One year post-Roe is an as-told-to series led by Prism’s Editor-at-Large Tina Vásquez, marking the milestone by featuring new and veteran advocates and organizers, abortion storytellers, providers, clinic directors, abortion fund volunteers, and reproductive justice organizers. You can read the complete series here.
The last couple of years have been particularly rough for those in Texas who care about health, rights, and justice. Besides ceaseless attacks on immigrants, trans people, and education, lawmakers have done everything in their power to criminalize abortion care.
As executive director of the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund, one of 10 abortion funds operating in the state, Kamyon Conner would be the first to say she is neither a “tireless” nor “fearless” leader. She’s real tired, and there is much to fear in Texas for anyone doing abortion support work.
Passed in September 2021, Senate Bill 8 banned abortions after about six weeks—before most people even know they’re pregnant. The law also puts enforcement of the ban in the hands of civilians, allowing them to obtain rewards of at least $10,000 for successfully bringing lawsuits against anyone who aids or abets abortion care. Then—when Roe was overturned in June of last year as a result of the Dobbs decision–anti-choice Attorney General Ken Paxton instructed district attorneys in Texas to pursue criminal charges against anyone providing abortion support. (It’s worth noting that Paxton is currently suspended and facing an impeachment trial for allegations of bribery, abuse of office, and obstruction.) The TEA Fund and others were forced to cease operations or face jail time. Two months later, Texas’ trigger ban went into effect, making abortion in the state illegal.
Never one to accept anti-abortion lawmakers’ shit, the TEA Fund and seven other abortion funds filed a class-action lawsuit that prevented some district attorneys from being able to prosecute organizations like theirs for providing Texans out-of-state abortion support. As of March, the TEA Fund was able to resume operations to help people travel hundreds of miles out of state to access care.
Before becoming the first Black woman to serve as its executive director in 2018, Conner joined the TEA Fund as a volunteer in 2007. She recently spoke to Prism about the many trials and tribulations of operating the TEA Fund one year post-Roe. Here she is, in her own words:
The last year has been abysmal, I think is the best way to describe it. My dad was in the hospital during the Dobbs decision, and he passed away in August 2022. My sister passed away in February. I have dealt with a lot of personal grief on top of what I guess you would call “work stuff” that’s never-ending here in Texas.
Texans have always faced harsh restrictions, and two years ago, we were forced to live through the SB 8 situation. That was hard, but the fall of Roe felt harder. I think it was the weight of what it means for the country. Most people in Texas didn’t understand SB 8. I could go out and see someone I knew, and they wouldn’t know how my work changed. After the fall of Roe, people understood that my work had drastically changed. Communally, we also felt the gravity of it.
Because of those in power in Texas trying to be crafty and reinstate archaic laws like the pre-Roe statute, we weren’t able to help people or fulfill our mission, and that’s not something that I’d had to deal with during my tenure as executive director. In all of the circumstances we’d been in, we were at least able to support people leaving the state to access care. But after Dobbs, we weren’t able to do anything. That was devastating.
At the TEA Fund, we pride ourselves on having a leadership pipeline, so we have folks on staff who have been supported by an abortion fund or by our fund or who have had harmful experiences with [anti-abortion fake clinics]. For them, it was even harder because they knew that if they needed care now in Texas, it would be a very different reality. We heard from folks on our board and in our post-abortion truth and healing group about how triggering the ruling was, how hurtful it was, and how overwhelmed they felt by grief and anger. People say grief is something with nowhere to go, but when we all had to take a pause, it wasn’t just to grieve. In Texas, we literally had to stop operations and regroup. We couldn’t do the work we wanted to do. All we could do was try to fight against these harmful laws and see if we could regain our ability to support Texans.
I felt the loss very deeply. Whenever I talk about this, I get emotional because our helpline is very near and dear to me. I ran our helpline for years before I was executive director. Our intake director was out when the Dobbs decision came out, so I was the one to turn off the helpline. With the climate being what it was, we didn’t want anyone to leave a message sharing any details about the kind of help they needed, so I turned the whole thing off so no one could leave us a message. I just remember sitting at my desk and calling the helpline number to make sure it didn’t work anymore. When I got the voice saying the number was no longer receiving calls, I cried and cried.
