As a young woman, I was always pretty secure in my pro-choice and feminist values. But before becoming involved in the DC Abortion Fund as a case manager, the debate over abortion rights felt a bit abstract—despite the fact that 1 in 4 women get an abortion in her lifetime.
State legislatures are racing to make it harder to access our constitutional right to abortion, and women continue to bear the brunt of the financial and emotional aspects of abortion. I’ve found abortion is still an uncomfortable discussion topic—even with those closest to us.
Because it’s an uncomfortable discussion to bridge with friends and loved ones, DCAF case managers can really be lifelines. Some women who call in haven’t told anyone else, or very few people. There’s such a persistent sense of shame—you can’t talk about socially it in the way you talk about other procedures like getting your tonsils taken out or a root canal. Instead, it can be an incredibly scary and hard topic to broach.
What I like about being a case manager is that I’m helping with the logistics. Women come to DCAF after making the decision to get an abortion, for a wide variety of reasons. We don’t ask about that. We aren’t here to be emotional counsel. We are tasked with putting together the puzzle pieces of funding. We’re there to talk through it with patients, and to assure them we can help find a way to pay for it. We’re in it together—we’re with them.
That said, you can’t truly separate the financial case manager work from emotions. It’s really compassionate work. And it’s not always easy. While we’re super lucky to have amazing donors to so many different abortion funds, including DCAF, navigating everything is often exhausting for patients and is an added stress. Sometimes patients are sick and tired of making calls to different organizations, to the clinic—and receiving calls back when they’re at work, at a restaurant, or with family. I understand how hard it would be to keep fielding calls about your abortion and to be constantly reminded of it and the barriers involved.
Before case managing, I didn’t know that it could cost between a few hundred dollars (first trimester) to upwards of $10,000 (third trimester). Some women have to trek across their state, or across state lines to have the procedure. We want to be sure that all women can pay for their abortion.
Why I DCAF comes down to two things:
By volunteer Annie W.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bars Medicaid recipients from using their benefits to pay for abortion care in many states. Our volunteers are sharing the stories of why our work is vital in the face of these restrictions. Today, case manager Meredith N. talks about how laws restricting abortion access disproportionately affect people with disabilities.
It’s that time of year where we wish the Hyde Amendment a happy unbirthday and continue to fight the good fight to end the ban(s) on abortion coverage. However, it is discouraging to see so many reproductive justice activists neglect to mention that people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the Hyde Amendment as well. The reality is that people with disabilities are more likely to be poor as well as rely on state insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare to meet our health care needs. I currently live in Maryland which both expanded Medicaid and is one of the 15 states where Medicaid covers abortion care. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency surrounding how to access this benefit means that few are aware it does not apply to the Aged, Blind or Disabled Medicaid that SSI beneficiaries receive (perhaps because there is the false assumption we do not need it). In turn, repealing Hyde is a disability justice issue as well. At the same time, a world without Hyde means little as long as our society continues to look upon disabled sexuality with fear and disgust. A world with reproductive justice would affirm the diversity of body/minds in the world by recognizing that we, too, deserve full spectrum reproductive health care.
As a result, I DCAF because disabled people need abortion access, too. Neglecting to consider this hurts multiply marginalized disabled people the most. I DCAF because the seemingly insurmountable financial barriers to an abortion are compounded when you are turned away from clinics because you are considered a high risk patient, your accessibility needs cannot be met, or you must go without lifesaving medication in order to come up with gas money. I DCAF because too many people with disabilities remain isolated by an ableist world and I want to be a lifeline whom anyone facing an unplanned pregnancy can call when they have no one else to turn to. I DCAF because everyone deserves access to safe, accessible abortion care regardless of how much cash they have, regardless of whether or not society believes they “should be” having sex or not, regardless of whether or not they are “productive” enough, and whether or not their necessary accommodations are “reasonable” enough.
