The past two weeks at our clinic have really been something else. I just wanted to take a moment and sing the praises of our local networks of abortion funds and amazing volunteers. An abortion fund offers help for women who are unable to pay for the cost of their abortions. Our local fund has been an amazing resource and increasingly, they've been able to step up to ensure that patients' entire experience is positive and respectful. With the economy going south, jobs in our region disappearing, health insurance scarce and gas prices soaring, it's more and more difficult for our patients to arrange the practical details of getting in for medical care. Due to the number of clinics in our part of the country, some women have travel time of up to four or five hours—if they have a car, that is.
As a staff, we wind up trying to arrange all manner of logistics so patients will have access to abortion care—waiving fees for lab work or sonograms when patients can't find enough money, picking patients up at the bus station, slipping their boyfriends or grandmas a little money for gas out of our own pockets. The local abortion fund, while initially intended to pay for medical care, has agreed to help with everything from bus fare to babysitters. Donating money to any cause can feel a little abstract sometimes. In addition to helping women pay for the abortion itself, here is a list of expenses the fund helped with this week:
2 tanks of gas—one to pick up Jules a few counties over and one to drop off Alanna. Jules' partner was in prison for domestic violence; in his absence, his family had been harassing her, blaming her for his incarceration. She was so fearful of them that she had our volunteer meet her at a local restaurant to ensure their safety. Alanna was staying at a shelter for homeless women with her teenage son that was run by the local church. The workers at the shelter said that they would not *prevent* her from having an abortion, but they would not assist her in any way.
2 hotel rooms—One was for Jules who needed two appointments and worried about her safety if she went home and one was for Mandy, a teenager from a small town four hours away. She and her boyfriend came into the clinic with just days left before they would be over the number of weeks the clinic sets as a cutoff. In our counseling session, I explained that she would need a two-day appointment, and suggested that they find a place to stay nearby. She began to sob. If she and her boyfriend pooled all their money from their summer jobs, they would have just enough for the abortion. She asked if I knew of a safe place where they could sleep in their car or a 24 hour diner where they could wait overnight. None of our volunteers had an open couch that night, so I made a few phone calls and got a discounted rate for them at a local hotel, which the fund agreed to cover.
1 bus ticket—For Alyssa, who has been coming to us for her well-woman care since she was a teenager. She had run out of money one month, failed to get her birth control on time and was too embarrassed to call us and ask for some sample packs. In our counseling session, she confessed that she had exactly the amount of money needed for her abortion (borrowed from a friend) and had no plan for how to get home after her surgery.
When I think about the difference the abortion fund made in these women's experience, it makes me so proud. What would it have been like for Alanna to have to beg the workers at the shelter for a ride? Some folks might say that this is squandering resources—that Mandy could have slept over in her car. (Maybe so. If you really need access to abortion services, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.) But the fund gives us another option. There was a whole community of pro-choice women and men who wanted this to be an okay experience for her. It let us transform that day from a scary experience in a unknown city into one where she and her boyfriend felt safe, valued and listened to. Isn't that what's at the heart of humane, feminist healthcare in the first place?