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What is an abortion fund? How people are accessing care despite legal restrictions

As more states pass near-total abortion bans, advocates are urging people to learn about state abortion funds.

As more states pass Texas-style anti-abortion laws, banning abortion before most people know they're pregnant, advocates are urging the public to learn about established abortion funds and how they help people access the care they want and need.

The Oklahoma governor in April signed a law enacting a near-total abortion ban, making performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The state will join a growing number of states passing laws that effectively ban abortion. In March, Idaho passed a six-week abortion ban, deputizing citizens to sue people who are suspected of giving or helping someone access abortion care.Abortion is still legal in all 50 states. In Texas, a person can access an abortion before pulsating fetal cardiac cells (what anti-abortion proponents call a "heartbeat") are detected, usually 14 days after a missed period.

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While there are a record-number of anti-abortion laws being passed to further restrict access to abortion care — and a draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v Wade was leaked — the reality is that abortion has been inaccessible for a large number of people living in the United States for decades, experts say, especially for people of color, poor people and those living in rural areas.

Since Roe v Wade was established, anti-abortion legislators have passed over 1,000 laws restricting access to abortion care. In response, communities established abortion funds — a network of advocates, often led by Black women, helping to provide financial and other support services to people needing abortion care.

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TODAY Parents spoke to a number of abortion fund workers to better understand how they work.

What is an abortion fund?

"It is a collective of people, a non-profit or information group, that make abortion access a reality," said Stephanie Loraine, co-executive director of Florida Access Network, an abortion fund in Florida. "They help people pay for their abortion and help navigate the barriers along the way. This looks like coordinating travel, lodging, providing emotional support, translation services, paying and coordinating child care, and getting folks food, gas, and covering medication costs."

As of October, 2020, 92 abortion funds were members of the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a national non-profit organization that connects state funds. Through the NNAF, people who need help to get abortion care can find a local fund to support their specific needs, as well as connect with a fund out-of-state, should they have to travel to receive care.

"In Florida, we're one of four funds," Loraine explained. "And we are the only one that is led by and for people who have had abortions, specifically queer Latinos who have had abortions."

Who do abortion funds help?

One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit research organization, in addition to the transgender and non-binary people who also seek abortion services.

"There are so many people who reach out to us," Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, an Atlanta-based abortion fund helping people in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas told TODAY. "We've had folks who are in law school or are currently lawyers or are professionals, all the way down to folks who are unemployed, uninsured and have minimal access to health care."

Njoku says that 81% of her fund's clients identify as Black or African American, 87% are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 55% identify as Christian. In addition, 77% of their clients have at least one child at home — reflecting the reality that the majority of abortion patients are already parents.

"Often the people we help are folks most directly impacted by health disparity," Njoku added. "Having Roe v Wade made abortion legal, but it didn't necessarily mean it made it accessible."

What do abortion funds pay for?

Some pay for the cost of the abortion itself, Jessica Pinckney, the executive director of ACCESS Reproductive Justice, an abortion fund in California, told TODAY. “And some abortion funds help with what we call practical support, which is what I refer to as ‘wraparound services.’”

As a result of the near-total abortion ban in Texas, 7 million women of reproductive age are at least 247 miles away from accessible abortion care — 14 times the distance they would have had to previously traveled before the law went into effect.

"Some abortion funds do it all — they support with procedural support and practical support," Pinckney adds. "And essentially, we're helping to remove the financial and logistical barriers to accessing abortion for folks all across the country."

How do abortion funds get support?

As more anti-abortion laws are passed, more people are paying attention to how people can help others access abortion care. But advocates say attempts to "reinvent the wheel" or create their own "Underground Railroads" of abortion care are, at best, ill-informed.

Instead of creating a new system, advocates urge people to support the systems that have been in place for some time.

"Any time there's this point where people think there's this crisis of accessing abortion, I think that it's what we have already experienced in the South. It's our lived reality in the South. And it's only going to get worse," Njoku said. "People just want to do a thing, but sometimes the thought around what that means is problematic. Calling yourself 'aunties' or using the term 'Underground Railroad' is so racist. It's so deeply rooted in racism."

Abortion fund workers say that instead of attempting to create a new mechanism for funding abortions, people should send money to community abortion funds that already exist.

"The majority of abortion funds in this country are founded or led by Black or brown individuals," Pinckney explained. "We need to look to the leaders who founded this movement — who founded abortion funds across the country — and see that there is a system that already exists and has worked for years to get people the care that they need."

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This story was originally published on April 12, 2022, and has been updated.