Facebook Employees Told Not To Discuss 'Divisive' Abortion Issue

Meta's employees have been told not to discuss abortion on Workplace, Facebook's internal communication system, because of "an increased risk" that the social media platform is seen as a "hostile work environment."

The Verge reported the news on Thursday, saying that the policy has been in place since 2019 but it has not been reported on until now.

It comes after a Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked to Politico and published on May 2. The leaked opinion, which came out weeks before the court was meant to formally issue its final decision, says that the landmark 1973 legislation must be overruled and that abortion rights should be determined individually by each state.

In a company-wide meeting Thursday, Meta's VP of HR, Janelle Gale, said that abortion was "the most divisive and reported topic" by employees on Workplace.

Gale said that "even if people are respectful, and they're attempting to be respectful about their view on abortion, it can still leave people feeling like they're being targeted based on their gender or religion," according to a recording of her comments obtained by The Verge.

"It's the one unique topic that kind of trips that line on a protected class pretty much in every instance," she added.

Some employees have called on management to reverse the policy, as it contradicts staff being allowed to talk "respectively" about some other divisive issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration and trans rights.

Newsweek has contacted Meta for comment.

Sheryl Sandberg, Meta's chief operating officer, called abortion "one of our most fundamental rights" in a post on her public Facebook page on May 3. "Every woman, no matter where she lives, must be free to choose whether and when she becomes a mother," she wrote. "Few things are more important to women's health and equality."

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Internally, Meta appears to be taking a less outspoken stance. The Verge saw an internal post written by Naomi Gleit, one of Meta's most senior executives, the following day, saying that staff were allowed to only discuss abortion "with a trusted colleague in a private setting (e.g. live, chat, etc.)" and in a "listening session with a small group of up to 5 like-minded people to show solidarity." She said the company will continue to offer staff access to reproductive healthcare in the U.S. regardless of where they live.

The technology news website cited Workplace posts and comments showing that the issue of discussing abortion at work divided staff.

It said that during the all-staff meeting led by Gale, Sandberg and other executives on Thursday, several comments about the abortion policy posted by staff underneath the live stream were removed during the meeting.

One female employee who had been at Facebook for more than a decade wrote in an internal post: "The same policy explicitly allows us to discuss similarly sensitive issues and movements including immigration, trans rights, climate change, Black Lives Matter, gun rights / gun control, and vaccination."

"The argument about why our policy treats one issue quite differently than other sensitive issues feels flimsy and unconvincing to me. The entire process of dealing with the Respectful Communication policy, being told why my post is violating, and crafting this new post has felt dehumanizing and dystopian."

Many corporate leaders have been silent following the release of the draft Supreme Court decision on Roe, partially because health insurance to cover access to reproductive care is invariably tied to employment. Other businesses believe that they should not wade into issues they see as political.

However, some companies have spoken out. OKCupid, the dating service, wrote on Twitter said that overturning Roe would be "unacceptable". Yelp also quickly spoke out, saying in a statement that jeopardize the human rights of millions of women who stand to lose the liberty to make decisions over their own bodies."

Companies including Amazon, Apple, Citigroup, Salesforce and Yelp have since adopted more favorable employee policies with respect to women's reproductive rights.

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A pedestrian walks in front of a new logo and the name 'Meta' on the sign in front of Facebook headquarters on October 28, 2021 in Menlo Park, California. Meta’s employees have been told not to discuss abortion on Workplace, Facebook’s internal communication system, because of “an increased risk” that the social media platform is seen as a “hostile work environment”. Justin Sullivan/Getty