life after roe

700 Calls, 260 Appointments, 30 Days

As North Carolina’s abortion ban took effect, one abortion fund rushed to help as many patients as possible.

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

The Carolina Abortion Fund had one goal last month: Give money to as many patients as possible before North Carolina’s new abortion ban, outlawing the procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy, went into effect on July 1. The fund shelled out $84,000 for abortions and $9,000 for patients’ needs such as transportation and lodging. While the state’s 14 abortion clinics were working overtime to provide as much care as possible ahead of the new law, the fund saw a similar sense of urgency among the patients calling its helpline.

“People calling would say, ‘I have to get this money because if I don’t, I’m not gonna meet the new restriction,’” one staffer named Justine told me. “‘I can’t afford to push it off or wait two weeks.’”

All in all, the fund received close to 700 calls in June. The team of six staffers and 25 volunteers was able to support about 260 of those clients, many in full. It was the most the organization had ever pledged since its founding in 2011. In early June, I spent an afternoon with Justine and A., another staffer, both of whom asked to withhold their full names for privacy reasons. The fund’s only eligibility requirement is that patients either reside in North or South Carolina or are traveling to these two states for care. Patients leave a voice-mail with their personal information and say whether it’s safe to refer to the abortion in a callback from a staffer or volunteer. CAF contacts the patients within two to three days and confirms which clinic they are going to, the date of the appointment, and how much funding they need. The cost of an abortion in North Carolina starts at around $350 and increases depending on the method and gestational age. CAF typically commits between $175 and $400 per patient, determined on a case-by-case basis and sent directly to the clinic, also helping to cover other expenses such as transportation, lodging, gas, and child care. “The callers are the experts on their own experiences. We are not running the show for them,” A. said. “We’re just offering to support where we can and where they tell us it’s needed.”

The conversations I overheard varied in length and scope; if the clients didn’t answer their phones, staffers made a note in their files to contact them again. It was a delicate balancing act that A. described as a left-brain, right-brain combination: The helpline worker must be a great listener who can put someone at ease while being good at strategizing and coming up with solutions on the fly.

Until this month, North Carolina had been a critical access hub after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and the consequent fall of legal abortion through the South. Nine months after Dobbs, the state’s providers reported 7,930 additional abortions — one of the largest increases in the nation, according to the #WeCount report. CAF witnessed the crush of patients firsthand: Calls to the helpline increased around 400 percent in the past year, with the organization sometimes logging as many as 100 callers in a single day.

Now that North Carolina’s 12-week ban is in effect, CAF has been strategizing on how to best serve its clients, including working with other funds and clinics to get patients to more permissive places such as Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, or redirecting patients to South Carolina, where abortion is currently legal up to 22 weeks as the legal challenge against the state’s six-week ban plays out in the courts.

“We’re hearing from folks saying, like, ‘I have a 12-hour drive,’ which means gas money, assuming you have a car. You might have to ask a friend to drive you. Ideally, you can afford to spend the night, but I’ve also heard folks say, ‘I’ll drive seven hours, get my procedure, and then turn around,’” said A. “The barriers to care that already existed are just so much worse.”

In one call I overheard, which lasted about 15 minutes, Justine patiently walked the client through the information she would need. Based on Justine’s kind tone and the way she sought clarification, it seemed the person on the other side of the line was very nervous. “Do you know what the total cost of the procedure was when you made the appointment?” Justine asked, writing down that the abortion would cost $500. “Okay, and you said you’re covering about $100, is that right? So that leaves you with $400.” She went back and forth discussing what other funding options there were to ensure the procedure would be entirely covered. “She sounded so young,” Justine said quietly after hanging up.

The staffers don’t ask callers why they want an abortion — CAF doesn’t collect any personal or demographic information, in fact — but that doesn’t stop many of them from sharing their stories. “People are very forthcoming with their circumstances. I guess in an era of GoFundMe, people feel like they have to perform what’s happened, perform a trauma for you,” Justine said. “That’s just always so difficult.”

The organization anecdotally has seen an overwhelming number of out-of-state patients over the past year. But with the 12-week ban now in place, in addition to other restrictions such as multiple in-person clinic visits that require a 72-hour waiting period between each one, it’s likely that these patients will circumvent the Carolinas entirely when trying to access care. Sending North Carolina residents who are past 12 weeks elsewhere, however, means the funding they need will tend to be higher. If South Carolina’s currently blocked six-week ban is ultimately upheld by the courts, it will present yet another devastating barrier for patients in the region.

What CAF desperately needs — what all abortion funds need — is more money. The tsunami of onetime donations that poured in last summer has long since dried up. During the National Network of Abortion Funds’ annual Fund-A-Thon between March and May, CAF raised around $170,000, which will become available in August. Justine noted that, while this figure is “incredible,” it would cover just a single month in which CAF funded everyone who called.

To navigate the new landscape, the group is looking to attract more recurring donors, strengthen its relationships with other abortion funds and clinics throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and grow its volunteer base. Seeing Justine and A. work makes it clear that no matter what obstacles anti-abortion lawmakers unleash on patients, the funds will always find a way to help people overcome them.

“It’s hard to stay in crisis mode. Our workload has tripled,” Justine said. “But it’s really profound to meet someone’s need in a very material way and then have them go on with their life the way they wanted to.”

The Cut offers an online tool you can use to search by Zip Code for professional providers, including clinics, hospitals, and independent OB/GYNs, as well as for abortion funds, transportation options, and information for remote resources like receiving the abortion pill by mail. For legal guidance, contact Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812 or the Abortion Defense Network.

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700 Calls, 260 Appointments, 30 Days