As a former immigration attorney who represented survivors of gang violence, domestic abuse, and family separation, Anna Rupani knew tough work. But she says her current job is even harder: since late 2020, she has run Fund Texas Choice, an abortion fund meant to provide Texans with the resources and logistical support they need to get abortion care.
Rupani’s work ground to a halt when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, ending constitutional protections for abortion and paving the way for more than a dozen states to enforce near-total abortion bans. Prior to that decision, Texas already had a law on the books banning almost all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy—but after Roe fell, Texas abortion funds and providers also had to contend with an older law that says those who help “furnish the means” to an abortion may face criminal penalties, in addition to potential fines.
While there is some ambiguity around how Texas’ laws will be interpreted and enforced, Fund Texas Choice decided to shut down most of its operations in Texas to avoid potential criminal charges. Rupani and her team can still direct Texans to information about how to obtain an abortion that is freely available online, and they are pitching in to help a Midwest abortion fund from afar. Rupani also plans to devote much of 2023 to advocacy and public-education work. But not being able to carry out her organizations’ core function wears on her and her team.
“Staff members are often like, ‘When are we going to help people again?’” she says. “And I don’t know.”
More than 90 abortion funds operate across the country, according to the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). Their overarching goal is to “unapologetically support folks needing to get access to abortion care and unapologetically eliminate barriers to accessing care, which include things like fear and shame and stigma,” says NNAF executive director Oriaku Njoku. That can mean helping someone locate an abortion provider and navigate state laws, paying for the procedure, and/or assisting with finding and funding associated needs like lodging, child care, and transportation.
Abortion funds have received an outpouring of support since Roe v. Wade fell. NNAF raised more than $8 million from late June to mid-October of 2022, Njoku says. By contrast, the organization raised less than $2 million in individual donations during 2020. But even with the influx of cash, resources are being squeezed. Abortion funds operating in restrictive states like Texas have to contend with increasingly aggressive laws, while those located in abortion-friendly states are trying to keep up with the deluge of people crossing borders to get care. And with inflation straining budgets across the country, more people need help paying for abortions and related expenses, such as transportation and hotel stays.
Even before the Supreme Court’s decision, about 9% of U.S. abortion seekers left their home states to get one. In some states with more restrictive policies—such as gestational age limits or mandatory pre-procedure waiting periods—15% traveled for appointments, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights nonprofit.
Post-Roe, travel is a more widespread obstacle. Now, almost 30% of U.S. women ages 15 to 49, as well as additional people who are capable of becoming pregnant but do not identify as women, live in a state where elective abortion is banned or severely restricted, and thus would likely be forced to leave their home states to end a pregnancy. One recent study estimated that a woman of reproductive age in the U.S. must now travel, on average, 100 minutes to reach an abortion provider, compared to about 28 minutes before Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Some people need to travel much further. The Brigid Alliance, a national organization that helps organize and pay for travel and other logistical needs associated with abortion care (but not abortion procedures), prioritizes people seeking abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, at which point it becomes more difficult to find a provider. The average Brigid client must travel more than 1,000 miles for an appointment in a state, like Oregon or Vermont, that allows abortions later in pregnancy, says executive director Odile Schalit. Brigid is helping more clients than ever: referrals for its services rose by about 50% in the first month after the Supreme Court’s decision, and Schalit expects it to keep growing with time.
Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, executive director of the Florida Access Network (FAN), an abortion fund in Central Florida, says demand for her group’s services rose by 235% from November 2021 to November 2022. Donations have also risen dramatically—FAN has raised more than $400,000 in individual donations since June, compared to about $8,000 during the second half of 2021. But the organization is still scrambling to keep up with the number of calls it receives, Piñeiro says. The group had to freeze its online inquiry form for the last weeks of 2022 to allow staff time to catch up, hire more people, and strategize for the year ahead. FAN gave grants to several local clinics so they could provide care to people who needed financial assistance during the group’s pause.
Megan Jeyifo, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, says that this year, her group has fielded calls from about 7,000 people and supported individuals across 40 states, Puerto Rico, and multiple countries, including Mexico, Ecuador, Ireland, and England. Jeyifo’s organization is able to respond to every call it receives because it employs about a dozen paid staff members and receives funding from the city of Chicago, in addition to private donations. But that’s somewhat rare in the world of abortion funds. Many are staffed entirely or primarily by volunteers and rely on philanthropy and grant funding to do their work.
Though donations to abortion funds have risen significantly since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, they’re a fickle source of funding. “My hope is that this is not one of those one-and-done situations and that people start to realize the same sort of investment that we’ve seen in anti-abortion organizations” is needed to keep abortion accessible, Njoku says. That effort will require not just money, but also building political power and slowly shifting cultural narratives about abortion, Njoku says.
To help accomplish those goals, Jeyifo says she’d like to see more states and cities invest in their local funds, as well as policy-level support for abortion access and abortion funds in legislation.
“Abortion funds are essential and experts at the work that we do,” Jeyifo says. “Abortion funds should not be forced to be scrappy in a way that I think people have expected us to be for a long time.”
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