Makayla Montoya-Frazier (Photo courtesy: Makayla Montoya-Frazier)

Makayla Montoya-Frazier started the Buckle Bunnies Fund with other organizers because they wanted to cement their reputations in Texas as“bad bitches who do the work.” The community sexual health specialist jumped to action when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott temporarily banned abortion in late March. She collaborated with other young queer folks in the state to form the abortion and mutual aid fund that continues to operate across Texas. The mission? To do anything necessary to get people the care they need.

The American South is home to a vast network of abortion funds that are rooted in reproductive justice. These funds successfully help people access abortion in states notoriously hostile to access. While state lawmakers have spent the first months of 2021 introducing anti-abortion legislation nationwide, abortion funds remain especially crucial in Texas where some of the most extreme anti-choice legislation is piloted. Senate Bill 8’s intent is to drastically reduce abortion access by banning abortions as early as six weeks. Many people don’t know they are pregnant until after six weeks. Texas lawmakers recently included language in the bill “meant to make it harder to block the law from taking effect and easier to sue abortion providers,” the Texas Tribune reported

Evidence suggests that when abortion restrictions are on the rise, pregnant people turn to self-managed abortion as an option, usually doing so at home using misoprostol, a safe drug that is 85% effective in terminating a pregnancy. The risk of criminalization, prosecution and imprisonment for self-managed abortion is especially high for low-income women of color who obtain the medication online the way that Montoya-Frazier did a few years ago. Montoya-Frazier was trained to publicly speak about her experience accessing care as an abortion storyteller with We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who’ve had abortions. The 21-year-old said she self-managed while employed as a sex worker, an experience that put her at the nexus of various forms of criminalization. 

The San Antonio resident spoke to Prism about self-managed abortion and the the way sex work communities and people who access abortion are sidelined by leftist organizations while also being criminalized by the state. Here she is in her own words. – Tina Vasquez

I was a little fertile myrtle as a teenager. I got pregnant three times and I don’t have any kids. Accessing multiple abortions as a young person, and as someone who had to use abortion funds, felt super overwhelming and confusing. When I was 20, I did a self-managed abortion. It was the best choice for me and I think self-managed abortion is the best thing in the world. 

Self-managing felt safer to me because of the trauma I have experienced with healthcare providers, but one of the biggest challenges for self-managing is criminalization. Even obtaining the medication [online] is potentially legally risky, and it can be really scary if you don’t have a network and resources to walk you through the process. I was really lucky to have that, but sadly criminalization is something that’s really familiar as a [former] sex worker. I know a lot of people who would find self-managing ideal, but they are afraid of being criminalized. That’s real. That’s a line in the sand for some people, but it wasn’t for me because as a sex worker I was already at risk. By the way, that’s a really big ask of people who are just trying to access health care. How much are they willing to risk? Their entire freedom for the rest of their lives? This is the way our laws have made it, and that’s really unfortunate.

Makayla Montoya-Frazier (Photo courtesy: Makayla Montoya-Frazier)

A lot of sex workers are members of vulnerable communities—and by that I mean they are parents, people with mental illnesses, people with disabilities, all of these groups where poverty is very real and a constant threat. It’s really hard to go to a clinic and have this big expense associated with an abortion. A $500 or $1,000 bill just isn’t possible, especially if you can get pills off the internet and do it yourself. Not allowing us this option without the risk of criminalization is another barrier strategically placed by the government that doesn’t want to recognize the autonomy of pregnant people and people who can get pregnant. 

They know that self-managed abortion is the ideal option for vulnerable people, and that’s why they go out of their way to make it hard to access and they criminalize the people who self-manage. They make an example out of these people and throw them in jail under ludicrous laws where the fetus has more rights. All of this is intended to send a message and scare people, and what it does is scare people from getting the care that they need. This is especially true for undocumented people who already have children and have to consider if they want to risk it all to get the care they need. 