Nonetheless, abortion funds and other reproductive justice groups shouldn’t wait until Hyde is repealed to commit to this anti-ableism work! As someone who has funded abortions both locally and nationally, it is all too apparent that abortion funds are working with many disabled callers — regardless of whether or not these callers identify as such — but are poorly equipped to recognize our needs, much less accommodate them. I encourage you to consider how you can better incorporate dis/ability into your intersectional frameworks: whether that’s eliminating ableist language such as “crazy” or “lame” from your fund’s vocabulary or taking more extensive steps of disability solidarity.
By volunteer Meredith N. Image by Repeal Hyde Art Project.
One of the greatest things you can do is to recognize your privilege. Probably like most young people my age who are the children of the sexual revolution, I have had more than one “pregnancy scare” since I started having sex. However, as a college graduate with a full time job, health insurance, and proximity to more than one reproductive health clinic, the thought of being pregnant wasn’t as life-halting as it can be for a lot of people. The last time I thought I might be pregnant (pre-IUD), I looked into the costs and availability of obtaining an abortion, realized it would be something I could manage, and felt somehow more in control of the situation.
I know, however, not everyone has the same resources that I do. The truth is that the abortion access is qualified by economic eligibility and that pregnant people without the means to travel to or afford services from an abortion provider are forced to remain pregnant or worse, seek other (read: less safe) options. The fact that people have to put their lives in danger because they can’t afford the medical services they need should make you as livid as it makes me.
The average cost of raising a child born in 2013 up until age 18 for a middle-income family in the U.S. is approximately $245,340. The backward logic that a pregnant person without the means to afford an abortion will be able to afford the cost of raising a child reinforces the wage disparity problems we have in the U.S. today. Even beyond the ability to afford to raise a child, the ability to decide if a low-income pregnant person would like to be a parent is removed when economic barriers to abortion are enforced.
I DCAF because we believe that an individual is the decision-maker of their life and should not be denied one’s reproductive rights because of politicized barriers. I wanted to belong to a nation-wide network of people who believed in the same things that I do, and who would work every day to connect people with the resources that they need.
By volunteer Bee W.
You probably know that DCAF is staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers, dozens of people who spend their free time, often hours and hours every week, assisting women and girls who need abortions in getting the emotional and financial support they need. You know DCAF raises thousands of dollars every year to help women in the District, Maryland and Virginia afford abortions they need. What you may not know is why these volunteers work tirelessly for the organization and the women it serves.
I can tell you what brought me to DCAF. I could go into the years I’ve spent volunteering with other women’s organizations, or the weeklong series about domestic violence that I coordinated as a Michigan newspaper editor. I could tell you about how I’ve supported friends who have chosen abortion, and those who have considered it but opted against it. But what I think it boils down to is this: I believe in women, and I believe we don’t have enough support, resources and/or advocates in our corner, especially when it comes to our health and bodies.
I know women who are so grateful they were able to have an abortion when they needed one, and I’ve met women who wish they could have gotten an abortion, but didn’t. Women deserve options and resources, and I want to help provide that.
Now, I am no medical professional. I couldn’t be trusted with a stethoscope. My networking and fundraising skills are pitiful at best. My phone voice is hopelessly nasal, Midwest and filled with “ums” and “likes.” But get me behind a keyboard or a pen, and I’m completely comfortable. This is where I can fill in—maybe even shine.
There’s an episode of Sports Night in which Sam describes the birth of television. Philo Farnsworth, the guy who invented the TV, was explaining his invention to his brother-in-law, a glassblower. Philo’s brother-in-law told him, “I don’t have your head for science, but it sounds like you’ll need glass tubes for this. I can make those for you.” That’s what I have to offer—I can make glass tubes.
Expect to read more about the lives DCAF touches—from caseworkers to fundraisers, board members to community members—in the future. From the collective voice of DCAF volunteers and benefactors, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories that explain, again and again, why we’re here.
The work DCAF does is so important, so crucial for the women of DMV. Hundreds of women who otherwise could not have afforded abortions were able to get them because of the work we do. These women are mothers, daughters, students, workers, young and “of a certain age.” They are women you know. For me, it’s not a question of “should we get involved,” but “how can we not?”