When the Texas abortion ban was allowed to go into effect last September, many pregnant people in the surrounding region immediately felt the impact. And with people who need abortions now generally having to travel outside of the state for services, the role of abortion funds has become ever clearer.
Forty-nine years after the landmark decision Roe v. Wade, grassroots abortion funds are helping to fill a gap in providing necessary financial support and resources to those considering abortions. While no two abortion funds are exactly alike, the general commitment to supporting pregnant people in overcoming barriers to abortion access remains consistent.
With the increasingly aggressive legislative attacks on abortion access coupled with broader deficits in health care access, many abortion funds have adopted a comprehensive approach to supporting people seeking care. During an October 2021 interview, Lilith Fund organizer Erika Galindo told Truthout that pairing policy organizing with direct service (through financial support and access-related resources) is a key strategy for ensuring people have access to abortion.
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Working in between Mississippi and Alabama, Laurie Bertram Roberts leads two of the South’s most dynamic abortion funds, the Yellowhammer Fund and the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. Reflecting on the history of abortion funds, Roberts said that people leading funding efforts recognized that it wasn’t enough to simply fund the procedure.
“Over time, people were like, ‘Hey, this isn’t really enough, right? We’re giving people money for procedures, but they’re not showing up for the procedures because they can’t get there because they don’t have gas, etc.,’” Roberts said. “So practical support is all of the stuff around getting to your abortion, making sure you survive in that process, that you’re comfortable and that you are okay afterward.”
Funds for travel have gained attention with the extreme Texas six-week abortion ban, but Roberts’s groups also provide broader support to help cover child care, birth control and period supplies as well as referrals for additional care. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 women will have an abortion in this country, and a majority of those who have an abortion already have children.
“All those intersecting things that we talk about in reproductive justice kind of get rolled into practical support,” Roberts said. “And not every practical support funder does the same thing.”
The groups are focused on supporting people’s overall right to or not to parent and be safe and secure in their own decision-making. The Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund is known for crowdsourcing to raise funds for diapers, clothes, groceries, and other resources people and their families need to not only survive hard times, but thrive.
Roberts shared that the group’s community relationships made it possible to successfully mobilize around the case of Latice Fisher, a Black Mississippi woman who was prosecuted after suffering a miscarriage.
“We wouldn’t have been able to organize around Latice’s case the way we did, had we not been in the community for the time we had been,” Roberts said. “Because the person who reached out to us to help with Latice’s case knew us and knew me through abortion funding and through doula work.”
Organizations that work within a reproductive justice framework support people regardless of their pregnancy outcome. Reproductive justice is the right “to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” according to SisterSong, a national activist organization dedicated to reproductive justice for women of color. Indigenous Women Rising has a similar approach, looking at the complete person and making sure that Indigenous women and pregnant people are protected in their rights “to equitable and culturally safe health options through accessible health education, resources and advocacy.”
Nicole Martin, from Laguna Pueblo and a co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, said that reproductive health care is extremely important for people’s well-being, but many are often unaware of possible barriers to accessing care.
“Navigating Indian Health Services, which is one of the main health care facilities that Indigenous federally enrolled tribal members utilize … is very underfunded,” Martin said. “Because Indian Health Services is federally funded … abortion care isn’t available unless in cases of rape, incest, or the pregnancy is detrimental to the well-being of the pregnant person or the fetus. Education about that is something we always do within our communities and outside of our communities.”
Meanwhile, low-income people everywhere face severe barriers to abortion access. Named for Republican Congressman Henry Hyde from Illinois, the Hyde Amendment was passed originally in 1976 and in general, restricts the use of federal funds for abortion services. Such restrictions encumber the ability of lower-income people to be able to get access if the pregnancy is not directly related to the extremely limited instances outlined in the legislation.
Roberts said no one should have to crowdsource for medical care. “This whole big group of people no longer had access to abortion without private money,” Roberts said. “Because let’s be real, most people don’t just have emergency money just to hand over for any medical emergency.”
According to Martin, the combination of funding limitations coupled with abortion bans and other proposed restrictions can create panic within impacted communities.
“They’re conscious of the repercussions of what that policy could have on them,” Martin said. “And a lot of our community members have to travel far distances just for groceries or gas, or even to haul water and wood.”
What started from a need to ensure Indigenous people were included in conversations around abortion and reproductive health more generally has expanded to a more comprehensive resource for Indigenous people nationwide.
“The biggest barrier is the financial barrier,” Martin continued. “And that’s where the fund comes in to help like gas, money, food, child care, and it varies case by case, where we’ll have to get a hotel room for them because COVID restrictions in states are different when they’re traveling.”
Martin joined Indigenous Women Rising in 2018 as a volunteer to initially help with the launch of the abortion fund. Now, almost four years later, they are assisting Indigenous women and pregnant people across the country. As of early November 2021, the fund had supported requests from around 500 people.
Both Roberts and Martin stressed the comprehensive nature of their organizations, with support for self-determination in reproductive decision-making.
“Recognizing bodily autonomy and sovereignty as co-founders, we all don’t have the same political views,” Martin said. “We also believe differently when it comes to abortion care. But we don’t let that deter us from extending care and compassion that I feel like a lot of our callers are looking for.”
Based in New Mexico, Indigenous Women Rising has worked with local providers to have better cultural awareness in providing care. Martin cited reports about Lovelace Women’s Hospital violating the rights of Indigenous pregnant people early in the pandemic as an example of why culturally responsive work around reproductive justice is important.
Reports surfaced in June 2020 of Indigenous mothers being profiled by the hospital and subsequently separated from their newborns shortly after giving birth. Two months later, ProPublica reported a federal investigation that found the hospital violated patients’ rights with a discriminatory COVID-19 screening policy.
Indigenous Women Rising also launched a midwifery fund to support people’s right to choose when and how they want to give birth.
“With midwifery and abortion care, you know we’re really hoping to change the way that people think about reproductive health care,” Martin said. “Especially with the material conditions that we’re in now, we’re still constantly having to fight to have good lives.”