On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in a decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, a case that federally protected the right to abortion. Though the decision was no surprise due to a draft majority opinion that was leaked in May, it still devastated the country and sent doctors, patients, advocates, and others into a confusing whirlwind as trigger bans went into effect. People began searching for ways to help while abortion providers grappled with the legal implications of the fall of Roe. Things are changing fast as litigation begins in various states, but among the chaos is a constant: the abortion fund.
What are abortion funds and why do they exist?
Even before the end of Roe, abortion was inaccessible for many people. Most states have at least some limitations on insurance coverage of abortion (depending on whether the patient has Medicaid, private, state marketplace, or ACA marketplace plans). This means the cost of abortion is very often paid out of pocket, which can range from about $500 for a medication abortion to more than $1,500 for surgical abortions, depending on when during the pregnancy the abortion occurs. These fees don’t include the other costs of getting an abortion, like missed work, travel, lodging, and child care—all factors that will get more expensive as people have to travel farther to access abortions. The impact of Texas’s Senate Bill 8, which banned abortions after six weeks, can help us predict what this will look like post-Roe.
Abortion funds help people who need an abortion with all of the above, and often much more.
“Abortion funds provide a range of support to abortion seekers, including financial, practical, and emotional support … and have been [doing so] for decades,” said Helmi Henkin, an abortion rights organizer in St. Louis.
Different funds have different missions and may provide support in specific areas, to specific types of abortion-seekers, or are dedicated to covering the other (travel, child care, etc.) costs associated with abortion. They’re integral parts of the network of care that exist for abortion seekers, but Rachael Lorenzo, the co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, notes that they “are also support systems for each other in our network.”
What do people get wrong about abortion funds?
Abortion funds did not crop up in response to the Dobbs decision. In reality, they’ve been the ones ensuring access to abortion even when it wasn’t in the news. Though they welcome people new to the movement, Lorenzo says, “Please understand this is a long-haul venture” if you’re just now getting involved in the pro-abortion cause.
They also don’t only serve women, but all people who are seeking abortions. With the increased focus on abortion, Lorenzo sees an opportunity. They said this is the time to “reshape a movement to truly be more inclusive of our transgender, gender-fluid, nonbinary, and other gender-variant relatives. This isn’t women’s health. It’s just fucking health care.”
How can people help abortion funds and those seeking abortions?
As people previously uninvolved in the abortion movement scramble to figure out what to do, many are turning to abortion funds—to donate, to get help, and to ask how to get involved. Henkin notes that this is a natural progression, as “[a]bortion funds are experts on the landscape of access in the areas that they serve and are intimately familiar with the various barriers that their clients face.” But this means people need to actually listen to the needs of abortion funds instead of taking matters into their own hands. Lorenzo confirms that abortion funds need monetary support (particularly recurring donations) now more than ever. They operate on “shoestring budgets” and cannot help every person who reaches out for help, often pooling money from other funds to fill gaps. This financial support isn’t only necessary in states where abortion is now restricted.
“Both funds in states where abortion is protected and where abortion is restricted need support since folks travel to those more protective states and seek funding from organizations there,” Lorenzo said.
Though the influx of support can be heartening for funds that need money to operate, there are also downsides to increased attention on abortion. Well-intentioned people who want to help are taking to social media with their ideas. What abortion advocates, providers, and funds don’t need is people trying to reinvent the wheel. Abortion funds are part of a decades-in-the-making abortion infrastructure that has been preparing for the fall of Roe by building networks of trust focused on client-centered care. So, folks should be plugging into already existing structures rather than trying to create their own covert funding, housing, or transport operations, or Auntie Networks.
“We also need the Auntie Network to recognize the harm they are perpetuating because it makes it hard for us to build trust with callers who are feeling vulnerable at the moment,” Lorenzo said. “Please stop putting on social media that someone can contact you for housing or a ride.”
If you want to get involved beyond a donation, both Henkin and Lorenzo suggest reaching out to your local funds—not via the hotlines, which are for clients—to ask them what kind of help they need. Then, you can get to work.
What’s next for abortion funds and abortion rights organizers?
As trigger bans continue to go into effect and other ripple effects of the fall of Roe begin, the organizations working to keep abortion accessible will not stop fighting. Henkin is focused on raising awareness and knowledge.
“I have a Google document and website with a state-by-state list of donation links for abortion funds,” Heklin said. “Since the Dobbs decision leaked and the official decision was released, those resources I created have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.”
As the landscape of abortion access evolves and changes, Heklin said she “will continue to share information and pass on wisdom that [she has] gathered over the past several years of being a part of the movement.”
Lorenzo wants to move past voting discourse. In their view, abortion funds, mutual aid practitioners, and community members are serving communities in ways the government does not and will not.
“It’s frustrating to hear liberals talk about voting,” Lorenzo said “Voting didn’t help us [when] we turned out to vote in 2020.”
For Lorenzo, it’s time to stop judging people who don’t want to participate in a system that was built to exclude them, and instead focus our efforts on supporting the inclusive infrastructure abortion funds have been building.
The possibilities of how to plug in are limitless. Though some have focused only on legislation or big names like Planned Parenthood (even though indie clinics provide the majority of abortions), Lorenzo sees others being creative in their pushes to fund abortion.
“We have been calling on artists and anyone with a passion or skill to use that knowledge to support our work,” they said. And people are answering. Business owners across the world (like Helga Jewelry in London) are donating proceeds of sales to abortion access, and in a personal win for Lorenzo, “Punk bands from across the country are talking about abortion and mentioning us. I love punk, I grew up on punk, and this is very punk rock!”Regardless of laws that are passed and cases that are overturned, abortion funds are here to stay. It’s the job of those new to the movement or peeking in from the periphery to help sustain them and increase their reach, even if the news cycle moves on from the SCOTUS decision. Their continued existence will save lives and prove the mutual aid adage: we do keep us safe.