In recent months, abortion funds in the South and across the country have been closing their doors or decreasing services as donations, which spiked after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last year, have stopped pouring in. People who need help paying for their abortions have been turning to existing funds — like the Louisiana Abortion Fund, which is seeing more callers from places where funds have shut down.
In September, when the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund temporarily stopped funding abortions, the Louisiana fund saw a surge in callers from Florida. That same week, the Arkansas Abortion Support Network closed its travel fund — and the Louisiana fund saw a surge in callers from Arkansas.
“Anytime that a fund within our region is closed or can’t be fully operational for any reason, every other fund is going to feel the brunt of that,” said Pamela Pareja, the Louisiana Abortion Fund’s deputy director of client services.
The Louisiana Abortion Fund remains financially solvent — for now. The organization expects to give out as much money this year as in previous years, if not more, even as the average cost of helping someone get an abortion has risen dramatically in the last year.
In 2022, the organization spent more than $900,000 on funding procedures and logistical support, such as childcare and transportation to states where abortion remains legal, helping more than 1,200 people. In the first half of this year, the fund gave more than $500,000 for people seeking abortion procedures. The grassroots group is prepared to meet the increased demand without making cuts to salaries or staff, said Tyler Barbarin, the organization’s director of grants and developments.
Still, the influx of last year’s “rage donations” have dwindled, Pareja said. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, abortion funds across the country saw an unprecedented flow of donations. Though barriers to abortion care have continued to mount in states, these donations have dried up, a central factor in the closures or pauses of many funds, as The Guardian recently reported.
Barbarin observed that donors are shifting priorities. Deep-pocketed groups now want to “put money into the places where our patients are navigating to,” rather than where they are coming from, she said. While the Louisiana fund works closely with organizations in states where their clients travel for care, Barbarin is troubled by the trend she is observing.
“If people do not prioritize the South — it’s not even a matter of not abandoning us — but if they don’t continue to prioritize us, then we won’t be able to meet the need,” she said.
Barbarin and others who run abortion funds in the South argue that their groups remain the first point of contact for many people seeking help with abortion costs, fronting significant travel expenses. Now that abortions are broadly illegal in Louisiana and neighboring states, getting one is even more expensive, especially for people who are low-income or uninsured.
“For folks to even get to a blue state to have their abortion, a lot of times their initial point of contact, or those of us here on the ground,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, the executive director of the Mississippi Freedom Fund, which serves a similar population to that of Louisiana and recently had to close its doors for the rest of the year. It’s not for a lack of available resources that certain funds are struggling, Roberts added.
“There are donors who could give money, but they’re choosing not to,” Roberts said.
Skyrocketing costs of providing services have also been straining abortion funds. In 2021, the Louisiana Abortion Fund spent an average of around $300 per person helped. For the first half of this year, the average amount the fund spent was nearly $1,500, with some monthly averages reaching nearly $2,300.
Pareja and Barbarin attribute the 500% increase in costs to the far distances people must travel to receive care and the subsequent delays in accessing this care. These barriers result in people undergoing abortions at higher gestational ages than they would have before the overturn of Roe. Research by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute in 2021, for instance, found Louisianians would be the farthest from an abortion clinic compared to residents of any other state with Roe’s overturn. Last year, Louisiana Abortion Fund clients traveled an average of 891 miles round trip to receive care.
Many callers who could have accessed the abortion pill earlier in their pregnancies before Louisiana’s “trigger law” banning nearly all abortions went into effect last summer may now need to undergo a surgical abortion, a more intensive and costly process, Pareja said.
Without financial help from the fund, the majority of callers would almost certainly not be able to afford the out-of-state services. In 2021 and in 2022, over 85% of callers were either on Medicaid or uninsured.
In conversations with clients, Pareja has noticed a tremendous increase in misinformation since Roe was overturned. Some callers don’t know whether abortions are illegal nationwide, or only in certain states; some aren’t sure whether it’s a crime for someone to travel out-of-state for an abortion (it’s not, though multiple states have unsuccessfully tried to make it a crime); and many express confusion about the varying state laws when it comes to accessing the procedure.
The actual process of getting funds to clients can also be burdensome, Pareja said. Some clients don’t have IDs, which can make distributing funds complicated. Other clients lack digital proficiency — Pareja recalled spending a lot of time helping people set up PayPal accounts, for instance. And some clients don’t have cell phones or live in rural areas that lack reception, said Roberts.
The Louisiana group rebranded earlier this year, changing its name from the “New Orleans Abortion Fund” to the “Louisiana Abortion Fund” to signal its commitment to funding abortion services for people across the state and throughout the South.
“We are still here, our people are still here,” Barbarin said. “We still have to navigate and exist in these contexts.”
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