Financial rescue for women in states with pending abortion bans

New National Reproductive Justice Fund reminds us that access to abortion is an economic issue.

Topics: Abortion, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

Where do women who can’t afford an abortion get the money? From Medicaid? Only in a handful of states, and then (except in New York) only when the abortion is deemed “medically necessary.” From friends, family, a partner? Sure, maybe. But in many cases, they get it from the rent money, the heating bill, the groceries for their other child or children. Or they don’t get it at all, and they show up at the clinic anyway, not knowing what else to do.

That, in many cases, is where one of the 108 member organizations of the National Network of Abortion Funds steps in. I know, for example, in New York, that when a patient shows up needing funding (often from out of state), the clinic social worker works the phones until she gets it. Her first call: The New York Abortion Access Fund, which offers immediate grants to women in need.

Naturally, there’s never quite enough money. Sometimes patients from out of town — who’ve chased the rising abortion fee into the second trimester — need to stay three days for a two-day procedure while the social worker rustles up the cash.

Still, the way these funds operate is simple, direct, immediate. And now they’re stepping in to fill a major added potential need. The National Network of Abortion Funds announced this week the launch of the National Reproductive Justice Fund in response to pending abortion bans in South Dakota as well as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

If you think such strict bans will never actually go into effect, fine. Women still need help now.

“Poor women, who already struggle to raise the money needed for abortion services, will now have to work harder than ever to raise money to travel out of state for an abortion,” said NNAF president Stephanie Poggi in a press release about the new fund. “Women already postpone paying for other basic needs including rent, utility bills, and food for their families.” Some, the release noted, also travel up to 700 miles roundtrip in one day because they cannot afford a hotel room in Sioux Falls, home of South Dakota’s lone abortion clinic.

Medicaid? Nope. As the NNAF statement notes, “The abortion ban threatens to make true for all South Dakota women what low-income women in the state have faced for 30 years. For the last three decades, poor women in South Dakota have been effectively denied their right to abortion care because South Dakota and 32 other states virtually eliminated Medicaid coverage of abortions after Congress banned federal funding under the Hyde Amendment in 1976. Federal law also prohibits the Indian Health Service from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the woman’s life.”

The new fund, with its broader, higher-profile reach, will complement the efforts of NNAF member funds such as South Dakota Access for Every Woman.

Where abortion rights are concerned, I myself like to offer my money both to political activists and, where possible, to the people closest to the hands of the women who need it, right now. If you’re interested in donating to the National Reproductive Justice Fund, contact the NNAF at 617-524-6040, or visit

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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