For many people, needing an abortion is one of their first introductions to the raw cruelty of our healthcare system.
Only three years after Roe v. Wade (1973), Congress barred Medicaid from covering abortion through the Hyde Amendment, a comprehensive ban on the use of federal funds for abortion except in case of threat to the pregnant person’s life (exceptions for rape or incest were later added). Hyde has been passed as a federal rider every year since. In the words of Henry Hyde, the Illinois Congressman for whom the Amendment is named, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the Medicaid bill.”
Hyde knew exactly what he was doing.
Since the Hyde Amendment was passed, abortion access has slipped further and further out of reach for poor people. Abortion procedures go up in cost as a pregnancy progresses, so the longer it takes someone to save money, the more they owe. As clinics in rural areas close and states enact waiting periods and other restrictions, transportation and lodging needs add to the insurmountable costs. This results in a unique paradox: Abortion becomes more expensive the poorer you are.
Abortion funds are stepping in to close that gap.
Abortion funds are volunteer-run organizations that provide direct financial and logistical support to people seeking abortions across the country. I first got involved with abortion funds in 2017. I was living abroad, trying to reignite my passion for this work after being burned out after only a year working at a mainstream reproductive rights organization. It was the early days of the Trump administration; everything felt like it was on fire and I was watching it burn from seven thousand miles away. I started making small fundraisers on Facebook for abortion funds: emailing family members and asking for birthday gifts in the form of a donation, coordinating with my friends to sell coat hanger necklaces at a 90% donation rate. These tasks grounded me, made me feel like I was doing something real and tangible at a time when nothing felt secure.
My work with abortion funds has deeply influenced my development as a socialist and as an organizer. Abortion funds are creating a workable model of what mutual aid can and should be. While we fight for institutional changes in the long run, we develop structures to alleviate burdens in the present.
A few months ago, I was sitting in the waiting room of the clinic where I get my birth control, a facility that also provides abortions. I noticed a woman and her friend, lists in hand, calling clinic after clinic. I had seen this before: She was too far along to get an abortion in DC and would have to travel to get the care that she needed. I left my seat and crouched beside her.
“Sorry to interrupt,” I said quietly. “Have you heard of abortion funds?”
She told me that one of the receptionists had mentioned them, but that she didn’t know how it worked or where to begin. She was completely overwhelmed. She couldn’t understand why this was happening to her.
I sat with her for a few minutes and explained the process. I told her that she might be able to receive support from multiple funds and that they might be able to help her with transportation. I wrote down the number for our local fund as well as the fund serving the city she would be traveling to. We kept talking until I was called back for my appointment; when I returned, she had left.
In a situation like this, abortion funds are the last line of defense for patients to get the care that they need. I’ve seen time after time that even a relatively small amount of money can make a world of difference, so I’ve dedicated myself to contributing as much as I possibly can.
Doing this work has been radicalizing for me. It has made me realize that there is absolutely no time to waste. That there is no middle ground.
DSA’s Work on Abortion Access
As socialists, we believe that healthcare is a right, and that abortion is healthcare. Over the past few years, DSA chapters across the country have created vibrant online and in-person communities around funding abortion as part of Bowl-A-Thon, the annual digital fundraiser for the National Network of Abortion Funds (an umbrella organization under which each abortion fund operates independently). Many members have created chapter teams for the fund in their area — like mine, which is raising money for the DC Abortion Fund. Others members are raising funds on a nationwide basis through chosen communities such as the playfully warring DSA Dog and Cat Caucuses.
Last year, DSA chapters raised a total of $91,425 for abortion funds across the country—an amount that helped about 750 people pay for their abortions. This year, we broke that record two weeks before the deadline.
Achieving this success isn’t just a matter of posting a fundraising link and waiting for the money to roll in. Talented organizers from multiple chapters have dedicated their time to developing a cohesive Bowl-A-Thon strategy, working digitally to help chapters start their own teams, boosting fledgling fundraisers, and giving guidance to newcomers. The level of community and solidarity is beautiful, and emblematic of the way socialist praxis can help us create radical change.
As socialists, we know that a better world is possible. This means a world in which abortion is free and accessible to people of all genders regardless of their income, job status, disability, or zip code. It also means a world in which abortion isn’t stigmatized, where we can celebrate abortion without euphemism or rationalization.
As organizers, we know that doing the work can be a slog. But we also know that we create the most enduring and radicalizing spaces when those spaces are fun.
