As Arizona abortion options dwindle, abortion funds ramp up
Abortion funds help people find access to care, even if it means crossing state lines.
In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, supporters of abortion access searched for ways to help.
Some turned to donating and volunteering with abortion funds — groups that gather resources to assist people seeking abortion with money to cover the procedure and associated costs and information on where to find care.
In Arizona, abortion is not yet illegal, but is heavily restricted. The state attorney general is trying to get an injunction lifted in a decades-old court case that would allow an outright ban on abortion to be enforced. That law has been on the books here since the 1860s, before Arizona was a state. Some abortion providers stopped doing abortions because the legal limbo, though some are again providing them.
Should abortion become fully illegal in Arizona, abortion funds will incur greater costs to help people cross state lines to get one, though in some instances, Arizonans were already going to nearby states with fewer restrictions. The outright ban on abortion could create legal problems for abortion funds or others who help people get abortions, based on the way the pre-statehood law is written.
The Abortion Fund of Arizona saw a surge of donations and volunteer signups after the ruling. We caught up with Eloisa Lopez, the group’s executive director, to learn more about how the fund works and how its work could change.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How do you describe what an abortion fund does?
What an abortion fund does is connect to people who need abortion care and offer support, and primarily it's financial assistance for their procedure expense — not covering all of the procedure expense, but a good portion of it — and then also helping the caller find other ways to also help cover that expense. Especially here in Arizona, state insurance and private insurance does not cover abortion care, so it's a full out-of-pocket expense for the majority of people. And then we also offer what's called practical support, which is usually financial and logistical support to help the patient overcome any additional barriers. And this can look like geographical barriers — maybe they're living in a rural town, and they need to get to Phoenix and they don't have reliable transportation. This looks like covering taxi expenses or arranging volunteer rides for people. This looks like covering hotel stays for anyone who has to travel and offering meal gift cards for their trips. We're covering childcare fees, gas cards, medication post-procedure that they may need. We really get creative and cover anything that comes up, like we've even paid for replacing tires for people's vehicles before, we’ve paid to keep cell phones on because these are essentials that are going to either make or break them getting to their appointment. Our goal is to minimize the stress if we can, at least on the financial side and logistical arrangements for a patient.
Before Roe was overturned, how many people were you helping in a given month?
Over the years, we've been able to expand. When we started in 2017, we had hardly any funds and helping 10 people was a huge accomplishment for a month. At the beginning of this year, we were helping on average 40 to 50, and since after Roe, we've seen that increase to over 50 callers per month. And we're not paying a full procedure expense. We're getting to that point where we're covering (the full cost), at least for a very early stage abortion, which can cost anywhere from $550 to $650. There's been times where we're picking up that full bill for somebody, especially now because their options are even more limited. It's about meeting people where they're at and not having them delay their care any further than they have to because they're short a couple hundred dollars.
Are there places in the state that you can still refer people to at this time?
Our state is in a state of flux. The fetal personhood law has been blocked. And that for some independent providers have felt like the risk level here is very low. And now that fetal personhood has been blocked and the courts have not put into effect the pre-Roe ban, abortion is technically legal here. There are some independent providers that have resumed services. And we've seen that become a scramble for patients that had appointments. Like they were ready to travel and we had already arranged things for them to go to California or Las Vegas, (but they) chose to cancel because knowing something is so much closer to home is so much more appealing. But we're reminding them to be mindful that the law can quickly change.
Because travel may be required going forward, do you anticipate that there will be an increased cost per person that you're helping, if they have to go across state lines and stay overnight and stuff like that?
Definitely. We were already having to help people travel out of state. Arizona already had a number of restrictions. Our gestational limit was 24 weeks. Our clinics are heavily concentrated in Phoenix. We would share the knowledge with people — if you live in Kingman, Arizona, going to Las Vegas is closer to you than traveling to Phoenix. And Las Vegas doesn't have a 24-hour waiting period like Arizona does, so you can cross these state lines, get seen, do your ultrasound, get seen that day for your medication or surgical procedure, and essentially be able to return, if you wanted to, the same day. People need, sometimes, specialized abortion care, depending on the unique situation of the pregnancy, and they might have to travel to a clinic out of state that has a doctor who could specialize in a more delicate situation.
About 13,000 abortions happened in Arizona, so imagine now, all those 13,000 people needing to travel out of state, that's not realistic for thousands of those people. We're gonna see many people fall through the gaps, and it's not because they won't have the financial support, it will just be because we're asking people to really uproot their lives to just travel and go get health care. They have jobs that they can't miss time away from. They have families that they have to care for and where they're going to leave their children. They might not have reliable transportation and they can't even drive out of their immediate areas.
