Surge in Need Taxes Abortion Funds

Leila Darabi and Constance DeCherney

The economic downturn, and the accompanying surge in need for assistance, is wiping out local grassroots abortion funds.

The New
York Abortion Access Fund
an all-volunteer organization that provides funds for women who can’t
afford the abortions they need, is going broke, literally. In recent
months, we have received a record number of calls from low-income women
and health clinics representing them asking for our help to pay for
their abortions and our eight-woman board is struggling to raise funds
fast enough to keep up with the demand. Last week, NYAAF‘s assets dipped below $3000. If
current trends continue, as we suspect they will, that may not last
through the end of the month.

Since its inception in 2001, NYAAF has given out over $100,000, nearly
half of it in the last year alone. We suspect two factors have led to
the dramatic increase in requests for our funding. First, our visibility
has increased. Though NYAAF began as New York City’s abortion
fund, it is also one of few resources in the state for low-income women
who need but cannot afford an abortion. Over the past year, NYAAF has reached out to health care providers
beyond the five boroughs, asking abortion clinics throughout the state
of New York not to turn away patients who lack the funds for their procedures,
but to call us instead. The result has led to greater access to abortion
services for low-income women outside of New York City. It also means
we are giving out more money than ever before.

The second, and considerably more dramatic, factor driving women to
call NYAAF is the global economic downturn. The
Associated Press reported
that financial
troubles make it more difficult for women to purchase birth control
to avoid unintended pregnancies and to obtain timely abortions if they
do become pregnant. Not having enough money means women facing unintended
pregnancies wait longer to have abortions as they scrounge to raise
funds. And waiting longer means more complicated, more expensive procedures
and an even greater need for funds like NYAAF

Indeed, the women and clinic staff we speak to each week cite fundraising
as a major barrier to booking appointments for earlier and less expensive
procedures. Consequently, the number of women calling us in their 22nd,
23rd and even 24th week of pregnancy has increased.
While helping women obtain later term procedures is not new for NYAAF-New York has long served as a safe
haven for women seeking abortions from other states with more restrictive
abortion policies-these procedures are expensive and, along with an
overall increase in requests for NYAAF assistance, have rapidly drained our

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For those of us fielding calls
from women and clinics, this frustrating situation is heartbreaking.
The longer it takes a woman to secure funding, the more expensive the
procedure becomes and the fewer women we are able to help. The cost
of a procedure increases dramatically with each passing week, ranging
from a couple hundred dollars for an early, medical abortion to several
thousand dollars to terminate a pregnancy nearing the legal limit. After
twenty weeks, the cost of an abortion rises even more quickly: the difference
between a procedure done at 22 weeks versus 23 can be a thousand dollars.  

At NYAAF, our philosophy is simple. We aim
to pledge money to clinics as quickly as possible to ensure that women
are able to keep their earliest appointments and receive the safest
and most affordable care available. We maximize our funds by working
directly with clinics, negotiating discounts and payment plans for low-income
women and matching eligible women to public assistance. In the last
year, we helped 77 women pay for their abortions. Others we were able
to help apply for emergency Medicaid, assistance available in New York
but not all of our neighboring states. 

The economic downturn threatens
to wipe out our fund and pressures women all over the country to seek
later abortions. Communities need to invest in local grassroots abortion
funds like NYAAF and Americans nationwide need to pressure
the Obama administration to repeal the Hyde
, which
prohibits federal funding for abortion. Those of us on the frontlines
of abortion funding can report: early funding makes all the difference.

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