Working in this space is hard, it really is. But that doesn’t mean we have to be miserable. We can make memes and trade cute cat pictures for donations to our fundraisers. We can be our authentic selves and actually enjoy organizing work, and it doesn’t devalue the mission, it strengthens it.
So how do you make abortion funding fun? I reached out to other organizers about what they’d been doing.
“If you’re receiving this, we’ve had sex at least once in the past year-ish.”
Mimi is a member of Chicago DSA and has organized with Bowl-A-Thon for years. Her fundraising strategy? Mimi’s Annual Abortion Bowl-A-Thon BCC’d Email to Her Exes, in which she would email everyone she’d slept with reminding them of their responsibility to support abortion access. She retired the email this year as she’s in a long-term relationship, but the legend lives on.
Her logic was that she spent untold dollars each year maintaining her own sexual health, including costs related to her birth control, gynecological exams, STI testing, period products, and more. She feels that her level of financial ability to pay for these resources has contributed to the fact that she’s never needed an abortion. The least her sexual partners could do was pay it forward for those who didn’t have the same level of financial privilege.
Beyond being hilarious, the email is also a great example of how we can connect honestly with the people in our lives (even if just for a night) about what abortion access means to us.
Mimi’s Exes Email, which I came across last year, is also one of the reasons I chose to participate in Bowl-A-Thon through DSA instead of joining another team. I took one look at the screenshot and thought, “this is my exact shit.”
If you’ve followed DSA’s Bowl-A-Thon journey, you probably already know that much of the money is actually raised by dogs and cats, albeit with some technical assistance from their human comrades.
For Laura, an organizer with DSA Dog Caucus, pet-themed fundraising was a huge part of what brought her to the organization last year. After following the associated Twitter account for the dog pictures, she was so impressed with the work she saw that she and her dog Hercules joined the fundraising team.
“We ended up raising something like $600,” said Laura, “which was so much more than I expected.”
As a newer member unsure of her place in an organization that can often feel intimidating, Laura found her role within Dog Caucus.
“Abortion fundraising opened my eyes to a whole new world. I've never been involved in any kind of organizing at all before, and I was floored to see how hard Dog Caucus folks work to make things happen—from picking which funds to support, getting people to join teams, getting a swag store set up, and more,” she told me. “I always feel like I don't know what I'm doing, and this community has been so welcoming, and so willing to teach.”
“It's such a comfortable place to start exploring, learning, and finding my voice when getting involved in my local chapter has been difficult.”
As Matt, another Dog Caucus member, pointed out to me, Laura’s own journey helped to radicalize others. He told me that a new member had specifically cited one of Laura’s—well, Hercules’s—tweets as the reason they joined the caucus’s fundraising team. In the post, Hercules leans his head out of a car window to say “GET IN, LOSERS. WE’RE FUNDING ABORTIONS!”
For Matt, tweets like this illustrate the magic of having fun while organizing. “Joyful unabashed doggos fundraising for abortions isn't just great fundraising, but also inspiring and liberating. Doggos and doggo memes have added the chorus of socialist feminist activists saying we must not be ashamed of abortions or apologize for them, in a particularly light-hearted and lovable way.”
Becca, a Pittsburgh DSA member, feels the same way about Cat Caucus. “I do a lot of organizing—I work as an union communicator and am really involved with my local DSA chapter, and so Cat Caucus, while it's technically organizing, is really just fun. Obviously that fun has the added benefit that we get to raise lots of money for abortion funds, but Cat Caucus is just good because it's a bunch of lefties being excited to share pictures of their cats!”
As a non-binary person, Becca feels like Cat Caucus is a community that understands how issues like gender and class intersect with abortion access—a level of analysis often missing from mainstream reproductive rights discourse. “Being able to be in repro spaces where folks understand that abortion and pregnancy aren't just ‘women's issues’ is really important to me,” they told me. “I feel like existing in socialist repro places in the only time I get the full nuance.”
Abortions and Beyond
In February of last year I was still struggling to find my place in DSA. By May, as Bowl-A-Thon was wrapping up, I felt like I had found it. In talking to other organizers, I realized that I’m not alone. Funding abortions has helped DSA members across the country actualize as socialists and build lasting solidarity with their comrades.
We cannot create a better world for others until we create one for and among ourselves. Through this work, many of our members have been radicalized, forged deep relationships with comrades, created iconic dog memes, and of course, funded a ton of abortions. When we are our most authentic selves as organizers, we create a lasting and effectual solidarity, through which we can build that better world.