Bowling for Dollars: Raising Money for Abortion Access in Supposedly Liberal Massachusetts

I’m pissed off.  The House passed H.R. 3 and I’m tired of the bullshit.  I’m exasperated with white men (and some women) trying to tell ALL women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.  Governments don’t belong in anyone’s uterus.  Yet that’s precisely what’s happening.  But there is something you can do.

My fab feminist friend Sarah H. volunteers at the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion (EMA) Fund, an all volunteer group that helps facilitate access to abortion.  I knew about the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), “a network of over 100 grassroots groups that raise money to directly help women cover the cost of abortion.”  But I had no idea a fund even existed in my home state.

So what is the EMA fund?

“The EMA (Eastern Massachusetts Abortion) Fund provides women with financial counseling and with money for their abortions…We negotiate with abortion providers for discounts, and we help women pay for bus or train tickets, childcare, and translation services…We know that if you don’t have money, abortion might as well be illegal. For us, access to abortion is a matter of social justice, reproductive justice, economic justice, and fairness.”

But there aren’t many barriers to obtain an abortion if you want one, right?  Wrong.  According to Guttmacher Institute, 36 states require parental consent or notification, 34 states require mandatory counseling and 24 states enforce waiting periods before obtaining an abortion.  Those aren’t the only hurdles though as finances (or rather lack thereof) hinder abortion access as well.

Last January, when I participated in Feminist Winter Term in NYC, we visited Third Wave Foundation, a philanthropic organization that invests in small grassroots organizations led by young women, transgender and gender non-conforming youth.  By listening to the details of one of their programs, the Emergency Abortion Fund (EAF), I learned about the financial costs and constraints of abortion.

Talking about those costs, Anu Kumar, Executive Vice President of Ipas, rightfully asserts, “It’s not a choice if you can’t afford it:”

“In 2009, the average abortion cost $451. The average rent bill in the United States was $600, and the monthly grocery bill $511 for a family of four. And yet, for the sake of their families and their futures, women put off bills and buy fewer groceries to pay for an abortion…economic and legal restrictions only hurt women and their families.”

So the average cost of $451 that Kumar refers to only applies to abortions performed in the first trimester.  But the costs vary wildly depending on whether you go to a clinic or your physician’s office, how far along you are, and the state you live in.  After the first trimester, prices skyrocket from there, running $3,0000-$6,000 and up, getting exponentially more expensive each week.  Seeing the escalating fees charged based on the stage of pregnancy blew me away.  If you happen to live in a place like South Dakota, where they have to fly in a doctor once a week to perform abortions, and you miss your appointment, you essentially miss your window of opportunity, potentially having to pay more money for the procedure.  So what if you don’t have that money?

The National Abortion Federation (NAF), a professional association of abortion providers is only 1 of 4 national funders (EAF is another) in the U.S.  But NAF won’t fund people in superior Medicaid states.  That means that NAF won’t fund people in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.  In those states, Medicaid won’t necessarily help individuals in need of an abortion either as they only cover about 27% of abortions.  Medicaid only covers abortions if it’s within the allowed trimester limit (which varies per state); if the person obtains an abortion in the state they live in; or if the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest or the life of the pregnant person is in danger.

But what if you have private insurance…that will cover it, right??  Nope, not necessarily.  9 states (Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee) limit abortion coverage in health insurance plans, ranging from only allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or medical endangerment to banning it altogether.  And additional laws ban “abortion coverage for women in federal prison; Native women who obtain health care from Indian Health Services; federal, state, and local employees; women in the Peace Corp; women with disabilities; and women in the military.”  So that’s where abortion funds like EMA play a crucial role, to fill that fiscal gap.

Here in Massachusetts, Katey Gorski and Danielle Bessett, Ph.D. prepared a report for EMA outlining access to abortion in the state.  Gorski and Dr. Bessett concluded that in liberal MA:

“…a policy of abortion coverage in state-subsidized plans does not insure access to abortion care. Women do, in fact, experience difficulties in obtaining state insurance that impeded their ability to obtain coverage for time-sensitive procedures.”

During the political debates swirling around supporting Title X and Planned Parenthood, many politicians proudly declared that there is no federal funding for abortion.  But Kumar questions if that is something we as a society should take pride in:

“…Should we be proud that our government doesn’t provide any funding for a legal medical procedure? How does this serve women who live somewhere near the poverty line who come to the decision to end an unintended pregnancy?…If you support women’s autonomy, shouldn’t you support the autonomy of all women, not just the middle and upper class ones? Abortion is a part of basic health care. Shouldn’t all health programs (whether private or government-funded) cover it as they do appendectomies or pap smears?”

If access to abortion is stripped away, whether by restrictive legislation or lack of funds, we all will be affected.  But these policies disproportionately affect impoverished women.  Wealthier women will still have the means to obtain abortive procedures.  But those without fiscal resources need to be able to access healthcare too.  And yes, abortion is healthcare.

After hearing all of these obstacles, you might be feeling a little depressed.  You might even be scolding me, saying, “I thought you said at the beginning of this blog post that there’s something I could do!”  And huzzah…there is!  If you follow feminist blogs and bloggers, you’ve probably noticed various blogs and tweets about the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon.  So what do bowling and abortion have in common, you ask??  Various pro-choice organizations and individuals raise money, culminating in an annual bowling fundraiser for national and local abortion funds so they can assist people to pay for their abortions.

So what does a donation to EMA pay for?

$5: Round-trip T fare from Somerville to Brighton
$30: Cab fare from Beverly to Lynn
$100: EMA Fund’s average monthly phone bill
$145: 1,000 info cards with the EMA Fund’s number
$250: A two-day training for 10 EMA Fund activists
$610: Average cost of a first trimester abortion in Boston

People who don’t live in MA often assume it’s such a liberal place.  But it’s far more puritanical than people realize.  Sadly, EMA in Boston, a seemingly liberal city, couldn’t even get one bowling alley to host the Bowl-a-Thon.  Not one…zero, zip, nada.  So instead, EMA converted the event into a Triathlon with Wii bowling karaoke, and board games.  While this will undoubtedly be fun too (AND the kick-ass Jaclyn Friedman will be there!!!), it’s sad that no business would support this worthy cause.

More and more anti-choice policies like H.R. 3 keep coming down the pipeline (like I said in a previous post…they just keep coming…like zombies).  Politics disillusion many people into thinking they have no power, that they’re voices aren’t heard over the din of misogyny and oppression.  So what can YOU do?  Take a stand and give; give whatever you can to help a person in need.  People shouldn’t have to choose between groceries or rent and getting an abortion.  Donate to EMA (and if you want to make my friend Sarah shout with glee…give to her “bowling” fundraising page!) or your local abortion fund.  And if you’re in the Boston area, be sure to get your bowling Wii on!

1st Annual EMA Triathlon
Wednesday, May 11
5pm – 9pm
Milky Way Restaurant, Jamaica Plain

One thought on “Bowling for Dollars: Raising Money for Abortion Access in Supposedly Liberal Massachusetts

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