Florida abortion funds see influx of ‘rage donations’ as their mission grows harder
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund received grant funding for part-time contractors. A previous version of the story misidentified the classification of the workers.
First came news of a leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.
Then came the donations and volunteers to the Florida Access Network, an abortion fund with clients across the state.
When the nation’s highest court issued its official ruling last month to let states decide the legality of abortion, the donation and volunteers soared even higher.
Until May, according to the network’s co-Executive Director Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, the Orlando-based nonprofit had been giving out $5,000 to $10,000 a month in aid to abortion seekers. After Politico reported the draft opinion that suggested a majority of justices would overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the network got enough in donations to double its aid in May alone to $20,000.
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Late last month, following the Supreme Court’s final ruling, Piñeiro's group in a single week raised $150,000 — an amount equal to what the organization had given out the previous fiscal year. It also received almost 500 applications from people wanting to help the agency as volunteers.
“It’s an incredible community moment," Piñeiro said. "It's a moment of rapid change and rapid support that we hope to harness."
The Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion has ushered in a wave of what fund organizers call “rage donations” and of Floridians stepping up to volunteer. Supporters have held bake sales and fundraising events, put QR codes at their businesses, and organized donation drives on social media as volunteer applications have poured in, organizers said.
“It’s been really amazing to see the creativity and the passion from everywhere throughout the community,” said McKenna Kelley, a volunteer with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund.
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But even with more support, the fall of Roe makes the work of abortion funds more difficult. Around the South, states have enacted six-week or all-out bans that reinforce Florida’s role as an abortion access haven in the region — even as the state’s most restrictive ban in 50 years went into effect last week.
And that law, too, which bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, makes their jobs harder. Those in need of abortion beyond that time period will have to travel out of state, which one abortion fund leader estimated will cost, at minimum, $1,500 per person.
Adding to the complexity is another Florida law that recently went into effect after a seven-year court battle. It requires abortion patients to make two doctor’s visits to get the procedure, which means more time off work and more money needed for gas and other expenses, particularly if a patient lives in one of the 50 Florida counties without an abortion clinic.
“The impact is enormous on us. It’s enormous on the people we have to help,” said Fran Sachs, who serves as the president of the board for abortion fund Emergency Medical Assistance in Palm Beach County. “The resources and the issues are mind-boggling.”
How do abortion funds work?
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There are five abortion funds based in Florida, according to the National Network of Abortion Funds: Florida Access Network, formerly known as the Central Florida Women's Emergency Fund; the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund; Emergency Medical Assistance; the Broward Women’s Emergency Fund; and the Women’s Emergency Network in Miami-Dade County.
A half-dozen others include Florida as part of their multistate or national service areas, including the National Abortion Federation, which runs a phone hotline for service referrals and financial aid.
Most abortion funds are run by volunteers, Piñeiro said. Her organization is an exception. While it started in 1996 as a volunteer collective, it now has five staff members and is led by queer women of color who have had abortions themselves.
EMA is all volunteer-run, Sachs said. So is the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, although the group recently received a grant to bring on a few part-time employees to help with intake, volunteer Kelley said.
While each fund’s approach is different, they all have the same goal to ease barriers to reproductive care, Piñeiro said.
“There are all these other factors that just complicate a decision that for many people is uncomplicated,” she said. “What is complicated is navigating barriers: financial barriers, a change in law, a social stigma.”
Those seeking an abortion can find information about how to request financial help through each organization’s website. The groups provide funding for both medication and surgical abortions, which cost in the neighborhood of $550 to $650 in the first trimester depending on the clinic.
They also provide aid such as transportation, child care, travel, hotel stays, food and other logistical necessities. Some funds drive and provide childcare themselves; others give stipends that alleviate the costs of those services.
Each fund determines how much help they can provide to each client depending on need and the amount of donations in their coffers. They also work with organizations in and out of Florida when a case involves traveling.
To give a sense of the scale, the Tampa Bay group funded 614 of 910 calls for help last year, Kelley said. EMA serves between 800 and 1,000 clients a year, Sachs said. FAN received $1 million in requests last fiscal year, Piñeiro said, and could meet only about 15% of that need.
How has their work changed?
Along with FAN, other funds around the state and country have seen a considerable influx of donations and requests to volunteer since the Supreme Court erased the federal right to abortion.
In Palm Beach, EMA's Sachs has been reviewing dozens of new volunteer applications. At the Tampa Bay fund, Kelley declined to give a dollar amount but said that in the five days after the ruling, the group had raised enough money to fund 321 first-trimester abortions. The influx has allowed the group to extend coverage from St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa to patients in Sarasota and Lakeland.
In just one day — June 24, when the opinion overturning Roe came down — the National Network of Abortion Funds, of which the five Florida funds are members, raised more than $3 million via 33,000 new donations, of which 4,500 of were recurring, the New York Times reported.
The extra help is welcome, Florida abortion fund leaders said, especially as their work grows more difficult with the recently enacted 24-hour waiting period law and the 15-week abortion ban. A circuit court judge ruled last week that the ban was unconstitutional and issued an injunction against it. But the state immediately appealed, voiding the lower court’s stay and leaving the law in effect.
While only about 6% of Florida’s nearly 80,000 abortions last year occurred beyond the first trimester, or 12 to 13 weeks, funds will still feel the impact of the ban, Sachs said.
Florida previously allowed the procedure up to 24 weeks, which meant Sachs’ group sent only a handful of women per year out of state for late-term abortions, usually because of a medical emergency or the death of the fetus.
Now, she estimates the fund will be called on for travel assistance a few times a week at an estimated minimum cost of $1,500 per person.
“Even having help,” Sachs said, “there’s still an awful lot that we have to do.”
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The National Network of Abortion Funds lists funds by state with links to their websites to find information about how to donate and volunteer.
As the raw emotions around the overturning of Roe die down, funds will need sustained support, Kelley said, whether it’s a recurring donation or patience while the group makes its way through training the new wave of volunteers.
“We want people to remember that this is a long-term fight,” she said.
For Piñeiro, it’s important to support organizations that had been fighting for abortion access well before Roe was overturned. Along with donations, she encouraged people to push back on the societal stigma surrounding abortion.
“People who have had abortions deserve compassion and support,” said Piñeiro, who has had the procedure twice, “and there’s a lot of abortion misinformation out there rooted in stigma to make people feel ashamed about a healthcare decision that they should not be made to feel ashamed about.”
Sachs also emphasized the need for recurring donations and told the story of an 18-year-old who got pregnant in high school years ago and relied on EMA funding to get an abortion.
The woman reached out to the group recently, Sachs said, and said she’d since become an accountant who is happily married with children. The woman said she wanted to help.
“I started crying,” Sachs said. “That’s why we do what we do.”
Kathryn Varn is statewide enterprise reporter for the Gannett/USA Today Network – Florida. You can reach her at email@example.com or 727-238-5315.