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How are abortion funds doing seven months after Dobbs?
The costs pile up even faster than abortion restrictions
Welcome to a Monday evening edition of Progress Report!
Our story this weekend on the book vetting catastrophe happening in Ron DeSantis’s Florida buzzed across Twitter over the past few days, stirring an outcry over this particular assault on public education. Judd Legum covered the situation in depth this morning, but DeSantis, indefatigable menace that he is, held a press conference a few hours later outlining a trio of additional attacks on Florida’s schools.
We’ll have much more on that tomorrow, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss today! Instead, we’ve got a story by a new contributor on what happens when the surge of news-driven donations to a critical cause dries up and leaves community activists and advocates to continue the hard work of caring for the people left behind. In this case, we’re looking at abortion funds seven months after the Dobbs decision upended reproductive care.
Thank you to our latest crowd-funding donors: David, Susan, Robert, Judith, Mary Frances, and Jim!
by Ginny Keenan
In a more just and actually democratic universe, yesterday would have marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Instead, an ultra-right Supreme Court decided to reverse precedent and time itself, ruling in last June’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision that the Constitution offered women no guarantee of bodily autonomy It’s been nearly 7 months since that landmark disaster, and activists nationwide have rallied to support those who lost their right to choose. The midterms proved what we already knew -- voters overwhelmingly support legal abortions.
Mutual-aid has been especially vital for women living in states with abortion restrictions or bans. We spoke with two abortion funds on how they have supported patients so far, and what they are looking forward to in the future.
ON THE GROUND
Meg Stern Stasse spent years escorting women through hoards of protestors to one of the country's most heavily protested abortion clinics - until Dobbs put her out of work. Now that abortion is illegal in her home state of Kentucky, she works as an outreach and operations coordinator for Just the Pill, an abortion fund and telehealth service.
One in three Americans now reside in states where abortion is illegal. While it was often difficult for women in these states to access care before the fall of Roe, those who decide to terminate their pregnancy now face a week of expensive flights, hotels, and other socioeconomic barriers. About half of women who get abortions live below the poverty line, making the costs all the more daunting. They are thus turning like never before to abortion funds that can provide women with economic and logistical support through the process.
Such is the case with Stern Stasse’s Just the Pill, which services Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, and Colorado. For out-of-state patients, “We have a travel team who will support people in making sure that you know if I mean full wraparound from the door,” Stern says. They can also provide hotel stays and airport support if necessary. “These are completely no-cost abortions for these travelers.”
Just the Pill has provided medication for over 4,500 abortions since June 2022, when the Dobbs decision came out. The cost of abortion is relatively cheap for in-state patients; however, for out-of-state patients, it is pricier to provide service. State patients travel in groups of 15, which costs about $25,000 per travel group on average, according to Stern Stasse.
Another abortion fund, Tampa Bay Abortion Fund (TBAF), has also seen an influx of out-of -state patients. Since July, when Florida's 15-week ban went into effect, TBAF has pledged over $140,000 towards abortion appointment costs, and spent over $30,000 on transportation and lodging for both patients traveling into Florida from out-of-state and Florida patients forced to seek abortion care outside of Florida.
McKenna Kelley, a board member of TBAF, believes that small, nimble abortion funds are uniquely suited to aid abortion-seekers with stringent and ever-changing abortion restrictions.
“We are talking to people every day, we are hearing what they're going through every day,” says McKenna Kelley, a member of TBAF’s board. “We have this unique understanding of what people need.”
TBAF roughly doubled their budget thanks to a surge in post-Dobbs donations, and they pledged 64% more patients than in 2021, according to Kelley. This is unsurprising given that abortion funds all over the country received millions in donations last June. The support was so intense that many sites temporarily crashed due to unprecedented spikes in web traffic. Progress Report alone has raised more than $440,000 since last summer.
Now, Kelley says that the fund is struggling to maintain momentum. While they once had an influx of volunteers, volunteer requests are now left unread and funding is dwindling.
Funding is especially important for Floridian organizations like TBAF, given that both governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have promised to increase abortion restrictions. While they have not specified what the restrictions will look like, DeSantis could call for a special session at any point before the legislature convenes in April.
Any new restrictions would go into effect on July 1, though they’re dependent on whether the Florida Supreme Court decides to overturn the 15-week ban that passed last year. The court agreed to hear the case earlier today.
“Laws and restrictions are shifting constantly, not just not just Florida, but in every state,” says Kelley. “We are trying to provide the most people with access. Funding is huge for that.”
THE BIG PICTURE
New FDA regulations released earlier this month clarified that USPS can legally deliver abortion medication, and mifepristone can be distributed by regular pharmacies with a regular prescription. While much of the national media touted those changes as a win for reproductive rights, many of the women I spoke with at the funds were not satisfied with the FDA’s decision.
“It feels like it's crumbs,” said Stasse Stern. “It might make a nice headline, but it makes very little impact for the people that are already living under heavily restrictive laws in their home state.”
Ideally, she says, the government makes medication available over the counter as they are in many countries and decriminalizes all pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriages and abortions on a federal level. Both are nearly impossible with the current US legislature, but Stasse Stern is hopeful that abortion funds can bridge the gap in the meantime.
ABORTION IN THE STATES
Abortion legislation is shifting rapidly as states make adjustments post Dobbs. We have gathered this month’s most notable abortion legislation to keep an eye on.
Florida will reconsider its abortion legislation this April, if not sooner. DeSantis has expressed interest in a proposed “heartbeat” bill, a misleadingly named ban on abortion that conflates electrical activity with a viable heartbeat and usually begins at six weeks. The Republican legislature also largely supports the bill.
The Florida Supreme Court’s decision in a 1989 case has long protected some abortion rights, but a court made up of conservative DeSantis nominees is viewed as likely to overturn that precedent.
Montana’s legislature is considering a proposal that interprets the state’s constitutional right to privacy to mean that it does not protect the right to an abortion.
Democrats in the New Mexico legislature have proposed bills to enshrine protections for doctors performing abortions, and that protect patients from harassment.
In a recent statement, State Sen. Linda Lopez said that she will sponsor a bill that intends to provide accountability for organizations that share sensitive medical information related to reproductive health care.
The Illinois legislature approved a measure to protect abortion-seekers from out-of-state interference.
“We are ensuring that Illinois will continue to serve the thousands of people traveling to our state every month to receive abortions and other reproductive and gender-affirming health care, which they can no longer access in their home states,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the bill, in a statement.
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