"Scarcity mindset": As reproductive rights are eroded, abortion funds are running out of money

Advocates fear a reduction in funds will force more women to give birth

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published July 5, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Demonstrators marching through downtown advocating for a woman's right to an abortion stop to protest in front of a Walgreen's store on March 08, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators marching through downtown advocating for a woman's right to an abortion stop to protest in front of a Walgreen's store on March 08, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In 2024, the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood’s Justice Fund had the largest budget in its history. Still, on July 1, the organizations had to make the difficult decision to slash their budgets from giving 50 percent assistance to people to 30 percent with no exceptions. This comes at a time when many abortion clinics in the north are seeing a surge in patients as a repercussion of Florida’s six-week abortion ban, and as Iowa’s six-week ban is expected to take effect later this month.

“We had to make this shift in funding because the need has skyrocketed with so many additional bans and people being forced to travel further care,” Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, told Salon in a phone call. Fonteno added they’ve been spending approximately $6 million per month on procedural funding and upwards of $200,000 per month on travel funding.

“At the previous rate of funding, that $6 million mark, we would have run out of funds in the fall, leaving so many people without the vital support they need to access care," she said.

A decrease in funding per patient allows the organizations to stretch the fund and make sure they don’t turn anyone away for the rest of the year. The funds are usually used to cover procedures and travel costs. It’s estimated that only one in three Americans can comfortably cover a $400 emergency expense.

As Salon has previously reported, it’s easy to spend up to $1,500 or $2,000 on one person's travel expenses — and that doesn’t include the procedure itself, where the price varies based on the complexity of it. It’s also almost unheard of that insurance will cover the procedure when traveling from a state where there’s limited access to abortion care. 

It’s not sustainable for “philanthropy alone” to solve this crisis.

“Many health insurance plans refuse to cover abortion care, even though it is an essential part of reproductive health care,” Fonteno said, adding that with many people having health care tied to their work, it’s time for businesses to step up. “That means, of course, the potential to donate dollars, but also in-kind donations, like donating rideshare vouchers or airline miles, vouchers for food — all of these pieces that go into the puzzle of making sure that abortion access is truly available for people.” 

However, she emphasized it’s not sustainable for “philanthropy alone” to solve this crisis. On the ground, as another state gears up to shut its doors, Megan Jeyifo, executive director of Chicago Abortion Fund, told Salon abortion clinics across the country are scrambling to figure out how to make up for the loss in funds. 

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“The conversations I had all last week were not based on Florida or Iowa or managing the influx, it's how are we going to pay for it?” Jeyifo told Salon. “We immediately gave a pretty significant block grant to our largest clinic here in Chicago, to Family Planning Associates, because we are very concerned that they are going to have to turn people away who are no longer eligible for this funding.”

Jeyifo gave an example of how they are seeing the effects of the decline in funding on the ground. One patient, she said, who had an appointment last week had to reschedule for personal reasons. As the pledge to each patient has decreased 20 percent, the reduction in funds cost this patient “thousands of dollars,” Jeyifo said. “That is what we are primarily concerned about: funding, not appointment availability,” Jeyifo emphasized. 

"That is what we are primarily concerned about: funding, not appointment availability."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there has been a rise in interstate travel for abortion care since Dobbs overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. The institute estimates one in five abortion patients traveled out of state for abortion care in 2023, compared to one in 10 who did so in 2020.

Earlier this year in Arizona, Kari Lake brushed off criticism of abortion bans in her state, saying "Even if we have a restrictive law here, you can go three hours that way, three hours that way, and you're going to be able to have an abortion.” But the reality is not so simple. The average support cost, such as for lodging, the Chicago Abortion Fund provides a patient is $380. The average voucher they provide for the procedure itself is $480. And that’s just an average.

Fonteno said she’s aware that the 20 percent reduction will significantly impact future patients.

“We know that even with our previous level of funding, it wasn't enough to truly meet all of the need that exists in the landscape right now, and so this will potentially have impacts on patients' ability to access the care that they need, it might impact patients ability to travel,” Fonteno said. “It might impact where they end up going for care, it’s not lost on all of us that this is a completely unfair and devastating situation.”

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Alisha Dingus, the development director at the DC Abortion Fund, told Salon the decline in funding comes at a time when they’re experiencing a surge in patients from Florida. Since Florida’s six-week ban went into effect, their call rate from Floridians increased 200 percent in one month. For patients under 12 weeks of gestation in the DC region, they can usually cover almost all of the costs of abortion care. But with a reduction in funds, each week will be a struggle as they operate on a weekly budget. 

“We anticipate that we're probably going to start running out of money the second day or third day each week,” Dingus told Salon on Wednesday. “We've been operating on a weekly budget now for almost a year of $32,700 and just this week alone, the first week of cuts, we hit our budget yesterday.”

Dingus said “resources are drying up,” and that this will radically change “care across the country.”

“We know, unfortunately, it means some people won't get funding and will be forced to give birth,” she said, adding that it’s troubling to think about what the situation could look like in 2025. “There are only a handful of funders that support abortion funds right now in the country, and unless we see a shift, I think we're just all going to operate under kind of a scarcity mindset.”

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abortion Abortion Funds Chicago Florida Health Illinois Iowa Reproductive Rights