I know a lot of people have struggled with feeling abandoned, especially when clinics left. I can understand that clinics did what they felt like they had to do to make sure people have abortions—and some clinics tried to stay open and just couldn’t financially. In a way, I felt abandoned by supporters and donors. People told us we weren’t doing enough or that they were afraid to support our work—even though we put ourselves at risk every day to do this work, and we’re the ones who would take the brunt of anything that happened. When people are grieving, and resources are low, and stress is high, communication isn’t at its best. I felt that from some of our supporters, who were angry and sad and hurt and didn’t know what to do with those feelings.
I feel relatively safe right now. I also feel like you never know what they’re going to come up with next—any little thing they can do to restrict [our] access to people who need abortion care. How do we even prepare for the next shoe to drop? How do we anticipate what it is or how it will play out? That’s what keeps me up at night. What is the best way to keep people protected? What’s the best way to keep us protected?
Like a lot of funds, we have great legal counsel. We run almost everything by them. Like, we don’t change programming or put anything out or on the website before we run it by our attorneys. They review every word to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the people who are coming to us for support and also to protect ourselves. We go to great lengths to keep everyone safe.
I’m not going to put on a brave face. The work I have to do with myself every day as a Black woman who leads an organization through activities that people in power are trying to criminalize is a lot. The criminalization portion of abortion is so scary. This is why I really urge people to think about which communities are most affected when abortion is criminalized. Who does it affect, and why are folks in power choosing to target these groups of people? I’m sure people know the answer to that.
While in this role, I’ve lived through three abortion bans, and before I was executive director, there was another one. Working in Texas is very much like, you take a step back, then you gain some momentum and regain some rights, and then you take three steps back, and you gain some momentum and regain some rights. Then you get knocked down again. Right now, it’s about anticipating what else they can do in a state where abortion is already not legal. What else can they do to us? What else are they going to try to do? Whatever it is, I know abortion funds will be a target.
People ask me all the time in that concerned voice, “How are you? How are you holding up?” The honest answer is I don’t know. I actually don’t know how we get through this every day, except for the fact that we have created a strong support system among ourselves. We pause when we need to. We take breathers. We take the time to think through what our values are and how we continue to live our values and support people that need our help the most. We are always focused on reproductive justice.
There are things we’ve always wanted to do that we didn’t have time for because we’ve existed in a landscape where everything is on fire. We have always wanted to help people with contraceptive care. Now we’re doing that. We’ve developed a campaign where we provide diapers and other things that fake clinics give people so that they don’t have to go there. This is our way of bringing support to people who need it in a way that’s aligned with our values. We want to support pregnant people and parents so that they don’t have to go to harmful fake clinics. What we are really trying to do is envision the future we want for people and figure out how to make it happen.
The hardest part of this work is that the people in power try to limit what we can do. For a lack of a better phrase, it really does hurt your feelings. The atmosphere is so overwhelming, and the rhetoric is so horrible and harmful; how could it not hurt you? The thing is, you won’t find people more passionate than the people fighting for abortion. I don’t want to do anything else. Everyone I know is like, “This shit is horrible, but yeah, I want to be here. I want to fight.”
If we want to keep being able to fight, we need dollars. People who were supporting our work have been chilled; they’re afraid to keep donating. Now’s the time to actually double down on support. If you see this as a risk, now is the time to take that risk because people are suffering, families are suffering, providers are suffering. They’re all in a bind. Now is the time we need people to be extra bold in their support of abortion access—here and now—because this is kind of how things got this way.
People were just letting it ride and thought we’d always have abortion. It was never a guarantee. And now they’re stripping away so many other rights for our queer and trans communities, for immigrants and migrants, in our education system. I get that it can feel overwhelming, like people’s support is being pulled in a lot of different directions, or it can start to feel like there’s no way we’re going to turn this shit around. But I believe in community above all else. I believe in the power of community. I have become the person I am because of community that supported me and my leadership. Working together—loudly, boldly, and in lockstep—is the only way out of this mess. It’s the only way to regain reproductive health, rights, and justice.