Why Abortion Funds Are Needed, Even in Pro-Choice States


Growing up in a conservative suburb of Jacksonville, Florida, I always knew abortion was a divisive issue. But I knew how I felt about it, and I figured that as long as Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, safe abortion care would be there for anyone who needed it.

But that’s a pro-choice myth we like to tell ourselves.

While I grew up in a state that is quite hostile to abortion rights, I have spent the past year living in New Jersey, and the eight years prior in Illinois, states that have earned an A- and B-, respectively, from NARAL Pro-Choice America. Surely in New Jersey—one of only 15 states that provides Medicaid assistance for those who cannot afford an abortion—affordability and access to safe abortion care shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Sadly, that is not the case.

I may live in a pro-choice state, but pro-choice means nothing if one cannot afford to exercise that right. The unjust Hyde Amendment, which bans federal Medicaid funding for abortion care (the only medical procedure banned under Medicaid), negatively affects low-income women, regardless of the state they call home. A third of all abortion patients lack any health insurance, so they are forced to cover the cost of their abortion out-of-pocket. And even if an abortion patient has health insurance, 69 percent pay out-of-pocket anyway, likely because the stigma attached to abortion creates an environment in which those who have an abortion are too ashamed or afraid to let anyone, including their health insurance companies, know.

According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), the average cost of a first-trimester abortion is around $350 at an abortion clinic and $500 at a physician’s office. While NAF also notes that the cost of abortion care has risen less than inflation in the 40 years since Roe, this is still a financial impossibility for many low-income women. Sometimes, by the time low-income women manage to raise the money necessary to obtain a first-trimester abortion, they are further along, and the cost of the procedure has risen significantly. This only exacerbates the barrier the cost poses.

New Jersey, home to over 200,000 millionaire households, also has an alarming number of people who are unable to meet their basic needs. Two million New Jerseyans, or roughly 25 percent of the state’s population, live in households that are at 200 percent of the federal poverty line and are struggling to get by, according to a recent study by the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute. For these two million people, the cost of even a first-trimester abortion is all but impossible. Though New Jersey does offer state Medicaid funding for abortions, that funding does not cover the entire cost of the procedure. As long as the Hyde Amendment remains law and federal funds for abortion coverage are prohibited, low-income New Jerseyans and Americans will need additional assistance.

As I became more acutely aware of the myriad ways abortion is financially inaccessible for many Americans, including in New Jersey, I put my activism where my mouth is and joined the board of the New Jersey Abortion Access Fund (NJAAF).

NJAAF is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a coalition of grassroots organizations that help fund abortions for those in need across the country. There is at least one abortion fund in 40 states, from Florida to South Dakota to New Mexico to Maine, and all share the same commitment to making safe, legal abortion care a reality for anyone who needs it, regardless of their income level. It’s an incredible network of activists who are committed to making reproductive justice a reality in the United States.

Abortion funds are critical because they help bridge the gap left by the Hyde Amendment and enable access to abortion for those who are financially denied their right to choose.

As the war on reproductive freedom wages on, it is low-income women who bear the brunt of these restrictions. When abortion clinics close because of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws or admitting privilege provisions, those who can afford to travel are able to access safe abortion care. But for low-income women, the cost of traveling out of state, coupled with the time off from work it would take to travel and possibly meet waiting period requirements, makes safe abortion care inaccessible.

Abortion restrictions are increasing as the safety net for low-income families in the United States erodes. As a result, poor women are hardest hit by anti-choice legislation; they have few means by which to exercise their right to choose. Abortion funds can help.

At NJAAF, we just began funding abortions in April of 2012, and so far we have granted over $7,000 to low-income New Jerseyans. Though New Jersey isn’t exactly ground zero in the fight on abortion rights, the need is great here. As a result, NJAAF, a grassroots, volunteer-run organization, is struggling to maintain funding levels.

While I have only been a board member for a couple months, my heart has broken many times for young women who are scared and unable to afford an abortion, pleading for help, looking for answers. The Hyde Amendment fails these women, as do the needless abortion restrictions that have been rammed through state and national legislatures.

It is the right of every person to access safe abortion care, and with a number of legislators who seem increasingly hell-bent on eradicating that right, abortion funds and the people supporting them might be our only hope to providing women most in need with access to safe and legal abortion care.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Lauren Rankin please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.