It’s been one thing after another since fucking Roe v. Wade. For me, personally, things were really hard to manage over the last few years since I’ve been over the age of 18 and I was a sex worker. This was around the time when SESTA-FOSTA passed [harming sex worker communities and leading to online censorship]. As a young person I was trying to figure out what it all meant for me. I was unsure if it would impact me, but then it did. I wasn’t able to use certain websites for clients and my payment platforms were shut down, which made things really hard when I was trying to get an abortion by crowdfunding money. I remember being so stressed out that my abortion crowdfund would get taken down because I was a sex worker. 

I don’t know if people can understand that it can feel like pure fear from multiple angles—and I’m one of the lucky ones. I was definitely a more privileged sex worker compared to street-based workers or people who are trans or unhoused. There are all of these overlaps between abortion access and sex work, and the biggest commonality is the criminalization that we face and the fear tactics that are used on vulnerable communities. Of course the people most subject to all of this are people with a uterus. 

The Buckle Bunnies Fund started when COVID-19 hit and Abbott tried to stop abortions. People love to shit on Texas with their little fucked up jokes about the border or poverty or whatever systemic issues they think are funny to make fun of in the South. As a border state we live in a police state, and our laws are really strict when it comes to abortion and sex work. A lot of strip clubs are afraid of getting arrested for human trafficking, which happens through these very particular laws. [For instance,] if your thong is too small, or you’re not covering your nipples the right way, or your heels aren’t the right height [you are at risk of being arrested]. There are stings with undercover cops who try to solicit you. Sex workers are a perpetual target in Texas. And maybe the general population isn’t aware of the shit that undocumented sex workers face—not that the general public is ready to be sympathetic to sex workers anyways. I think that’s why a Border Patrol agent in Texas could kill four sex workers. These aren’t women the public would look for or fight for. 

During [the pandemic,] our work with the Buckle Bunnies Fund has been nonstop because people perpetually need large amounts of money to access abortion, especially now because they’re unemployed or their unemployment ran out. If they have kids, all of their money is going to child care. It’s too much for people to handle and it’s really sad. We can only provide so many funds even though our goal is to help them pay as close to $0 as possible. If that means we have to go to Twitter and ask for money, or reach out to other funds to ask for help, that’s what we’re going to do. If it’s in my power, I’m not going to leave anybody hanging. 

The way the fund works is that people can fill out the form on our site, but sometimes they also message us on Twitter or Instagram and tell us they need an abortion. We see them through the process until the very end, and then we do follow-up calls and provide aftercare kits. Sometimes the relationship goes on for weeks or months [after the abortion]. We help [some people] multiple times. There is no judgement in this, and we are in it with them for the long-haul. Sometimes that means bringing people dinner, driving them to the clinic, or giving them money for a hotel. Whatever it is, we shift to fit their needs because in this kind of work shit changes quickly. You’ve got to be ready for anything. If you’re not, you’re going to lose people. These are people’s lives, so you can’t play. 

I have mixed feelings about [people’s] responses [to help]. When we give people money for their abortion they start crying because they’re so happy. It’s such a happy feeling but a horrible feeling at the same time. People shouldn’t have to be in this predicament, and in a way it really fills me up with anger. I’m happy we can help fill the gaps, but then I think of the thousands or millions of other people who needed the same gap filled and there was nothing there for them. I think of the people who had to have kids because they didn’t have what they needed to access abortion—especially here in Texas—and shit just becomes this never-ending cycle.  

What would be helpful to our movements is if leftist organizations didn’t exclude or put abortion access and sex worker liberation in different boxes in order to prioritize something like electoral politics. Maybe they don’t want to acknowledge that people who get abortions and people who are sex workers end up doing a lot of their labor organizing while having no one act as their ally. The whorephobia is very real and it burns people out. We are routinely ignored and left to our own devices by people who are supposed to be our comrades. We are in community with them, but are they in community with us? 

At the end of the day, sex workers are showing up in so many ways. We’re organizing mutual aid and doing organizing for the unhoused and against criminalization in all forms. We’re doing electoral work and funding abortions. We help as much as we can, and the help isn’t returned. 

Tina Vásquez

Tina Vásquez is a contributing writer at Prism. She covers gender justice, workers' rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.