Falling between the cracks

February 7th, 2012

Categories: abortion restrictions, Funds, New York Abortion Access Fund

Falling Between the Cracks: Why Abortion Funds Exist and How You Can Help Them Help Women, by Eesha Pandit and Steph Herold, was originally published in RH Reality Check on February 6, 2012

Melissa is 26 years old. She has a husband serving in the U.S. military overseas and a young daughter with numerous special health care needs. When they learned that she was pregnant, Melissa and her husband considered their limited resources and decided to seek an abortion. The ban on federal funding for abortion meant that this basic medical service was not covered. Melissa managed to raise half of the cost of her procedure by delaying payment of non-essential bills. The New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF) pledged the other half.

Erika is a 19-year-old college student with an infant. When she became pregnant, her boyfriend had recently been laid off, leaving their family uninsured. She called NYAAF for help when her family refused to offer assistance. She’d saved $100 dollars from her student loan check. NYAAF pledged the remaining $250 and Erika received the abortion care she needed.

Since 2001, the NYAAF has helped 764 women from 25 states, including Melissa and Erika 1,  gain access to safe abortion care. In fact, the need for abortion funding is so great that over 100 grassroots abortion funds exist across the country, all members of the National Network of Abortion Funds. NYAAF, a member of the Network, is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to low-income women in New York state who can’t afford to pay for an abortion. This year, we’re celebrating a decade of ensuring accessible, funded abortion care in New York State.

Many people wonder why New York State, where women can get public health insurance coverage for abortion services, needs an abortion fund. Abortion is prohibitively expensive for many women with the average cost ranging from about $500 at 10 weeks, to over $1,300 at 20 weeks gestation. Even in New York and the 14 other states that provide Medicaid coverage for abortion, thousands of low-income women fall between the cracks. Many women may be too poor to pay for abortion procedures, but they are uninsured or not poor enough to obtain public health insurance coverage like Medicaid.

In addition to helping local women, NYAAF also assists women from out of state who need help covering the costs of their procedures in New York. New York City is a major destination for many women across the country seeking abortions for a number of reasons. Some women find that abortion is more affordable here than in their home states, others come from areas where there are no abortion providers at all, and others come because they may be able to have procedures later in their pregnancies here.

Our board is made up of 12 people, all of us under 45 years of age. Some of us are activists who’ve worked in the reproductive rights movement at both the grassroots and professional level, while others work in public health or in completely unrelated fields. As board members, we rotate responsibility for the hotline, each person taking a shift once a week every 12 weeks. We know it’s unusual for board members to be involved in the daily work of an organization. Besides the fact that we have no paid staff members, we feel that being directly involved in the service work of our fund keeps us grounded in remembering the importance of the work we do.

NYAAF has made grants to women coming to New York from many other states including Alabama, California, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Utah, and even Bermuda. The demand for NYAAF’s services has been on the rise since the day we started. In 2002, we pledged $5000 to help 30 women access safe abortion care. Last year, we pledged over $60,000 to help 246 women.

Aside from Melissa and Erika, who are the women who call our hotline? In 2011, the average woman who called is 26 years old, has one child, no health insurance, and was about 12 weeks pregnant at the time of her abortion. While our average pledge towards a procedure is $252, the average total cost of an abortion for the women we serve is $846. Think about what you have in your bank account, what bills you have to pay. Could you afford that out-of-pocket expense?

Without donor support, NYAAF wouldn’t be able to help women like Melissa and Erika. There are a number of ways to help us keep abortion affordable in New York State. We have events almost every month. On February 9, we’re hosting a ten-year anniversary celebration at Housing Works in Manhattan. We’re honoring pro-choice champions New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, author and columnist Katha Pollitt, and NYAAF’s original founder and early board members. Tickets are available here, as are electronic journal ads. Even if you can’t come, donations from $5 to $500 dollars go a long way towards helping women get the care that they need.

Eesha Pandit is a board member of both NYAAF and the National Network of Abortion Funds. You can follow her on Twitter at @EeshaP. Steph Herold is a board member of NYAAF and her Twitter handle is @IAmDrTiller.

[1]: These women gave NYAAF permission to use their stories, with names changed.