing – for the first time ever – a constitutionally guaranteed personal freedom.”

Gibson Dunn did not respond to a request for comment.

Robert Cummins, a consultant at Vertex Advisors who works with law firms, said firms would be “extremely cautious” about taking positions early on the ruling.

He said, “They have to make sure they think about it. What is the business impact? What is the customer impact? What is the staffing impact? There are a lot of things to think about.”

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Additional reporting by Karen Sloan in Sacramento, California and Jacqueline Thompson in Swampscott, Massachusetts; Additional reporting by Mike Scarsella in Silver Spring, Maryland. Editing by Rebecca Minzer, Nolen Walder and Leslie Adler

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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