When the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund started, Gretchen had no idea how pervasive the need was for abortion funding in North Texas. Previously a women's studies professor, Gretchen and one of her former students began the abortion fund in 2005. Gretchen is now the Board President and has seen the TEA Fund provide grants to over 600 women ranging from $50 to $150 for various abortion procedures. Geographically, the TEA Fund covers the area east of Abilene and north of Waco, but also funds women from Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas who come to North Texas to have abortions. Additionally, women from East Texas will occasionally travel to providers in Louisiana to have the procedure.
Like other abortion funds, the TEA Fund provides low-income women equal access to abortion by closing the gap created by the Hyde Amendment. But, while interviewing Gretchen, it became clear that women in North Texas face more than just economic obstacles when trying to obtain an abortion. Specifically, Gretchen cited social obstacles, such as anti-choice families, communities, and partners as factors working against women in North Texas. She also mentioned other obstacles unique to the women she serves, such as a low number of abortion providers in the area and intentionally burdensome abortion laws and restrictions. For example, a woman in Abilene would have to drive over 100 miles to reach an abortion provider and a minor would have to have parental permission.
While all of the women who seek the services of the TEA Fund are in need of financial assistance, each story is different and unique. Gretchen told me about a young woman who was 17 and already had two children. She was pregnant, but didn't want another child because she wanted to finish high school. The TEA Fund helps a large number of young women who are still in high school. This may be because Texas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation. Statistically, 42 percent of the women the TEA Fund serves are under 21 and 15 percent are under 18. Another woman helped by the TEA Fund already had one child who was very ill and required frequent trips to the hospital. She ended up selling her car in order to pay for her abortion. Gretchen also mentioned that a number of the women she serves are survivors of domestic violence and rape.
For Gretchen, access to abortion is about control over one's life. "When women don't have control over their bodies, they can't control their lives," she stated. Because of this, she has incorporated feminist theory and activism into all aspects of the TEA Fund. For example, part of the mission of the organization is to "promote social justice by giving low-income women access to abortion." Also, the TEA Fund is run by a multi-generational Board of Directors designed to include many different viewpoints and to foster women's leadership. In the future, the TEA Fund is sure to grow. Gretchen hopes to reach out to more non-English speaking women and to increase their volunteer base. To volunteer or to make a donation, please visit www.teafund.org.