One-third of U.S. women seeking a routine medical procedure need to travel more than 25 miles for it, in some cases needing to leave their own states to access the procedure. Along the way, they face a huge number of barriers and stumbling blocks including not just travel time, but legislative blocks, difficulty arranging for time off, and protesters at the clinics where they go to receive health care.
That procedure is, of course, abortion, the most hotly-contested, controversial aspect of health care in America. Among the many forces fighting to protect abortion access are the vast network of abortion funds across the United States, working to ensure that all women can safely access compassionate, caring, professional abortion services so they aren’t forced to turn to the Kermit Gosnells of the world.
Depending on her state, a woman’s difficulty in accessing abortion can vary from mild to extreme. Some states have mandatory waiting periods, ultrasound laws, and other legislation designed to force women to abandon plans for an abortion, or to make it so difficult that women can’t get the procedure. Many states have a limited number of abortion clinics, especially in rural areas, forcing women to travel great distances for care. It can be difficult to arrange and afford time off from work, childcare, and lodging. The expense of the abortion itself is also a consideration, as abortions aren’t covered by federal funds thanks to the Hyde Amendment, and uninsured women have to pay out of pocket.
This is where abortion funds come in. These services work with women who are having difficulty accessing abortion to provide rapid financial assistance to help them — and in the long term, they’re also part of the larger reproductive rights movement pushing to secure abortion rights. Abortion funds like the National Network of Abortion Funds aren’t just about the money, however. While women can and do apply for financial support, these organizations — such as the Clinic Access Support Network and Access Women’s Health Justice — also provide mentoring, support, and more immediate assistance.
These groups help women with transportation, lodging, food, paperwork and other aspects of accessing abortion services. They can assist women with finding and enrolling in health plans, locating resources and finding abortion counseling. Far from simply providing critically needed funds, they offer holistic support to patients from start to finish, in addition to ongoing support as women process their emotions surrounding their abortions.
They also provide help with issues like leaving abusive relationships, rape crisis counseling, referrals to other services, and more. As nonprofit resources, they rely heavily on donations from members of the community in addition to volunteer hours from people who are able to offer time even if they can’t provide direct funds.
In the long term, such funds hope that they won’t be needed, and that they can shutter their doors to move on to other work. In the short term, though, women rely on their vital support to get through what can be an extremely traumatic and intense experience. Women who need abortion services in an emergency may feel trapped and desperate — but they don’t have to be.
Photo credit: Andrea Guerra.