Conservatives Tried to Use the Pandemic to Crush Abortion Access. Abortion Funds Fought Back.

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The 10 abortion funds in Texas are tight-knit. If one fund isn’t able to support a caller, described Zaena Zamora, executive director of the Frontera Fund in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas, then another fund will take up the effort to help. This situation is different in North and South Carolina, where there is only one fund, the Carolina Abortion Fund. This places an inherent pressure on the fund that has only worsened during the pandemic. “We’re stretched thin financially,” Mars Earle, the director of engagement for the Carolina Abortion Fund, told me.

The “financial trauma” inflicted by the pandemic upon the fund’s primarily lower-income and uninsured callers has resulted in higher monthly expenditures. Earle described that, recently, the fund has interacted with many callers struggling with financial insecurity. “We’re seeing people who not only may not have been able to afford, say, a sudden $300-plus cost that you have to pay upfront but are also behind on utilities or other things.” Even after an executive board decision to push the fund’s budget and increase monthly costs, Earle estimates the Carolina Abortion Fund has only been able to serve “a third to a half” of callers in the past six months.

This situation is not exclusive to this fund. Abortion funds rely on donations, and even with as much outpouring and support as they receive, it never seems to be enough to meet caller demand. In the fiscal year of 2020, member funds in the National Network of Abortion Funds have only been able to support 56 percent of callers, the organization told me. That 56 percent amounts to 52,000 callers and over $9.28 million on abortion funding and practical support. This is still a more positive number than the prior fiscal year, during which NNAF funds were only able to support 26 percent of callers. It’s clear the support is great, but the need is greater.

But in a testament of strength, the Carolina Abortion Fund’s work has still managed to deepen in the last 12 months. As a result of the pandemic, CAF has been strategizing to work more closely with neighbors and local mutual aid organizations. The focus has to address their callers’ needs for the abortion, while also offering more holistic care. “You might need groceries afterwards, or need to make sure your light bulbs are still on,” Earle said. As for Zamora, the challenge of leading an abortion fund through a pandemic has actually proved reaffirming. Despite the spike in caller demand at the outset of the pandemic, Zamora’s fund has grown significantly. “We got a lot of other donations from people who might not have thought about us [before the pandemic].… But they saw what the governor and state legislature were trying to do … and it made people realize the importance of the funds.”

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