Why we DCAF: From a case manager

We’re always hustling for choice with the DC Abortion Fund. But when we’re fundraising, or working to fight anti-choice laws, sometimes our focus is very broad. It’s important to remember why we do this work: The individuals who need abortion care, but who cannot afford it without help.

For DCAF case managers though, those patients are right at the forefront. Here, case manager Jess P. shares her experience working with the people who call DCAF for help.

A few months ago, I was a couple days into my shift on the DCAF line. It had been a long day at work, the weather was starting to get colder and I was just in general feeling pretty grumpy. When I sat down to call back patients, I was annoyed to find that there were nearly 20 that day (which is pretty common, and a powerful statement of the great need for affordable abortion in our region). I began slowly to return calls, hoping that most of the patients were simple cases or earlier pregnancies. I was going through the motions with one patient who I’d had great difficulty reaching and I went through several of the required questions before realizing I had skipped one. When I asked her age, she responded, tearing up, “I’m 15. Is it going to hurt? What is it going to feel like? What’s going to happen?” I felt my heart stop when I heard the fear in her voice. I took a deep breath and we spent a long time discussing clinics, transportation, resources for more information about the procedure and finally if there was anyone she trusted that she might be able to ask for financial (or emotional) support. The answer: no one.

I had been so caught up in my own business that day, worried about myself and my job, that I had forgotten for a moment the difficult situations that so many of our patients find themselves in. After we got off the phone, I reflected on my own privileges and what my life had been like at 15 years old. In the months since I began to volunteer as a case manager with DCAF, I have learned that there is no one standard case or patient. I have spoken to women who are just teenagers, and to women who are in their 40s and cannot carry to term safely. I have spoken to a woman who has multiple jobs but still can’t make ends meet because she is supporting her mother and siblings and her own children. I have spoken to a woman who just got laid off and then found out that she was pregnant and feels like she is drowning in uncertainty about how she will just pay her bills this month, much less support another person. I’ve spoken to husbands on behalf of their wives who are leaning on them for emotional support, and I’ve spoken to women who are hiding from an abusive boyfriend. Some women have supportive families, some women are homeless and bouncing from place to place. No two women are alike, and no two abortion experiences are the same.

Sometimes, though, I get frustrated by the endless barriers that come up when we case manage. I see my budget dwindling as the week goes on and I wish that my patient had called just a week or two earlier when the procedure would have been much cheaper. I was frustrated when a patient was refused an abortion by a Catholic-affiliated hospital despite the overwhelming number of lethal fetal abnormalities the doctors found. I get frustrated when a patient tells me she has health insurance that she pays an arm and a leg for, but it won’t cover her abortion. Most of all, though, I get frustrated when a patient tells me she has no one to talk to, no one who will listen, no one who will support her and no one who will understand because talking about abortion is still taboo. I’ve stayed on the phone for long periods with a mother who can’t stop crying because she just wants a better life for her daughter than she herself had. I’ve talked through the options with a husband who is trying to cross multiple states to get his wife the life-saving procedure she needs. I’ve heard the relief in the voice of a woman who found unexpected support from a manager, a friend, her mother when she was just beginning to lose hope. Sometimes the patient wants to keep things impersonal. Sometimes the patient just wants to cry.

During weeks like that one, when it feels like there just isn’t enough money or time to help all of the women who need it, and when it feels like yet another barrier is preventing a woman from making her own choices, I find solace in the supportive network of abortion funds like DCAF, NNAF, NAF, and BRAAF who care so deeply about helping women. When I first started to volunteer as a case manager, I worried that we would run out of money and I would have to tell a woman who was desperate, “I’m sorry, we just can’t help you.” But somehow, we always make it work. This might mean sending late night emails to another fund, negotiating with a clinic to see what can be done, or touching base with the patient throughout the day to see if that paycheck will arrive in time, or reaching out to our own supporters to help us get through a rough week. I’ve learned that $50, which might feel like so little to some, can seem like an insurmountable amount of money to raise for some women. Every single dollar makes a difference. And this community, that cares so deeply about every woman and every woman’s right to make the best decision for her body, will do everything it can to help her find each and every cent that she needs. So then when I call her back, I can tell her, with confidence, that she is not alone. We will listen and we can help.

Inspired by Jess’s story? You can donate to DCAF on this page to help patients get the funds they need. Or you can join our Billiards-a-Thon, our annual springtime event that raises a quarter of our annual budget.