When the news broke on Monday that the Supreme Court may vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion rights activists were heartbroken but not surprised. This is the outcome they had predicted and seen coming for years as repressive reproductive laws have passed across the country. Since the ruling was leaked, protests have sparked nationwide, and supporters are seeking ways to advance the fight for reproductive freedoms beyond relying on the electoral system that has evaded codifying abortion rights into law. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday afternoon that Democrats will vote to codify Roe on May 11, ahead of the Supreme Court decision, but the party lacks the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.
Advocates say the best way to support abortion rights is to follow the lead of organizers who have been working to safeguard abortion access for decades: educate yourself about what’s to come, donate to local abortion funds rather than national organizations, and be as inclusive as possible about the language used when discussing abortion rights.
“First and foremost, people need information,” said Nancy Cárdenas Peña, the Texas director for policy and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. Listening to experienced abortion advocates is the best place to start, said Peña, especially since they have long warned of what the realities on the ground will be if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.
“People who have been doing this work in red states have long been screaming into the void about how this was going to come down the pipeline,” Peña said. “We’ve seen so many restrictive legislations on the ground here in Texas. But, speaking for myself, even as someone who’s done this work for so many years, it was still a gut punch. This is our worst-case scenario.”
Without federal protections for abortion rights, it’s even more critical to stay informed about your state’s particular laws. Peña said people seeking abortions have been confused about their rights since the news broke. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice is based in Texas, so she said organizers constantly receive requests for clarification and information regarding what is legal in their state. Confusion tends to peak during legislative sessions when laws are constantly changing. In addition, misinformation about the legality of abortion care is widespread even among health care providers, as became apparent during the case of Lizelle Herrera, a woman who was wrongfully arrested for an alleged self-induced abortion.
But the Supreme Court’s draft opinion leak has caused a whole new wave of misinformation. Peña reaffirms that patients should not cancel their appointments, and abortions remain legal.
In the shifting landscape of abortion rights, there are also many mistaken assumptions that abortion will be criminalized everywhere if Roe falls, or that the decision will not impact more liberal states where abortion will remain legal, explained Kelsea McLain, the director of healthcare access at the Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund based in Alabama.
However, states where abortion care has been easier to access have already been strained by an influx of patients since Texas’ Senate Bill 8 passed in the fall of 2021. As abortion deserts grow, McLain said hundreds of thousands of people who need care will have to travel—stressing their ability to get into a clinic as quickly as they would like or before the state’s gestational cutoff. Oklahoma recently reported a 2,500% increase in patients from Texas due to Senate Bill 8, until Oklahoma’s governor signed their own similar abortion ban in April. Nearby Colorado expects to receive an increase in patients as a result.
“This is a reality people are already facing,” McLain said. “I think it will get worse as clinics get backlogged and have to schedule appointments further and further out.”
To keep track of what you need to know about abortion at the national level, read news outlets that are closely covering abortion rights and focusing on impacted people, like Prism, The 19th, and Rewire. You can also follow organizers who regularly talk about abortion rights on social media like Renee Bracey Sherman, the executive director of We Testify, Abortion, public health scholar Hayley McMahon, Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, the founder of the Pegasus Health Justice Center in Texas, and Pennsylvania-based abortion fund organizer Crystal Gee.
Send resources where they’ll do the most good: abortion funds
As you learn more about the state of abortion rights in the U.S., McLain said that another tangible step people can take right now is to donate directly to abortion funds, practical support networks, clinic escort groups, and independent clinics, so they can offer funding and safe care for those in need. If abortion is banned altogether in certain states, abortion funds will still assist patients in receiving introductory health care, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and then help them get referred to a quality provider out of state.
Due to the Hyde Amendment, a 40-year-old restrictive clause included in the federal budget, people enrolled in Medicaid are denied insurance coverage for abortion. For the second year in a row, Biden has proposed a budget without the Hyde Amendment, but the budget still needs to pass the House and the Senate, which in the past has renegotiated the Amendment back in the budget. Historically, that means communities of color are more likely to lack insurance coverage for their abortion care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, people of color at reproductive age are disproportionately likely to have low incomes and be insured through Medicaid. Twenty-nine percent of Black women aged 15 to 49, and 25% of Latinx women were enrolled in Medicaid between 2016 and 2019. Half of all women in the same age group with incomes below the poverty line were insured through Medicaid, and 62% of Black women with incomes below the poverty line were insured through Medicaid. Due to the Hyde Amendment, abortion funds are especially important to support right now.
“Abortion funds exist because of gaps in the social safety net,” said Debasri Ghosh, managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “That is literally what we do—[we do] the job of the government to get people the health care that they want, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. No matter what happens.”
Abortion funds have already been reporting an increase in donations since the draft leaked on Monday evening, with many from first-time donors. According to McLain, Yellowhammer Fund has received enough donations overnight to be able to increase their budget and get closer to their goal of helping everyone access their appointments.
“We really need the financial support,” McLain said. “People could lose their access to their local clinic overnight. Our goal is to get everyone into a clinic as quickly as we can and we can’t do that without money.”
Donating to local abortion funds is especially important in regions where abortion access is the most restricted. McLain and Peña both report that they have received comments from supporters suggesting that the “South is a lost cause.” The sentiment stems from a misunderstanding about what it means to access health care and help someone get out of the state for an abortion.
“We need those donations to actually be staying or even be routed to the South right now because that’s where those resources are really going to be needed,” McLain said. The Yellowhammer Fund services Alabama, Mississippi, and other states in the Deep South. There is also the Afiya Center in Texas, and, outside the South, the Northwest Abortion Access Fund services Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska. To find an abortion fund in your local area, check with the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Talk the talk, inclusively
Finally, shifting the ways we collectively talk about abortion care can help support the fight for expanded access. Abortion discourse often leaves out nonbinary people and trans men who can get pregnant; advocates say the language used when discussing abortion rights should be mindful of including everybody who will be impacted by this decision. In Texas, trans men have already reported being impacted by Senate Bill 8.
“As a trans man, any space that I wander into where these conversations are happening is going to be very gendered and essentially full of violence for my community,” said Grayson Schultz, a queer and trans writer and activist who coordinates care for Included Health Communities. “I think there’s an added layer of tension, frustration, and fear around how people are going to react to this, how are they going to take action in a mindful way that does not cause more violence to communities that are otherwise struggling more than the average person to get access to some of this care.”
In addition, even some of the terms that supportive state governments use can be harmful. For Peña, states like California that consider themselves a “sanctuary state” for abortion, the term carries immigration connotations and disregards people’s desire to reside in the state they choose.
“We’ve been doing this work for such a long time, and we’re going to stay here because people in red states, including Texas, still deserve access to abortion care,” Peña said. “Leaving the state is just not a very simple solution.”
On an interpersonal level, McLain said folks should talk to their friends and family about how abortion is a “moral good” and necessity if society wants to see racial, economic, and reproductive justice realized.