So unfortunately, we're going to see, definitely, a surge of needing to help people, and that travel expense gets pricey. It could easily be from $800 to $1,000 per person. And that's not counting in inflation. We used to hand out $30 gas cards if somebody was driving here locally from Glendale to Phoenix for a clinic, and now we're handing out $100 gas cards because that's how much it's costing to fill up somebody's tank. And we want to ensure patients feel cared for even after their appointment, so oftentimes, we're continuing support services for a caller afterwards. They might reach back out and say, hey, I'm struggling with food for my family, can I get a meal card? And we'll do that for people. So the price definitely increases and adds up, and now when you account for hotels for 50 people that need to go out of state, that will get expensive.
Have you seen an increase at all in donations or interest in volunteering since the Dobbs ruling?
Yes. And it's been overwhelmingly supportive. We are a small team, so our capacity is super limited. We've received over 200 volunteer applications and it's really exciting, and also it's real labor that needs to go into bringing people into an organization, especially the nature of our work and the hostility we're experiencing in state and the very real criminal threat that could be directed at people supporting people with abortion, as the pre-Roe ban includes, so we are being mindful. Our organization, we're not just pro-choice, we are pro-abortion, we support abortion without restrictions, we want abortion to be free and on demand for the people as they need it. That is the kind of world we are working towards. We also look at this issue beyond just abortion, it’s reproductive justice work. We love to educate people about the systemic racism and economic barriers that exist and why abortion care is so essential for folks already living in marginalized communities, already experiencing economic instability. There's a lot of education that goes into it when we bring in volunteers, because we have to ensure they are committed to these values. This 200-plus number, maybe not everyone will be a good fit. And we're super excited to bring new people in, but it is a labor, so it will take some time.
In terms of fundraising, we've definitely seen that spike. And, as always, usually there's a spike in donations when headlines activate people. The last couple of years, we've tried so hard to do fundraising in community, and we got rejected a lot because people didn't want to talk about abortion. They knew how stigmatizing it is. If it was a business that we were trying to partner with for a fundraiser, they were concerned about losing business and clients if they look to be a business promoting abortion. And now it's so encouraging to just see everybody, businesses flat-out promoting abortion care, supporting abortion funds, naming their stance on this issue.
You mentioned the criminal threat, and I'm wondering if that's something that weighs heavy on you. Do you have legal opinions at this point of how you all could be affected and how your work could be affected?
We have a really good legal team behind us that’s giving us up-to-date analysis on things. The pre-Roe ban includes the word “procurement,1” and as defined, that could include financial assistance, that can include supporting somebody, driving to their appointment. It's really scary. It's a real threat that we're moving into a future where helping somebody access abortion care will have criminal penalties for a person. We're not there right now. That could quickly change. But in this moment, we're doing what we can and we're continuing to do our work.
Abortion funds are being directly targeted in other states. And so the threat is very real and it's horrific that we're at a point where helping somebody access health care, now people have to assess their own personal risk in doing this work for others.
You mentioned that some of the people who signed up to volunteer may not be aligned with the work that you do. And I'm sure you saw in the immediate days after the Dobbs ruling, all these people saying, I'll drive you or I'll do whatever. I'm wondering if you can speak to the importance of somebody who is trained and known to be a safe person in helping people access abortions.
There's so much excitement around getting activated obviously because of terrible news, and we are very mindful to not be just reactionary in the moment. We understand that people are feeling desperate, they want to do something. It feels awful to know so much is out of our control and in the power of these elected officials who are heavily anti-abortion. We still are getting many requests of people offering up their homes and even giving up their travel miles for planes. While it's very generous and so thoughtful that people are willing to want to give in these ways, and it's really amazing, at the same time, vetting that people are trusted and not (anti-abortion people) infiltrating this work — the last thing we would want to do is ever place a patient under the care of somebody who we did not fully know through our own organization.
It always seems like, in the rush around any sort of negative headline cycle like this, there are people who feel they need to do something and they kind of recreate what already exists as opposed to supplementing or just donating.
We do a lot of education around even having conversations in your immediate circle about why abortion care is so important to you and helping destigmatize abortion. This work requires all of us to be planting that seed of understanding why abortion care is essential for people. We try to help encourage people there's many ways they can get involved, even hosting their own fundraiser. People get creative. As an example, somebody who owns a plant store reached out and they're just like, if I did an auction of plants and all the donations go to you, will this be helpful? And I'm like, yes, thank you for being so creative, to find a way to raise those funds.
Also, we remind people that this is a very long-term battle that we're in; this is not going to be a quick fix. Because we have seen how each year state legislatures chip away at access to abortion, before the SCOTUS decision. In Arizona, we've had a number of restrictions introduced since the early 2000s that have severely limited care for people, even with Roe in place. We have been working for years, and it's really hard to change that makeup of your state legislature. It's hard to get more pro-abortion candidates elected and the amount of time it takes to reverse harmful policies. I know people feel like something needs to be done right now in this moment, and it's really hard to be honest with people and transparent and say like, this really sucks and unfortunately, it's going to take time to fix because we're in this really devastating position. I remind folks of Texas all the time — it's been almost one year since they've not had abortion care. They're still in a hot mess. It will unfortunately take time to really get some better policies in place to ensure abortion access is protected.
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The pre-statehood ban says: “A person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two years nor more than five years.”