Recently, I attended an abortion fund conference. There are probably two things in the previous sentence that need to be clarified: First off, what the heck is an abortion fund? And what in the world would an abortion fund conference be? Glad you asked.
Abortion funds are private, non-profit organizations that take in donations to fund legal abortions for those who need financial assistance. Abortion funds are generally state- or region-specific. A relatively low-population state, like Arizona or Kansas, for instance, may have only one abortion fund, while more populated states may have more than one. Sometimes funds cover a specific metro area.
Abortion fund volunteers, and our supporters, believe anything that gets in the way of a person receiving the legal medical care she (or he) is entitled to, is a violation of her (or his) rights. We believe this includes cost, which is why we do what we do.
After the outcome of the presidential election, I sought out my state’s abortion fund, hoping to volunteer. I was angry — okay, I was fucking furious — and I had to have some place to put that anger, or it was going to eat me alive. When I became an abortion fund volunteer, I was afraid I might be stepping on the toes of the women already doing the work. But they welcomed me with open arms, and pretty soon I was asked to join the board, because when the subject is reproductive justice, everyone is needed.
For safety reasons, I can’t tell you exactly when or where the abortion fund conference met, and I sure as hell won’t tell you who else attended. Although I will say this: A lot of those abortion fund volunteers would be happy for me to share their names. They’d be proud to share their names. But I’m not going to waste their time trying to contact them for their permission, because for one thing, I know they’re busy, and for another, a lot of us are still struggling with coming out of the closet, so to speak. Because when the subject is abortion, certain people with anti-choice agendas can get pretty scary.
I was angry — okay, I was fucking furious — and I had to have some place to put that anger, or it was going to eat me alive.
The abortion fund conference was a chance for us abortion fund volunteers to meet face-to-face, to see who the other weirdos are in this insane battle. Please understand, I don’t call us “weirdos” because I don’t believe in what we’re doing. I say “weirdos,” because I guess we’re unusual, in that most people seem to shy away from the subject of abortion as though it were something to be ashamed of, and not a perfectly legal, perfectly safe, generally outpatient, procedure.
Meeting other abortion fund volunteers was eye-opening. Most of us identify as women, but there are a few men, too, as well as those who identify somewhere along the gender spectrum. Not that any of us really care about any of that kind of thing; we’re just glad we have counterparts in other states and cities. Nearly all of us are unpaid. We do what we do because we all know a strong truth, down to our bones: Women, and people with uteruses, should have legal autonomy over our own bodies. Period. Full stop. We don’t ever judge or question anyone who comes to us for financial aid. If the financial need is there, we help when we can. I often hear abortion opponents talk about “personal responsibility,” as though pregnancy is a punishment for sin. Abortion fund volunteers believe the reasons for a pregnancy are inconsequential. We don’t judge because we know we can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. We have no idea what personal, financial, relationship or mental issues a person seeking abortion care may — or may not — be dealing with, and frankly, none of that matters, anyway. Abortion fund volunteers, and our supporters, believe anything that gets in the way of a person receiving the legal medical care she (or he) is entitled to, is a violation of her (or his) rights. We believe this includes cost, which is why we do what we do.
Some of the abortion fund volunteers I met are exactly as you might picture them: Young, freethinking and full of Millennial idealism.
But I guarantee you’d be just as shocked to learn that many of them are quiet grandmothers working out of their basements, often keeping what they do a secret from their friends, families and churches. The rest of us fall somewhere in between, and we are a racially, socially diverse group of singles, marrieds, people with kids, retirees and professionals.
At the conference, we were able to share strategies and frustrations. We swapped stories about dealing with “Antis” … That’s what we call the people who protest legal abortion and are willing to show their displeasure by harassing everyone connected with it, sometimes violently. We discussed strategies for dealing with harassment, both digital and physical. We discussed fundraising methods and events, and debated the pros and cons of becoming more public. We discussed racism and pronoun usage and the importance of being as inclusive as possible to anyone and everyone who is in need of abortion care.
It was a renewing, energizing thing, being able to meet other people who are doing the same thing you’re doing, with the same goals, even though everyone around you knows that goal will likely never be met. It’s just a sick game that goes on and on and on, in which some people will always put the so-called “rights” of a fetus above the rights of the autonomous person carrying it.
Some U.S. abortion funds have been around for twenty years or longer. Others are just getting started. The amount of financial assistance funds provide to their recipients varies between as little as five dollars, to as much a few hundred dollars, for a first-term abortion. It all depends on the amount of money the fund is able to provide, and the financial need of the recipient. Some of the funds offer logistical support, as well, by way of rides to appointments or childcare. Some funds will even pay for gas money and the cost of a hotel room, if a woman or person in need of an abortion must travel a long distance to receive that care.
