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How Abortion Funds Showed America That ‘Roe’ Is Not Enough

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Nilofar Ganjaie often has to ask people what belongings they can sell to help pay for their abortions. Her organization, the Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF), helps people in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska who are struggling to afford the hundreds or, later in pregnancy, thousands of dollars that an abortion costs. Each week, the fund sets aside a portion of its budget to help those with upcoming appointments. And each week, generally by Wednesday, the money is gone. So volunteers like Ganjaie walk callers through a set of calculations: Are there friends or relatives they can ask for money? Expenses they can delay? Callers have sold their clothing or children’s toys. She offers patients the option of delaying their appointments, but even then, the fund can’t guarantee help. “Those are just the most heartbreaking conversations, to walk people through options that include staying pregnant longer than they want to be,” she said.

So when her counterparts in New York City made history in June by pushing it to become the first city in the United States to directly fund abortions, Ganjaie was thrilled. The city allocated $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), doubling its capacity to fund abortions. She knew an amount like that would be a game changer for her own fund, which has granted roughly $300,000 this year. Before she could tell her fellow board members the news, they were already messaging on Signal. “Let’s do this,” one wrote.

A few weeks later, Ganjaie attended an event at a women’s coworking space where her congresswoman, Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), spoke to the crowd about her abortion. When Jayapal took questions, Ganjaie raised an issue that has been the third rail of abortion politics for decades: How could activists secure public funding for abortions? Jayapal, part of a newly elected wave of progressive women of color in Congress, was fresh off a failed attempt to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a ban on most federal funding for abortion that Congress has renewed every year since 1976. A group of progressive women, including Jayapal and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), had attached an amendment repealing Hyde to a budget bill, but fellow Democrats in the House Rules Committee had scuttled it. Sensing defeat, Jayapal had conceded to Roll Call that Hyde was still a “politically difficult issue.” But she seemed to think Ganjaie might have better luck locally, encouraging her to take the issue to the Seattle City Council.

Ganjaie and her colleagues plan to do just that—and they’re not alone. In September abortion fund activists in Austin, Texas, pushed the city to give $150,000 to help residents with the travel, housing, and child care costs associated with abortion. The California abortion fund Access Women’s Health Justice told The Nation that it’s contemplating similar initiatives in Los Angeles and San Francisco. At the federal level, the All Above All campaign has inspired members of Congress and a number of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to challenge the once-sacred Hyde Amendment.

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