Think of them as the crisis-pregnancy centers of the pro-choice movement. In 2013, new state laws tightening regulations on abortion clinics had an unexpected consequence: They spurred the growth of “abortion funds,” nonprofits dedicated to helping pregnant women pay for abortions.
Texas was ground zero for last year’s abortion debates. In a special session, state Republicans passed a pro-life bill that placed tighter regulations on abortion clinics and barred the procedure after 20 weeks. Along the way, Wendy Davis’s eleven-hour filibuster of the legislation drew national attention to the policy change and made her a household name.
Some of the results from the fight were predictable: A number of Texas abortion clinics closed. But while they were shuttering, a new round of organizations were opening up with the aim of making it easier for women to obtain and afford abortions.
And they do it with basically zero overhead. There’s no full-time staff and no office space. Six board members and three volunteers all work remotely and have access to the voicemail box of a centralized phone number. Women seeking funds leave a message and the volunteers go through the messages on their own time and return calls on their own phones. They also use their personal computers to set up transportation. Sheible says that since November, her group has gotten more than 100 calls requesting funds and distributed about $6,000.
“It can get overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that you can’t help everyone and that you didn’t cause this problem,” she says. “And so what we do as volunteers is we spend our free time helping other people in whatever small way that we can.”
It’s certainly not the only effort of its kind. Before H.B. 2, there were two abortion funds operating in Texas. Since the law’s passage, Sheible says, three more have opened.
Her group is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, an umbrella organization that has more than 100 member groups around the country. Last week, Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis helped raise more than $20,000 for abortion funds in Texas. Sheible says her group has received some of the proceeds of Silverman’s fundraising; most of its financial support comes from out of state.
The existence of these funds highlights one of the biggest priorities for the pro-choice movement: abortion access. Pro-choice advocates have long said that abortion rights are worthless if women can’t practice those rights. And, increasingly, that’s becoming difficult.
Part of the reason is tougher abortion laws like Texas’s, but another significant contributor to decreasing abortion access is that a decreasing number of physicians want to perform them. There’s an “old guard” of abortion providers who are passionate about the procedure because they’ve treated women who had septic abortions in the pre-Roe era. But those providers are aging and retiring, and the new generation of pro-choice med students aren’t filling their elders’ shoes. (I’ve written more extensively about this here.)
While pro-lifers’ efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade have (obviously) been unsuccessful, they’ve seen more success — especially recently — in implementing state-level policies that, regardless of lawmakers’ stated intents, have made it harder for women to get abortions.
That’s why abortion funds have gotten so much attention of late. As the pro-life movement has been notching victories, the abortion movement isn’t standing by.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.