color photograph of an outdoor protest in support of abortion rights. two people hold a large green banner with white text that reads "legal abortion nationwide now!"
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 08: A small group of people march for abortion rights near a Duane Reade in Union Square on March 8, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

On May 20, 18-year-old Alyssa Roberts drove to a CVS store in Mobile, Alabama, and bought a pregnancy test. Roberts, who asked to use a pseudonym for her last name to protect her identity, kept her best friend on the phone while she anxiously took the test and waited. A few minutes later, she discovered she was pregnant. 

Roberts gave herself a week to think through her options, but it only took her two days to realize she wasn’t ready for a baby. That’s when she started looking for an abortion clinic.

“I didn’t really talk to anybody about it because people are so judgy, and they don’t believe in that. I didn’t have any family to talk to,” said Roberts.

In Alabama, all abortions after the point of conception are illegal, even in cases of rape or incest. After realizing there were no abortion clinics in Alabama or Mississippi she could turn to, Roberts discovered her closest option was a Planned Parenthood facility in Tallahassee, Florida. 

After confirming her pregnancy with a doctor in late May, Roberts called Planned Parenthood to schedule her abortion. She was told the earliest she could be seen was July 3, so she made an appointment for that day. 

Part of restricting abortion access has come through laws requiring patients to endure a waiting period and mandatory ultrasound before receiving an abortion. In 2015, seven years before the Dobbs decision would overturn Roe v. Wade, Florida enacted a law that required pregnant people to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. Reproductive justice advocates sued, but the law was ultimately declared constitutional in 2022

Under this law, patients are forced to attend a counseling appointment with their physician where they undergo a mandatory ultrasound, lab work, and education about their abortion process before receiving an abortion. While the law in Florida requires 24 hours between the counseling appointment and the abortion, given scheduling conflicts and availability, the appointments could potentially be scheduled up to three days apart. This meant that Roberts would have to find temporary housing or a way to pay for a hotel for nearly four days or drive 18 hours round trip over the course of two days. 

“That was one of my worries going to the appointment because I was not gonna have the money,” said Roberts, who was also moving in July and had additional housing expenses, along with other bills. She reached out to the father, who was supposed to split the cost, but he never sent the money. “He said he didn’t have the money but that he could get it to me later … I told him I needed the money now. Later wasn’t going to help me.”

The Wednesday before her scheduled procedure, Tallahassee Planned Parenthood called Roberts and moved her counseling appointment to July 5, with the abortion scheduled for July 6, due to a broken air conditioning unit. On Monday, July 3, Roberts says Tallahassee Planned Parenthood sent her an email to inform her that the air conditioning was still out and that the next time they could see her would be at the end of July or beginning of August, at which point Roberts would have been at least 16 weeks pregnant. Given Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, this meant Roberts wouldn’t be able to receive an abortion there at all. 

When asked for a comment, Tallahassee Planned Parenthood told Prism that they could not confirm details about a patient’s appointment but that there are many reasons an appointment for an abortion could be canceled or rescheduled. 

“When they kept changing my appointment in Florida, I was worried it was not going to happen,” said Roberts.

That’s when she turned to an abortion fund. The New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF) connected Roberts with The Brigid Alliance, an abortion fund based in New York that helps pregnant people who have to travel long distances for abortion care. The Bridge Alliance scheduled her flight, procedure, and hotel room the same day of the call, and Access Reproductive Care Southeast (ARC) paid for her $400 abortion procedure. Roberts was ultimately able to obtain an abortion at 14 weeks pregnant. Because of Planned Parenthood’s delays and the lack of local abortion access, Roberts was forced to continue with her pregnancy for six weeks longer than she anticipated. 

Roberts said NYAAF and The Brigid Alliance made things much easier, adding that in five minutes on the phone with The Brigid Alliance, she was able to obtain information and resources that she had worked for seven weeks to access.

“I told her everything, and she was like, ‘OK, we’ll send it over,’” Roberts said.

Abortion funds fight to stay afloat

Abortion funds like The Brigid Alliance and ARC have become increasingly necessary. With the average travel time to an abortion facility quadrupling in the last year, abortion funds are attempting to patch the holes in the health care system by dedicating an increasingly large portion of their resources to travel expenses and other necessities for abortion-seekers traveling long distances for a procedure. 

Donations to abortion funds have slowed down while the demand for abortion-related travel assistance has grown. While donations were at an all-time high last year due to “rage giving,” reproductive rights advocates are concerned this isn’t sustainable long term due to abortion funds facing astronomical revenue decline. Donations for The Brigid Alliance, for instance, were down by 37% this May compared to May 2022 despite referrals for services and costs of travel are only increasing. 

Chelsea Williams-Diggs, the interim executive director at NYAAF, said her organization is experiencing similar financial troubles. Williams says the organization has seen a noticeable increase in both out-of-state and in-state people seeking abortion care while their donations plummet. 

She said it’s been a struggle to financially keep up with the high demand, and until a recent donation came in, NYAAF was considering closing its doors by October. However, as a result of this donation, NYAAF is projected to stay afloat for eight months as of August 2023.

Williams-Diggs says that what abortion funds need is more government support. While New York City made $1 million in municipal funds available to local abortion funds in September 2022, Williams-Diggs says that money is very hard to access. She says Philadelphia is setting an example other states should follow when it comes to supporting abortion funds. Last year the city donated $500,000 straight to the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA.

“The money wasn’t given through a reimbursement model because it’s unrestricted, so it’s like, here’s money, we trust you … we know you got this, we know you’re the experts,” she said, emphasizing the need for governments to consider not only the amounts allocated, but also how cities and states can set abortion funds up for success. “How are you giving money with trust? How are you giving money without restrictions or barriers?”

Since abortion funds help people who do not have time to wait, it’s imperative their funding stream match a similar tempo. 

“We are in a national health crisis,” said Sarah Moeller, the senior director of external relations at The Brigid Alliance. “People in states with severe abortion restrictions not only don’t have access to abortion care, they don’t have access to basic reproductive health care. Low-income people, people in rural communities, all of the people who are underserved by our society don’t have anywhere to go … They are being misled and forced in desperate situations.”

Roughly 90% of counties in the U.S. didn’t have an abortion provider prior to the Dobbs ruling. Within three months of the Dobbs ruling, at least 66 clinics across 15 states stopped providing abortion care. 

Moeller says The Brigid Alliance has seen a huge increase in the number of people traveling from the Southeast for abortion care. Just last year, the alliance served 976 people from the Southeast, and 12% were people under 20 years old. 

“We need leadership-level, multi-year sustained giving in order to build and sustain the infrastructure necessary to continue helping people overcome often insurmountable barriers to accessing basic health care,” Moeller said.

Eliana Perozo is an Ida B. Wells scholar and documentary filmmaker completing her master's of arts in Engagement Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. She and her twelve-year-old...