Everyone should be able to access health care.
Depending on where you live, how far along you are in your pregnancy, and other factors – like if you have other children who require childcare (which, statistically, you do, because 6 out of 10 people who have abortions already have at least one child) – accessing an abortion can be expensive and complicated.
Abortion funds exist to help those who can’t afford an abortion obtain one. They’re local or regional non-profit organizations, often affiliated with clinics that provide abortions, each with their own method of delegating funds to folks who call the fund’s intake line and state their needs. If you’re approaching the point in your pregnancy where the cost of an abortion is about to escalate dramatically (say, at the end of your first trimester), or you need to get the procedure done very soon or you won’t be able to get it at all, a fund might choose to prioritize your case and give you the entire amount of funding that you need. You can locate an abortion fund in your area by visiting the website for the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF).
But what happens when a fund runs out of money, or gets close to running out of money?
On Thursday, November 30th, Fund Texas Choice, an abortion fund that helps people afford the logistics that often come with abortions, such as travel and lodging, announced that it would have to cease funding because of a lack of money. Hurricane Harvey cut off the ability of many to travel to their abortions, so requests for help from abortion funds skyrocketed, and the result is funds which are entirely tapped.
Even when there isn’t a disaster, though, running out of money happens.
“It’s not uncommon,” says Lindsay Rodriguez, Communications Manager at NNAF. Funds in the Southern and Midwestern United States are among the most vulnerable to running out of money, or almost running out, since laws in these parts of the country make abortion harder to obtain.
For example, if you’re under 18 and live in Texas or Ohio, you need a parent’s permission to get an abortion, which can lead to minors needing to travel to states where parental permission is not necessary. The costs of this travel accumulates – especially for an individual with limited to no income. An abortion that at one point might have taken 5 – 10 minutes to perform and cost $350 can become a multi-day procedure that could be thousands of dollars.
Funds are typically working with a weekly or monthly budget, and funding an abortion that’s more expensive can wipe out money quickly, and result in having to say no to other callers in need. Some funds have rollover budgets, so if they run out of money during the week, they can decide whether or not to dip into the budget for the coming week. Of course, this depends on how well the abortion fund is funded in the first place, and if there are resources to raise more money for it should they run out.
If a fund isn’t able to help a person seeking an abortion, it’s hard to know what happens to them. “We can guess,” says Sammy Lifson, of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund (EMA). “Some likely figure it out and go to their appointments. Some put their appointments off and try to raise the money themselves, but I would assume a lot of people aren’t able to obtain an abortion.”
While some folks are indeed able to come up with the money for their abortion without the help of a fund, we know that certain populations are more vulnerable and will not be able to.
“Rural people struggle with health care access,” says NNAF’s Rodriguez. “Those who are working low wage jobs who don’t get paid time off are less likely to be able to travel for a procedure without financial assistance. If they can’t get an abortion, people will be forced to continue pregnancies they don’t want and can’t afford, or they’ll self-induce.”
Let’s imagine a world in which every abortion fund is incredibly well equipped to help every caller – it’s not a replacement for desperately needed structural change, in the form of everyone who needs an abortion getting one. “It’s a bandaid,” Rodriguez says. “Abortion access is getting worse every day.” She urges folks to learn about their local abortion funds and support it, even if that support is modest, and to have conversations about the reality of abortion access.
“All we have is each other,” she says, “so make yourself a resource.”