Commentary Abortion

The ‘Auntie Network’ Is Creative, but Local Funds Have Been Helping People Get Abortions for Decades

Yamani Hernandez

Duplicating efforts dilutes the power of so many people who have been building a strong network together to ensure abortion access is there for all of us.

Anti-choice politicians have been escalating attacks against abortion access by launching six-week bans across Southern and Midwestern states like dominoes. This well-funded playbook is rooted in lies and utter disrespect. For those who have been navigating the shortcomings of Roe v. Wade for a long time, it is disgusting but not surprising. Any abortion ban is an extreme abortion ban because abortion is a human and legal right. When people cannot access their rights equally, it is an injustice.

In Alabama, the legislature passed a law banning abortion outright. This took many people in the general public over the edge into outrage. As a result, the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) and its member organizations saw a surge of people over the past week who are newly concerned about securing the access and right of people to get the abortions they need.

Some, like Lynnie Couillard-Blance, were so concerned that they decided to take action by announcing a new group: “The Auntie Network” to support people in obtaining abortion care.

“No judgment. No questions, you pay for your trip but I’ll be here, pick you up from the airport, hold your hand, show you the sites [sic], make some reservations, give you a peaceful place to escape … Let’s face it. It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other,” wrote Couillard-Blance. More than 3,000 people reportedly signed up to host on Reddit; Couillard-Blance responded by promising to establish “regional directors.”

The Auntie Network is creative, and I can see why it caught on very fast, given people’s outrage and concern. However, Couillard-Blance and others have overlooked the people already doing this organizing in cities, states, and regions. Ninety percent of counties do not have an abortion provider, which means that people have been traveling across state lines for care for a long while now. For decades, local abortion funds have been helping make sure that happens, and they have learned a lot along the way.

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Duplicating efforts dilutes the power of so many people who have been building a strong network together to ensure abortion access is there for all of us, and it makes the process of finding assistance much harder for those who might need it.

Abortion funds are in formation now, organizing against financial, logistical, cultural, and political barriers to care. They need vastly more resources and also to be seen as the experts on coordinating access to abortion care—not to be overlooked by newcomers trying to replicate their efforts.

Couillard-Blance’s quote alone assumes that the person seeking care would be able to pay for the trip in the first place. Abortion funds know better. According to self-reported member enrollment survey data collected by NNAF, from 2015 to 2017, there were 50,000 more abortion funding calls around the country, up from 100,000. Seventy-six funds serving 41 states are led by over 500 state and local leaders, with more than 15,000 volunteers already ready to help. Doula collectives, clinic escorts, and clinic staff have also played a huge role in getting people to care.

Our members help to connect people with nonjudgmental options that financially and logistically support them in their decision to have an abortion. For many groups, this assistance takes the form of transportation, child care, doula services, lodging when traveling, and more. It can also take the form of financially supplementing the cost of someone’s care. Through our work, abortion funds have been able to connect with one another and form powerful bonds that allow for the support of people who need assistance from multiple sources. Abortion funds thoroughly train and vet their volunteers to ensure the people calling for help will get the best assistance available, no matter what it is. They are already connected to networks across state lines and best poised to facilitate care effectively. For the safety of those who need help and protection, this is a time to build our ranks—not attempt to create new structures. Simply put, our process of sustainable funding and approaches that take into consideration race, economic status, immigration status, and other compounding oppressions have come from doing this work for many years.

It is extremely exciting to see abortion funds—especially local funds in the South and Midwest, where barriers are greatest—get so much attention the last week. Our vision, rooted in the needs of abortion funds, is that each fund never has to turn away anyone who requests financial help with their abortion; paid staff for case management, fundraising, and organizing; and a program budget that cultivates leaders and political engagement by people who are most affected by the barriers we seek to abolish.

We’d love to support the groundswell of passion by urging folks to take the following actions:

  • Contact your local abortion fund and inquire about what assistance they might need to meet the local and individual needs on the people in that area
  • Become a monthly donor to your local abortion fund; redistributing wealth and paying for abortion care is revolutionary.
  • Become a member, anchored with your local abortion fund to be mobilized. If you’re a monthly donor to NNAF, your membership fees will be waived. Memberships are available on a sliding scale from $0 to $25.
  • Follow NNAF and your local abortion fund on social media.

We all share the desire to use our network and resources—both time and money—to ensure abortion access is available to as many people as possible. Compassion drives so many of us in our motivations, but there are times when impact might thwart good intentions. We’re strongest when we care about and listen to those around us. We’re in community together.

We also know that social media is far from immune from many kinds of surveillance, and we must all employ caution when it comes to both personal privacy and organizing work. This caution is how we take care of each other when we organize, because our relationships help to protect us and ensure our victory. When we are careful about how we’re connected in our network, we’re able to weather storms and plan more efficiently. We’re able to better care for those calling us, protect their privacy, and ensure that our very precious time and financial resources are getting to the people who need them.

We’re stronger when we trust each other, especially those who have deep experience and knowledge that we can turn to in times like these. Our communities cannot be defeated when we build our movement strategically and cohesively. We urge people to follow the lead of abortion fund activists in their communities and contact us if you’re in an area without an abortion fund. We were made for this. We are ready. We need your support.

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