How long did it take Republicans to write their thank-you note to the Christian right? About five minutes. On November 21, Congress passed a $388 billion spending bill that permits any health provider–not just doctors and nurses, who can already opt out in forty-five states, but health insurers, HMOs, public or private hospitals, clinics, pharmacists–to refuse to be involved in abortion, up to and including informing a woman where to get one. Your employer can now deny you abortion coverage! Coming up soon: the Child Custody Protection Act, which would make it illegal for anyone but a parent or guardian to take an underage girl across state lines for an abortion, thus making parental notification and consent laws impossible to get around; the grotesque Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which would require doctors to offer women aborting after twenty weeks pain medication for their fetuses; the Post-Abortion Depression Research and Care Act; and lots more. Measures like these make abortion harder to get: Arrangements take longer, travel becomes more burdensome, the clinic date gets pushed later and the cost goes up–from around $350 for a first-trimester procedure to $1,000 or more after twelve weeks.
Most readers know this already, but did you know there’s something you can do? If you’ve been racking your brains for an activist project to replace obsessively monitoring the Electoral College Vote Predictor, here is one that could make a real difference as former Texas Air National Guard pilot George W. Bush swoops us into the wild blue fundamentalist yonder: Get involved with your local abortion fund. If none exists in your area–there are 102 around the country–start one yourself.
Abortion funds help low-income women obtain a crucial medical service, but they also help clinics fulfill their mission of egalitarian feminist healthcare. Barbara Ehrenreich recently reminded Nation readers of the network of storefront services the left created in the 1960s and ’70s–neighborhood clinics, legal centers, preschools, coffeehouses near military bases. The country is dotted with abortion clinics–Aradia Women’s Health Clinic in Seattle, Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the Concord Feminist Health Center in New Hampshire–that follow that model, reaching into the community and connecting the services they provide with the political organizing that keeps those services available.
To get you started here’s a handy guide from Jennifer Baumgardner, the author with Amy Richards of Grassroots: A Field Guide to Feminist Activism (forthcoming January 2005) and longtime supporter of the New York Abortion Access Fund:
1) Assess Need: The first thing you should do is call your own local clinic, identify yourself as a pro-choice activist, and ask whether they need a fund. Even if there is a fund in place, it is highly unlikely that a clinic would not have a need for money. Patients show up all the time further along in their pregnancy than they thought, which requires more money. The New York City clinic that I work with has to raise around $1,500 in additional funds each week so that women can get their procedures. Their biggest single source of money is the New York Abortion Access Fund, which grants around $20,000 annually. Fargo, ND has a small local fund but it “could definitely use some big donations or people who want to organize fundraisers,” says Tammi Kromenaker, director of Red River Women’s Clinic, the only clinic in the state. At present, the clinic gets about $5,000 from the local fund and ends up asking patients to turn to the Hersey Fund in neighboring Minnesota.
2) Find Partners: Whether you’re creating a fund from scratch or organizing fundraisers for one that already exists, you are going to need help. Enlist friends, call the women’s center at a local university, contact the local chapter of NOW, put up flyers in coffee shops (“Interested in abortion rights? We’re going to start a fund–come to X place at Y time!”).
3) Formalize: Contact the National Network of Abortion Funds (www.nnaf.org). Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (413) 559-5645 and ask for their three-ring notebook called Building an Abortion Fund. It details everything from how to run your organization to how to get tax-exempt status. Don’t worry if you haven’t done this sort of thing before. “The women and men who start these funds are all ages and range from Ivy League students to a social worker in a farm community,” says Shawn Towey of NNAF.
4) Raise the Dough: There are infinite creative ways to raise money–from grant-writing to art auctions–but start with letters and events. Letters can end up being formalized into a direct-mail campaign in which you buy a mailing list and have a letter with a brochure and return envelope for donations (which NYAAF did using a fundraising letter by Katha–it worked!). Start personal, though, by writing to friends, relatives and anyone else in your address book you think might be interested in supporting you or your cause. I wrote a heartfelt letter to pro-choice friends of my mother’s, hoping they wouldn’t be offended by my plea for money, and made $1,000 for an abortion documentary. For an event, you will use that same circle of donors, but invite them to your house–or that of a fabulous friend–for wine and cheese. About an hour into it, give a brief talk about the fund. Have a basket at the door and ask for $20 (or more) from each mini-philanthropist.
5) Repeat step 4 as necessary.
While you are mulling over Jennifer’s advice, get in practice by making a donation to the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City. Last year the clinic, which charges on a sliding scale in order to make quality reproductive healthcare available to all, was able to subsidize $230,000 worth of patient services. This year, it’s having trouble meeting that goal, because it incurred heavy legal expenses to get an injunction against an antiabortion extremist who threatened murder and because it faces a big insurance rise (reason: It’s an abortion clinic). To make a donation, go to www.emmagoldman.com or call (800) 848-7684. You’ll be helping women and supporting feminist activism–and in a red state, too.