Abortion Fund Leaders Are Telling Our Stories to Spark Change, End Hyde

Our stories will be what makes the difference for these legislators.

Our stories will be what makes the difference for these legislators. Jennifer Kotting

On All* Above All’s third annual Capitol Hill Day last Thursday, almost 200 delegates from over 90 organizations in 25 states and the District of Columbia flooded the offices of their representatives to change the climate around abortion coverage in the United States.

All* Above All set up delegate meetings with many representatives who’d voted against HR 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, as a way of inviting them to become active supporters of the EACH Woman Act. For the first time in history, this act seeks to lift the bans that deny abortion coverage.

It’s one thing to vote against a bill that expands the Hyde Amendment, a budgetary addition that has to be renewed yearly, making it illegal to use public funds to cover abortion care. It’s quite another to proactively stand up for a bill that would reverse an amendment that’s been renewed every year for 39 years.

We started our morning with a reminder from Kelly Baden from the Center for Reproductive Rights: “It’s not a moment, it’s a movement.”

The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), which comprises organizations that are funding abortion and building power to fight for cultural and political change, brought a quarter of these delegates from a selection of key districts in support of the EACH Woman Act.

We at NNAF felt that it was crucial to have abortion fund leaders and hotline workers as vocal participants in the meetings to convey the barriers on the ground in accessing care. Fund leaders are able to personally illustrate the importance of broader policy initiatives like the EACH Woman Act with their detailed experiences. As local experts, they can explain how unjust abortion laws affect those already facing many other hurdles, as well as the widespread patterns of abuse in trying to access reproductive options.

On Thursday, a delegate and NNAF employee, Sabrina Ghaus, was able to connect the dots for a representative who was initially reluctant to sign on to our efforts:

A month ago, a minor in this state and her advocates called our hotline. The young woman who needed an abortion was under 18 and a ward of the state. She was on federal insurance—which does not cover abortion, due to Hyde—and received a small stipend every month that wasn’t nearly enough to cover the cost of her procedure. She and her advocate called me for three days in a row, frantically seeking financial assistance.

When a representative isn’t ready to vocally support the EACH Woman Act, we have observed how they are moved by the personal experiences of funders and clinic workers who have firsthand knowledge of what’s happening on the ground. Until that moment, many legislators, even relatively supportive ones, might not have realized how great the need is and how dire the situation has become.

Some red-state representatives were shocked to learn from abortion fund delegates that while they work tirelessly to raise and give out money to thousands of people a year, funders still had to turn away over 60 percent of callers due to the immense need. Fund members were also the ones to explain that as they’re doing critical community response work to a national emergency, it will never be enough to meet the need without strong federal protections.

The NNAF works with approximately 80 hotlines across the country and gives around $3.5 million in financial assistance to 30,000 people a year. And yet, it’s all too common for funds to run out of money when people need it. That’s why in states where law and culture are hostile to abortion rights, the government has to step in, proclaiming that we as a nation refuse to let pregnant people become second-class citizens stripped of their rights because of their income or zip code.

Our stories will be what makes the difference for these legislators, as they did for Ghaus’ congressman who heard the earlier story:

His demeanor immediately became so focused and intense when listening to my story. It made me think that more than anything, hearing the lived realities of people who have to deal with the consequences of Hyde turned him into a more active supporter of the EACH Women Act. We received an email 10 minutes after we left saying he’d co-sponsor.

We learned last week that legislators rely on abortion advocates for messages that will hold sway over their colleagues and constituents. A champion legislator even revealed to us that if it were not for All* Above All, she would still be promoting the tagline that “no federal funds are spent on abortion” as a positive. Instead, legislators can describe how the federal government should be a standard-bearer by ensuring that everyone who receives care or insurance through it will have coverage for abortion services. It was heartening to know that she had been moved by this campaign.

The All* Above All campaign will continue to succeed in turning passive supporters into active co-sponsors of the EACH Woman Act by bringing in people directly engaged in on-the-ground advocacy work. It is crucial that politicians hear our stories to understand why we need them to act now.