the news these days is more depressing than usual in Richmond, Virginia.
Headlines even in our notoriously conservative local paper tell a tale of
struggle for the working class and poor. The foreclosure rate was up 805
percent in the second quarter of 2008 as compared to 2007, and the rate of
unemployment is the highest it’s been in years, according to the Virginia
Poverty Center. As an advocate for the women of Richmond, I see these numbers in terms of
women’s lives: how are women who struggle coming up with the money for
the day to day necessities so many of us take for granted, like food or
shelter? Are they making it at all?
the answer to these questions and more, because I am a part of the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, Virginia’s only active
abortion fund. We serve the women in Virginia
who are already financially precarious and can’t possibly afford the luxury of
the freedom of choice. For five years we have aided women in paying for
abortions, and while we do not widely advertise, for the most part we have been
able to keep up with the calls we receive for help. However, as the economy has
bottomed out, this all changed. In September we started hearing from women in
need daily, up to three times per day. And since September, we have been
steadily increasing the number of people we fund. Last fiscal year, we funded
19 women; in the past four months alone, we have funded 24 women. Needless to
say our Board of Directors is concerned; what will we do when the money
runs out? How can we predict how long the recession will last? How much worse
will it get before it gets better?
we fund are poor – they lack access to education, good jobs and health care for
themselves and their children. Most often they are young, and already mothers.
In past months this demographic has not changed; now, there are just so
many more women who fit this description.
We are being forced to turn away women who, a few months ago, we would
have been able to help simply because there are now more women in worse places
then there were before.
1976 the Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal Medicaid money from paying for
abortions. Although 18 states use their
own funds to cover abortions in many circumstances, Virginia is one of the 32 states that does
not – leaving its poorest women without resources to determine the size and shape
of their own families. In the absence of
public funding, abortion funds pick up what slack they can; last year, the abortion
funds across the country, including RRFP, raised and disbursed more than $3
million to assist 21,000 women in paying for their abortions. The National
Network of Abortion Funds, an organization composed of 106 grassroots abortion
funds in the U.S., Canada, and overseas, is taking on Hyde through the Hyde-30 Years is Enough! Campaign.
The 50+ members of the Hyde Campaign are working to repeal the Hyde Amendment
and restore dignity to poor women.
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a time when more and more women will begin to rely on Medicaid for their health
care, the Hyde Amendment is an insidious obstacle to full access to
reproductive health care. It’s clear that the recession is having a
disproportionate impact on the women we serve. More
than ever, our intake forms are filled with women telling us that they have
lost their jobs, had hours cut back, been evicted, or are living on the streets. Just a
few short months ago these women would have been able to scrape together the
money for an abortion without the aid of my organization, but so much has
drastically changed in a few short months. It has always been our protocol
to encourage women to pawn and sell their posessions in order to pay for their
procedures, to pay their cell phone bills a few weeks late or ask for help
from their friends and families. Now, women greet our brainstorms with an almost
ironic laughter. What do you sell when you have nothing left? How do you pay a
bill late you were never planning on paying anyway because you never had
the money? How do you ask your mom or dad to pay for your abortion when they
just had their own home foreclosed?
don’t have the answers to these questions, so we just hope that somehow the
money will come in. That in one month we won’t have to start telling every
woman who calls us that we have nothing to give. That perhaps in an Obama
administration, it will be made clear that women’s access to comprehensive
reproductive health is a priority, and that the right to a safe and legal
abortion is not reserved for the privileged. Right now, the future isn’t
looking so bright. We know that women in Virginia will be forced to continue their
pregnancies or resort to self-abortion through unsafe methods because the option
of a safe, legal abortion is no longer feasible based purely on affordability. Until then we
will keep on answering phone calls, listening to the sob stories and holding
the hands of Virginia’s
women through a process that shouldn’t have to be so complicated.
If you are interested in donating to the Richmond Reproductive
Freedom Project, please send checks to PO Box 7389, Richmond,
VA 23221. Or donate with
credit or debit cards here.
All donations are tax deductible.