Nichelle Rick-Lewis, center, of Brooklyn, N.Y., holds a sign joining hundreds of people around the Georgia Capitol protesting against two pieces of legislation they say are unfair to women Monday, March 12, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
How urgently do low-income women need help paying for abortion care? In a few weeks I’ll be taking part in the National Network of Funds (NNAF) Annual Bowl-a-Thon, wearing funny shoes and rolling the big black ball to raise money for the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF). Bowling! The last time I went bowling was on a blind date in college. Believe me, I would not be humiliating myself in this fashion if I didn’t have to. That’s how urgent the need for abortion funding is. Bowling, house parties, book sales, rummage sales, happy hours, blogging, tweeting, year-end appeals: for grassroots organizations without major donors, fundraising never ends. Think Sisyphus with his rock. Donations arrive—$25, $35, occasionally as much as $100 offered by people who are often young and not very prosperous themselves—and fly out the door. The people who give to abortion funds are kind and generous and committed to making women’s right to decide whether and when to have a child a reality. But what they aren’t so much is well-off, able to make the kind of significant gifts that would lift the organization to the next level. NYAAF manages to give something to all its clients, even if it’s just $50, but many other funds have to turn women away. “We get twenty to forty-five calls on the mornings our hot line is open, but we can only help around ten women,” says Shailey Gupta-Brietzke of the Lilith Fund, of Texas.
And that, dear pro-choicer of means, is where you come in.
Time was, women didn’t have much money of their own. Time was, the women who did have wealth tended to be noncontroversial in their philanthropy—education, the arts, hospitals, children. People used to say that women donated more to their husband’s college than to their own. Today though, there are quite a few women with significant wealth under their control, and many who want to donate in ways that are activist and feminist. Much better! I’m not exactly sure why abortion funds haven’t been on the receiving end of this new, women-oriented donating—perhaps it’s just that as grassroots organizations, they are not as visible as, say, Planned Parenthood, or as well-connected to the right circles. Maybe it is the stigma of abortion; celebrities give to many causes, including some very obscure ones, but can you think of a single one who has championed abortion—even though many have surely had at least one or, if male, been involved with one? But if you have read this far, dear pro-choicer of means, a little stigma is not going to bother you. Is it?
Here’s why you should make a major gift to your local abortion fund, or to the National Network, which helps support and expand local branches:
1. For every $1,000 you give, you change the lives of at least five women, and probably more. A $25,000 gift would help more than 100 women. If you think about it, there are not many other ways $100, or even $500, can make such a big, life-changing difference to one person. Hard as it may be to believe it, lots of women simply cannot raise the $400 or $500 for a first trimester abortion—even after they’ve sold their jewelry or TV, put off paying bills, borrowed from friends. And the longer the abortion is postponed, the more expensive it becomes. Between the new state restrictions and the recession—ending on paper but not for millions of women who were already struggling when it began—more and more women can’t afford abortion care. “We helped almost twice as many people this year as last,” says NYAAF board member Steph Herold.
2. You will be helping women in crisis in a direct, tangible way. Abortion funds have low overhead—most are unpaid volunteer groups with a letterhead, a cellphone and a tiny budget for postage, house party refreshments and the like. You will know that your money is going to the women who need it, almost as if you opened up your wallet and put the money in their hands yourself. Most social ills are much more complicated; most crucial medical care is much more expensive. An unwanted pregnancy is one problem that can be completely solved, preventing a cascade of troubles—interrupted education, job loss, housing loss, family crisis or even medical catastrophe.
3. Perhaps, like one in three American women, you yourself have had an abortion. (Or perhaps your daughter, your sister, your mother or your friend did.) Maybe money wasn’t an issue—but maybe it was, and other people helped out. By donating to an abortion fund, you are paying it forward—giving other women what you were given, or were fortunate enough not to have to ask others for. You are paying forward the safe, legal care you received—or making sure that no other woman has to go through the illegal procedure you or women you know had to endure. Isn’t that just the right thing to do?
4. You will be making choice real. What is the right to choose if you can’t afford to exercise it? Today “abortion is a privilege and not a right,” says Val Vilott of the DC Abortion Fund. Is that the America you want to live in?
5. You are helping to shape the women leaders of tomorrow, the ones who will make social change. You know those supposedly missing younger feminists? Abortion funds are one place you’ll find them.
6. You will feel a deep sense of satisfaction. “There’s something really powerful about knowing that because of you, a woman can continue on the path she’s set out for herself,” says Megan Peterson of NNAF. “It feels really good.”
Please give generously and help abortion funds help women who have no place else to turn. Do it for choice. For women. For yourself. But do it. You can find an abortion fund near you at fundabortionnow.org.
Or send a check to the National Network of Abortion Funds, PO Box 170280, Boston, MA 02117.