The Country’s Largest Abortion Fund Launched This Week

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The Country’s Largest Abortion Fund Launched This Week

Nicole Knight

“The right to abortion is meaningless if you can’t afford to pay for it."

Alana found herself in a bind this summer when she discovered the abortion care she wanted would cost $650—more than she could afford.

“I was really close to having enough, but it was kind of like the difference between paying a bill, and not paying a bill,” said the 29-year-old Seattle woman, who is uninsured. Rewire is withholding her last name for privacy.

Alana was referred to The CAIR Project, a Washington-based abortion fund.

“I was really surprised it existed, I don’t know why,” Alana said. “It’s kind of an amazing thing.”

This week, The CAIR Project merged with Oregon’s Network for Reproductive Options. The new fund, known as the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, is the nation’s largest abortion fund by geography, serving Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho.

More than 70 abortion funds operate through the United States, often flying under the radar or discovered only in times of crisis. A pregnant person might lack health insurance, or find the deductible is beyond their means, or live in a state like Idaho where Republican lawmakers have largely banned abortion coverage in public and private health plans. Half of calls to what is now the Northwest Abortion Access Fund come from Idaho. In other cases, it’s the cost of travel or accommodations that are prohibitive.

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The unintended pregnancy rate among women living below the poverty line is five times higher than the rate for those at or above the poverty line, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Most abortion patients say they’re unable to afford another child. They say adding to their family will interfere with their job, schooling, or ability to care for their family. A five-year study of about 1,000 women seeking abortion care indicated that the cost of the procedure and logistics like travel amounted to more than one-third of their monthly income.

“The right to abortion is meaningless if you can’t afford to pay for it,” Nadia Piedranhita, a board member with Northwest Abortion Access Fund, said in a statement. “Our callers are forced to choose between paying rent or paying for their abortion. One caller had to pawn her wedding ring. Another had to return the Christmas gift she’d bought for her toddler.”

The two abortion funds fielded up to 70 calls per week before the merger. Piedranhita said some were military service members shocked to find their insurance doesn’t cover abortion services because of the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding of abortions with few exceptions. 

Alana lives in Washington state, where Medicaid and many private insurers cover comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortions. But her income level puts her in a bind: She makes too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange, she told Rewire. The unplanned pregnancy had her scrambling.

“You kind of beat yourself up because you didn’t intend to be a mother, and you don’t like the situation where you are,” she told Rewire.

The CAIR Project paid $150 so she could afford to end her pregnancy.

Not everyone is so fortunate. With a weekly budget of around $3,300, the money for the average grant, which is $180, often runs out by Tuesday or Wednesday, according to the fund. Those that need assistance must then reschedule their appointments, ask for time off of work, or find a sitter and a ride. The fund helps pay for travel and lodging, and gave out $32,000 in 2016, according to a statement.

Alana said the financial strife took a toll. She said her only alternative would’ve been to ask her mother for money.

“She’s really religious. She would have done it, but it would’ve hurt our relationship,” Alana said. “She definitely would’ve wanted me to have the baby.”

Alana was glad she didn’t have to.