Access to abortion is on the line like never before. Here in California, we’re preparing for an increase of up to 1.4 million women and other pregnant people who may have to leave their homes and drive to our state for abortion care. The good news is, we have a robust infrastructure in place to respond to our communities’ needs and support people who need abortions. While California recently announced that it will be a safe haven for those seeking abortion if the Supreme Court significantly guts Roe v. Wade next year, I constantly need to remind people that for as long as I can remember, and since before Roe was decided in the first place, there has been a network of abortion funds, practical support volunteers, and advocates who already work tirelessly to make every community a safe haven for those seeking access to abortion.
As the Black leader of Access Reproductive Justice, a statewide abortion fund that has been serving Californians for almost 30 years, the majority of whom also identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, I’m troubled when I hear folks, in particular, privileged white women, try to reinvent the wheel and “solve” the problem of abortion access. This instinct demonstrates a pervasive unawareness and disinterest in learning about and working with the nation’s foremost experts on abortion access—the abortion funds that day in and day out help our communities navigate the hostile restrictions and harsh barriers designed to prevent people from getting abortions. What’s more, abortion funds are largely led by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people, and the notion that our country needs a new “Underground Railroad” of sorts is a blatant erasure of our work and leadership.
The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), of which Access Reproductive Justice is a member, is a powerful 30-year-old nationwide network of more than 80 community-based organizations that link people to abortion care. We respond when people need money to pay for their procedures, child care, money for travel and meals, and other forms of practical and logistical support around obtaining an abortion. Many funds are led by volunteers and Black and brown folks, many of whom have had abortions and utilized their funds’ services. But despite our long history and extensive experience in providing for the needs of those seeking abortions, these funds are continually undermined and underfunded because people refuse to see the work we have been doing for decades.
Unsurprisingly, this disregard for our efforts isn’t new. The work of BIPOC reproductive justice activists has been sidelined within the abortion rights movement for years. More recently, hashtags like #AuntieNetwork and #UndergroundRailroad2019 surfaced online in an attempt to link people to reproductive care. No matter how well-intentioned, these efforts are fraught with potential danger and directly undermine the work abortion funds have been doing and will continue to do. Newer groups of inexperienced, albeit perhaps well-meaning, activists are not vetted by a nationwide framework, may not embrace shared values, nor are they experts in the range of communities we serve. They are not centering the needs of those seeking abortion care in how they provide support and they are not centering those who have historically been most marginalized. They are centering themselves.
In fact, the very use of the language “Underground Railroad” co-opts another movement led by Black women, that of the African Americans and Black folks across this country who offered shelter and support to enslaved people as they worked to escape. The use of this language and the lack of understanding of why it is offensive echoes a historical pattern of co-opting and ignoring the decades of work done by activists of color. But these attempts to whitewash our legacy and take credit for the work we’ve pioneered only prove how invaluable local funds are in getting our communities the care they need.
In 2019, more than 200,000 people called abortion funds looking for help to get their abortions. People call us because we remain the experts when it comes to connecting them with compassionate care. There is simply no other network with the breadth of shared intergenerational knowledge and expertise. As a lifeline for countless communities, abortion funds’ wisdom and values are rooted in the reproductive justice framework, which teaches that deciding when and if to parent and raise children in safe and sustainable communities is a human right. Many fund workers and leaders are BIPOC, LGBTQ+, working class, immigrants, or parents themselves. We know, reflect, and love the communities we serve. We are indeed the experts on what our callers need and are best equipped to connect them to the right resources.
Abortion funds also recognize how this fight isn’t just about access to abortion, contraception, or the right to choose. We understand how the right to bodily autonomy also rests on demanding broad policy change across a spectrum of issues and urgently dismantling intersecting systems of oppression across race, gender, economic status, immigration status, disability, and other identities and circumstances that impact folks’ ability to get care. We know how to navigate a broken health care system that disproportionately fails BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities and link people to the services they need. We’re also building political power in our communities by advocating for more humane and inclusive policies that protect our right to abortion and make it more accessible to those who need it most. We’ve learned from decades of wisdom from mostly Black, brown, and Indigenous women about how abortion access is just one key to total liberation in other areas of life.
As the Supreme Court looks to further undermine legal abortion, we recognize that this is a pivotal moment and that people want to help. Helping means building sustainable support with us, not undermining us. Abortion funds are here and we’re already working with decades of wisdom and power and are deeply rooted in our communities. We need additional funding and active participation in this work from people who believe in it. We need people to join this movement, not reinvent it.