The Supreme Court has, as expected, overturned Roe v. Wade. The 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization now makes abortion illegal or severely restricted in several states. The below, originally published in May, has been updated to reflect this reality. The reader service in these stories is still intended to help anyone seeking abortion care no matter where they reside.
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Finding a legal accessible abortion isn’t the only impediment to receiving one. Logistical and financial challenges can stand in the way of care. The cost of abortion ranges wildly depending on location, insurance, and stage of pregnancy, from around $500 for an early-term medication abortion well into four figures for later abortions. Then there are the other things you might need: “Rides, child care, back wages, funding for food or gas cards, even abortion-doula support,” lists Debasri Ghosh of the National Network of Abortion Funds. Abortion funds like NNAF were initially set up to help low-income people finance abortions but over time they’ve evolved to provide a range of care. “These and other requirements or desires are part of a holistic, compassionate experience of getting an abortion, despite all the barriers,” says Ghosh.
Abortion funds — there are more than 90 across the country, in almost every state, including states that now ban the procedure entirely in light of the Dobbs decision — refer to these kinds of services as “practical support.” Diana Parker-Kafka of the Midwest Access Coalition says its mission is to offer “whatever work is needed to get over the barriers that are unique to each individual’s life.”
Some abortion funds, like Access Reproductive Care–Southeast, provide funding for both the procedure and the logistics involved in accessing an abortion — especially when patients have to travel to unfamiliar parts of the country. “We had to send someone to Colorado in order to get their abortion,” says ARC Southeast’s Oriaku Njoku. The client lived in the South and wasn’t accustomed to cold winter weather. So the help-line coordinator walked the client through it: It’s cold there, so make sure to bundle up. Is someone traveling with you? Are you all good with driving in the snow? “Little things like that make a huge difference,” Njoku says.
Typically patients contact the abortion fund after they’ve made an appointment at a clinic. It’s best to choose an abortion fund that serves the area where you live, since they’re more likely to have a local community network that can help with things like transportation. Abortion-fund hotlines are confidential, so calling is better than email.
If your local abortion fund doesn’t cover practical support, ask for a reference and it can point you to a group that can help. You can also contact organizations like MAC or the Brigid Alliance. Staffed by trained experts, these groups will help book your transportation and lodging and arrange other needs, including child care and rideshares.
More of this kind of help is on the way. Later this year, NNAF will pilot a first-of-its-kind regional support program for five abortion funds in the Carolinas, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., called Operation Scale-Up. It will feature a shared, universal hotline connecting abortion seekers to resources.
Apiary for Practical Support, a technical assistance and resource hub for practical support organizations, is working with NNAF and ineedana.com to create a holistic directory of resources and information about all of the funds and organizations, and a unified back end will allow abortion funds and practical-support workers to keep track of client requests. Apiary’s Marisa Falcon acknowledges the race against the clock. “We’re trying to get as much of it done before June as possible.”
Beware the Aunties
Even the most well-intentioned volunteers can spell trouble.
The Auntie Network sub-Reddit, a digital space offering information and resources to those in need of abortion care, first appeared online on May 16, 2019, barely 24 hours after the Alabama state senate approved a near-total ban on abortions, making them punishable by up to 99 years in prison. (At the time, the law was blocked by a federal judge; Alabama now outlaws abortion in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision). The headers on posts usually read something like, “Need Help! I’m Desperate!” Some posts are vague asks — general requests for advice on where to turn — and some are heartbreakingly specific, detailing the poster’s location, how far along their pregnancy is, and how confused they are about abortion’s legality in their state as well as a plea for help.
For as many people as are seeking help, there are many thousands of self-described “aunties” and “uncles” offering rides, child care, and even their homes to people forced to travel for abortion care. There are rules: The sub-Reddit forbids abortion seekers from “outright asking for money,” instead suggesting they be specific about what they need. The moderators also discourage supporters from sending cash directly to posters, but buying things like plane tickets or hotel rooms for abortion seekers is allowed. DMs are always open.
There are no rules, however, to ensure that people are who they say they are on the Auntie Network or that they are qualified to give advice — especially in a world where criminalizing abortion seekers is becoming increasingly common. Of particular concern is the potential for soliciting a supporter into breaking the law by sending abortion pills through the mail. In addition to several states outright banning abortion in response to the SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe, it is illegal in every state to purchase the pills and give them to someone else, something members of this sub-Reddit have requested and offered.
This is partly why many abortion advocates express concerns over the Auntie Network. “These efforts are often well intentioned, but they are not grounded in what abortion-funds callers need or the expertise that already exists,” says NNAF’s Ghosh. If you’re looking for more vetted advice on Reddit, the Abortion sub-Reddit is moderated by people with experience and know-how in obtaining abortion access and aims to provide accurate information and support to people seeking abortion services. It has a separate digital resource with the same aim. Ariella Messing is the director of operations of the Online Abortion Resource Squad, a volunteer-run organization that oversees the Abortion sub-Reddit, which currently has more than 26,000 members. That makes it smaller than the Auntie Network (which has 74,000 members), but the discussion is still lively and the sidebar is full of reputable information, including links to U.S. abortion clinics, financial assistance, and ways to procure medication abortion.
“You have to meet people where they’re at, physically and in terms of their knowledge,” Messing says as to why her organization took over the sub-Reddit. “If not, it’s just in the ether, and it’s not doing any good.”