A new study found that when people used crowdfunding to raise money to pay for their abortion, most fundraisers failed to reach their goal, and the median amount raised was $0.
As state legislatures continue to limit abortion access by imposing burdens of mandatory waiting periods and forced vaginal ultrasounds, the most consistent barrier to an abortion is the cost. Given that 40 percent of the country can’t afford a $400 emergency cost, for those people, the typical cost of $350 to $950 for an abortion performed in the first trimester is out of the question.
People seeking an abortion are turning to crowdfunding or coalitions that connect people with funding for their abortion expenses—but both have mixed results.
Published in February in the journal Contraception, researchers from Yale University studied the efficacy of single-person crowdfunded efforts though sites like GoFundMe in raising money for abortions. Of the 92 campaigns studied, 19 reached their fundraising goals, the median amount of which was $610. The researchers also found that campaigns were most common in the South, and the most successful campaigns were written in the third person.
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Abortion funding is a perfect storm of disenfranchisement: Most people who seek termination services are low-income and two thirds are already parents. The Hyde Amendment blocks those who are eligible for Medicaid from receiving federal assistance for termination services, and federal insurance and some private companies don’t include abortion in their plans. Mandatory waiting periods force people seeking an abortion to take time off work, which leads to lost wages, and may have to travel hours or even out of state to the nearest clinic, necessitating an overnight stay at a hotel and adding additional costs.
The Yale study focuses on individuals who turn to online crowdfunding, but there are other options for abortion patients seeking financial assistance—like the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a coalition of around 70 local abortion funds that works to remove financial barriers to abortion access—by connecting them with in-state funding organizations.
Candace O’Brien, a health services program manager at the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based abortion fund and member organization of NNAF, says people may have to choose between paying their electric and water bills in order to afford an abortion procedure. Yellowhammer also relies on funding from the National Abortion Federation (NAF). “When we help pay for those funds with NAF or other organizations, that takes off the pressure—it helps them out and it lets them go on about their lives,” O’Brien said. NNAF has found that the majority of those seeking assistance live in states that have not passed Medicaid expansion.
Due to insubstantial funds and more restrictive abortion laws, in the past Yellowhammer has had to prioritize “high-needs” callers—those whose pregnancies are further along. But O’Brien says the multistate coalition and crowdfunding that happens at individual clinics in Alabama helps to bear the costs.
The NNAF is currently facilitating its annual fund-a-thon, asking donors to pledge specific amounts that will go toward transportation, housing, and cost of a procedure. Each state has a different goal, and in the first month of fundraising, some are off to a slow start. As of March 11, the Lilith Fund in Austin, Texas, has raised just over $3,200 of an $80,000 goal, and Yellowhammer has also raised more than $3,200 of its $250,000 goal.
Those who don’t receive funds from organizations and can’t fundraise themselves have limited options, which is where people like Kate come in. Kate, an abortion advocate and trained abortion doula who withheld her last name for her personal safety, uses the internet to crowdsource funds and provide information for those seeking abortions—in states that are friendly and states that are hostile to abortion. She uses Facebook to fundraise from her network of friends and connects with potential clients through Reddit.
State-level anti-abortion bills reduce abortion access, and are increasingly successful at sowing disinformation, Kate said. “The fact that some people don’t know what’s going on in their states. … It illuminates the fact that the health-care system is a dumpster fire,” she said.
Kate helped 500 patients in partially or completely funding their abortion procedure or ancillary costs in 2019. Meanwhile, abortion restrictions at the state level have increased (last year, 17 states passed 58 abortion restrictions), and the cost of living across the United States is increasing. Kate said she’s seen an uptick in individuals who take a payday loan or a title loan on their car in order to pay for abortion services, but when they can’t repay the loan, they may lose their car and potentially their job.
Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe can be a useful tool for those who can’t afford their medical procedures—if they’re able to raise money through it—but this option isn’t available, or successful, for all. The Yale study points out that online fundraising is only available to those with internet access, and others may be advantaged by “large social networks, more affluent contacts, photogenic images, or education and cultural backgrounds that allow them to craft compelling or emotionally powerful campaign descriptions.”
Crowdfunding isn’t a panacea for abortion care, and it won’t fix the health-care system, Kate said, which is why she advocates for Medicare for All and comprehensive reproductive health care. “I’m dealing with a much greater level of despair from people who don’t have jobs and have other children,” Kate said, noting that the situation becomes more dire for people with disabilities or who are caretakers for other members of their family.
Other attempts to alleviate the financial burdens placed on those seeking an abortion have come from state and local legislatures, as well as the public.
Some cities located in states hostile to abortion rights, like Austin, Texas, have signed into law amendments that set aside city funds for ancillary costs of abortion, such as transportation and childcare. In this instance, the amendment will be structured as a competitive grant for nonprofits that provide these services. After Alabama passed a near-total abortion ban last year, Yellowhammer Fund was flooded with donations to fund abortions in the state—it raised more than $2 million in the two weeks after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the ban into law.
Also in 2019, a bill was introduced into the New York state legislature that would allow residents to donate to an abortion fund when filing their tax returns. Similar to Austin, the New York State Department of Health would work with state and local nonprofits to disseminate the funds.
“I know that for some people, having the procedure costs covered [by] our funds … removes the stress that they’re feeling,” O’Brien said. “They have children or they have other things going on, once funding is secured, there’s that kind of emotional release.”
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Yellowhammer Fund’s affiliations with both the National Network of Abortion Funds and National Abortion Federation.