And for those of you who believe that abortion is “settled law,” please hear me when I say you are gravely mistaken. In reality, the onslaught of legislation seeking to curtail access to safe, legal abortion is both constant and sneaky. Conservative lawmakers in states all over the nation have been making it more and more difficult for abortion clinics to operate legally. These are known as TRAP laws (Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers).
Sometimes TRAP laws require abortion clinic hallways to be certain widths or rooms to be a certain size, which has caused some clinics to have to remodel, move or close. Sometimes TRAP laws require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, which sounds reasonable. But it costs hospitals a lot of money to carry the insurance to cover a doctor’s admitting privileges, and in the case of abortion doctors, they only rarely, if ever, need to admit a patient to the hospital. Legal, clinical abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is. Major complications occur in less than half a percent (0.5%) of first trimester abortions, and 91 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester.
And for those of you who believe that abortion is “settled law,” please hear me when I say you are gravely mistaken
At the conference, I met two people from a private abortion clinic that also has its own abortion fund. They told me that in their state, they’re required to play a four-minute tape their patients must listen to before their procedures. Apparently the law only requires the recording to be in English, but their non-English-speaking patients must listen to it anyway, even if they don’t understand a word of it. In some states, patients are required to have an ultrasound before their abortion procedure, which the patient may have to pay for in addition to their abortion, even though an ultrasound is medically unnecessary for a first-term abortion. Three states require the patient to look at the ultrasound screen, even if they don’t want to.
Twenty seven states now have a waiting period before an abortion can be performed. Generally this is 24 hours, but some states require as long as 72 hours. Waiting periods serve zero medical purpose. In fact, they just delay a legal procedure that should take place as early as possible. For a woman who’s already low on cash, a waiting period often creates an additional financial burden because of time she has to take off work, child care she may have to arrange, and hotel and travel expenses she must incur. Though there hasn’t been a lot of research on the subject, evidence seems to indicate that waiting periods don’t change the minds of those who need abortion care. What they do accomplish is to cause more expense, more inconvenience and more stress for women and people who need to obtain an abortion.
In my state, a ridiculous law was recently passed that we reproductive justice believers refer to as the “font law.”
It says that a person receiving abortion care must be given printed information at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure stating what year the doctor received their medical degree, whether or not the doctor has malpractice insurance, any disciplinary action taken against the doctor and whether or not the doctor is a state resident. The law further states that this information must be printed on white paper, in black ink, in 12-point Times New Roman font. Seriously. Have you ever received any such information about any doctor you’ve ever visited? Just how stupid does the state think we are?
In addition to hassling patients and providers, in the last few years, unjust laws such as these have caused several U.S. abortion clinics to close. This, in turn, increases the travel distances, and times, for anyone seeking abortion care. Which is precisely the goal of TRAP laws: To curtail access to a legal medical procedure. Even if it means forcing women and people to stay pregnant when they don’t want to. Even if it means a young woman will have to drop out of college; even if it means a battered pregnant person will stay trapped in an abusive relationship; even if it means a pregnant person must carry a fatally deformed fetus to term; even if a pregnant woman is hopelessly addicted to a dangerous drug; even if a person is pregnant with the product of incest or rape … even if … You get the idea. They want to stop abortion no matter what, without any consideration of the rights of the person who needs the abortion.
Because of the Hyde Amendment to the Constitution (originally passed in 1976), there is ban on the use of federal funds to pay for abortion with just a few exceptions: to save the life of the pregnant person or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Thirty-two states have adopted the federal version of the Hyde law at the state level. Twenty-six states restrict insurance plans offered through the ACA to cover abortion. Some states go as far as to restrict the abortion coverage of private insurance plans. Depending on the state, these restrictions run the gamut from only allowing coverage due to life endangerment of the pregnant person, to sometimes allowing coverage in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment and “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” If your abortion care needs don’t fall into one of those categories, and you didn’t think to purchase specific abortion coverage before you knew you needed it, well then, you’ll just have to pay for your abortion care out of pocket. The numbers shift somewhat from year to year, but it’s safe to say that in general, the majority of abortions are paid for out-of-pocket. For a woman with limited income, saving up the cash to pay for an abortion can delay abortion care more days, or weeks, than she’d like.
In the face of so much opposition, abortion funds are just one piece of a frustrating puzzle of volunteers, activists, law makers and brave doctors all working with what often feels like bubble gum and paper clips to somehow get abortion care to the women and people who need it. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ALCU have taken on the biggest portion of the legal battles in the fight for reproductive justice. Abortion funds try to bridge the cost hurdles. Doctors and abortion clinic workers risk their very lives.
The reality is abortion will always be with us. And so will us abortion fund weirdos. We’ll keep soliciting your donations, stuffing envelopes, holding fundraisers and writing checks to try to take some of the stress of the cost of abortion off the shoulders of those who need it. For more information about abortion funds, including an abortion fund in your state, visit the website of the National Network of Abortion funds at abortionfunds.org.
All abortion statistics come from the Guttmacher Institute www.guttmacher.org.