(Bloomberg) — The brand-new REACH fund of Connecticut launched its first fundraising campaign last week. Its goal was modest, $50,000, but its timing proved prescient.
The new abortion fund — its acronym stands for Reproductive Equity, Access & Choice — joined a growing list of nearly 100 such abortion aid groups around the country, just as the Supreme Court was about to issue a ruling expected to magnify the need for them.
As state-level abortion bans proliferate, tens of thousands more patients are expected to cross state lines for the procedure and need help for their journeys. On social media, Friday’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade prompted a flood of spontaneous offers from individuals in abortion-rights states to support traveling patients — a guest room, a ride, child care. These are things the funds already offer, but in an organized network.
“These abortion funds are already up, they’re running, they’re ready,” REACH board president Jessica Puk said. “They know their communities, they know the clinics, they have policies and procedures in place to help folks quickly.”
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And though usually small groups giving out small sums, they’ve been multiplying. The number of such funds nationwide has risen in the last year to 97 from about 80, said Debasri Ghosh, managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, which was founded in 1993.
After Friday’s ruling, she said, donors poured $3 million into the network’s coffers, which it will distribute among member funds. The new Connecticut fund quickly drew $8,000, Puk said.
Some of these funds have been helping abortion patients for decades, Ghosh said, while others have arisen in response to the growing number of state-level restrictions in recent years. Between mid-2020 and mid-2021, the funds disbursed about $13 million in support, she said, both for procedures and practical needs.
The funds each have their own policies, but patients generally are not required to prove their need. Clients also aren’t usually just given cash. Payments may be sent to clinics, which often have relationships with multiple funds. A fund might pay directly for air or ground travel, or give gift cards for food.
“I don’t at all mean to minimize the impact of the fall of Roe — it will be devastating,” Ghosh said. “But we are very practiced in this network at adapting to devastating conditions, and creating pathways for people to ensure that abortion is not just something that is afforded to the wealthy or to those in the Northeast or on the West Coast.”
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In states where abortion is banned or soon will be, the funds face new challenges. In Texas, which has nine funds, more than any other state, at least two said after the ruling they would pause their work to make sure it was legal.
In states supportive of abortion rights, such funds are likely to grow. In Massachusetts, which has four local funds, a proposal in the state legislature would give them $2 million amid expectations that there will be more out-of-state patients seeking their services. Oregon, which also expects more cross-border patients, is funneling $15 million into expanding abortion access, including by supporting funds.
Even in states like Connecticut, where Medicaid covers abortion, such networks are needed, said Puk from the REACH fund. Some patients may have high deductibles or federal insurance that does not cover abortion, and the fund will not limit its support to in-state residents, she said.
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Most support for abortion funds, 63%, comes from individual donors rather than big foundations, according to a recent report by the nonprofit National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy.
“Even though abortion funds received $34 million in foundation funding between 2015-2019, or just under $7 million per year, on average, it is still only 20% of funding for broader abortion work including policy and research,” the report said. “Abortion funds also received less than 2% of the $1.7 billion in funding for reproductive rights.”
For many years, said Ghosh,“the investments have been in policy, advocacy, litigation. I don’t think we should divest from those areas, but I think it has to be both, you have to invest in direct service.”
On average, each patient seeking help receives $215, according to the report, and the median fund budget for abortion services is just over $50,000.
Patient needs have long outpaced fund resources, Ghosh said. The funds have been growing, she said, but “the problem is that they can’t keep up with the skyrocketing demand every year.” Recent state-level restrictions have already meant “conditions where people are already traveling hundreds of miles, crossing state lines, having to stay near their clinic far from home for two, three, four, five days.”
In southern Illinois, where an influx of patients from states with more restrictive policies has already begun, patients’ needs for everything from gas money to hotel rooms “have exploded the further and further they have to travel,” said Erin King, executive director of the Hope Clinic for Women.
The Granite City, Ill., clinic used to work with four abortion funds, she said. It’s now working with more than 20 aid organizations, she said, and the funding they provide has risen dramatically, possibly as much as four-fold.
“We don’t want to go back to 1973, when the people who have resources get all the health care and the people who don’t, don’t,” King said, referring to the period before the Roe v. Wade ruling made abortion legal nationwide. “In some ways, that is inevitable, but we are trying to minimize it as much as possible.”