Since the Hyde Amendment in 1977, no federal funds are allowed to pay for abortions. Most state Medicaid programs won't cover abortion either (and if they do, it's usually only in cases of rape or incest). Therefore, low-income women with unintended pregnancies may feel like they don't really have the full range of pregnancy options to choose from. Of course it's expensive to raise a child, but it can also be difficult to raise the money for an abortion.
That's where local abortion funds around the country help women in need. They make sure that every woman does have the right to abortion — regardless of her economic situation. I had the opportunity to interview Tiffany Reed, President of the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) — a terrific volunteer-run non-profit serving the Washington, DC area. She graciously answered my questions over email.
TL: How did DCAF get started?
TR: Several years ago, a social worker at the DC Rape Crisis Center was working with a rape survivor who found out she was pregnant. In an effort to raise quick funds for the woman, who wanted an abortion, the social worker email blasted her entire address book asking for money. She raised enough money for the procedure and even had leftover resources. When she asked her colleagues what she should do with the extra money, they told her to "save it for the next time…" thus the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) began.
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TL: What motivated you to get involved?
TR:What motivated me to get involved with DCAF was my experience at the National Abortion Federation Hotline, a part-time job I still hold today. About half of the calls we receive on the national hotline involve women calling about funding help for their abortion procedures. On the hotline I met two DCAF board members who persuaded me to replace an exiting board member. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
TL: What services does DCAF provide?
TR: DCAF provides basic funding services at this point, namely pledging money to patients via clinics and some resource counseling. We're expanding our outreach and collaboration with other choice funds, clinics, and women's advocacy groups in an effort to spread awareness about the work we do. We also provide abortion and birth control counseling, and can help with transportation logistics.
TL: Why is DCAF needed in the DC metro area?
TR: DCAF's existence is critical to the DC metro area for a couple of reasons. First, DC Medicaid does not cover any cost of an abortion, even if a woman is a rape or incest survivor. Second, pregnancy has massive time constraints and it can be extremely difficult for women to come up with the entire cost of an abortion in a short amount of time. A first trimester abortion in DC can cost in the range of $240-$400 and a second trimester abortion can cost anywhere from $600-$2,000. Imagine being a single mom, receiving government aid, with two children. You have groceries to buy, you have rent to pay, you have electric bills … how is a woman in that situation expected to come up with $350 in a few weeks? Or less? Why DCAF is so vital to our area is that we help eradicate that awful choice. We support women. We don't want DC women to have to choose between being evicted and receiving health care.
TL: Who needs these services the most? Are there common factors among your clients?
TR: I would say that the one common factor is income. The women we serve predominantly are low-income women and are referred to us by local clinics.
TL: Do you have any individual stories that you'd like to share?
TR: Recently we received a call from a social worker in a homeless shelter. A client of hers was staying at the shelter and was about to be transported to a drug abuse treatment facility in West Virginia. Right before the woman was scheduled to leave, she found out she was pregnant. Unfortunately the facility would not accept pregnant women; she decided to seek treatment at the facility and have an abortion. Living in a homeless shelter, without any income, it would have been very unlikely for her to raise money on her own. With a pledge from DCAF, she was able to travel to the drug treatment facility as planned and get her life back together.
TL: How do you see the climate of reproductive health policy impacting DCAF's daily work and the women who are affected?
TR: The climate of reproductive health policy directly impacts DCAF and DC metro families. If DC Medicaid paid for elective abortion care we would see a huge decrease in our case load. We only exist to help do the job DC Medicaid doesn't.
TL: Do you think the progressive reproductive health movement has done a good job at addressing the reproductive health issues for women of color? If not, how can the movement work towards more equality/inclusion?
TR: The progressive reproductive health movement has done a decent job including women of color in the discussion of reproductive rights, at least in Washington. At DCAF, we do not meet the women we work with; our services are conducted over the phone so we do not know, statistically, how many women of color we pledge to. Given the demographic of this community, I'm assuming it's a good number of women of color that we serve. Right now DCAF is in the middle of a big outreach push to the Latina community specifically. We feel that this demographic is greatly underserved in DC, as far as health care is concerned, and we are working hard to spread awareness of our services to Latino community centers and schools. Of course we can never do enough. One thing I would love to do is expand our services to the realm of birth control education and Plan B distribution. But the need for abortion funding is far from being met, and that is all we can handle at this time.
TL: Does this area face unique challenges? Are other abortion funds around the country similar? Is there more of a need in rural/urban areas or certain regions of the country?
TR: DC is unique when it comes to abortion funding. We are extremely lucky to be working in such a pro-choice city. After collaborating with other funds across the country, we know how valuable DC's pro-choice residents are regarding abortion funding. Other funds across the country are similar in terms of operation; volunteer-run boards, small budgets, one hotline phone, supplies paid for with personal checkbooks … this work is time consuming, it's personally expensive, but someone has to do it. Or at least we believe someone has to do it. Most of the folks who run funds across the country have full-time jobs, so this is an issue we all feel strongly about. In urban areas, the call volume is higher, but some of the greatest need is in rural areas. There is very little funding in the South and in the Midwest. Those are what we call "non-Medicaid friendly" states. The Pacific West and New England are parts of the country which have, arguably, the most resources. Small local funds in pro-choice areas end up giving to cases far outside their communities to help alleviate the stress at the national level. There are only five or six national funds and only two of those are actually pledging money at this time. DCAF is one of those small funds modestly helping at the national level.
TL: What can people do to help?
TR: People can help DCAF help women by sending a check to PO Box 33722, Washington, DC 20033. We also have volunteer opportunities too; email us. Thank you!
For more information on abortion funds around the country, check out the National Network of Abortion Funds.