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DCAF: Recession nearly doubles requests for abortion assistance as resources dwindle.

By Elisabeth Sowecke on May 8th, 2009

Less than four years ago, I considered myself pro-choice, but I couldn’t tell you where to obtain an abortion in my northwestern-Ohio, college town.  In fact, the Planned Parenthood in Toledo (the nearest city to offer abortion services) could not offer abortion-care in order to receive state funding.  I naively assumed a woman seeking an abortion could have one at her doctor’s office or community clinic because she had the right to choose.  Period.

Today, I live in Washington, D.C. I am a communications associate at a reproductive health nonprofit, an abortion counselor at a women’s health clinic in Maryland and a case-manager for a local, grassroots abortion fund.

I can discuss the real-life avenues, barriers, freeways and alleyways to abortion-care access throughout this country.  If you have hours, perhaps days, I can lament and exalt in-depth stories of women who have abortions to preserve their health, dignity and the goodness in this world.

Everything I do in the reproductive justice movement is equally a basic human service and an act of privilege.  The women and families I serve deserve more than I, or this movement, can provide. 

Currently, there is no time for condolences and ritualized mourning, for discussing or attempting to prove what I know because women are homeless and jobless and still have children to feed. 

Meanwhile, they are assaulted, abandoned, ignored, denied and judged.

The DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) dedicates explanation, education, emotional support and vital financial assistance to women in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  A dozen case-managers volunteer their time to field about 60 telephone calls per week, tailoring resources to each individual caller.  While every woman’s situation is unique, the recurring trends among our neighbors are undeniable.

Overwhelmingly, a woman seeking financial assistance for her surgery has less than $0 to her name, at least one child, no employment or a part-time job, and an apathetic man involved.  If her family does support her decision, they are often equally destitute, but contribute about $100 collectively.  She has nothing to sell or already sold it all to buy diapers or baby food a few months ago.  She will need to acquire anywhere from $250 to $7000 to have an abortion in her region.  She may opt to travel to Pennsylvania, New York or Atlanta, Georgia, where significantly lower surgery fees may off-set travel expenses.

In the past year, the need of those who reach out to the abortion fund has nearly doubled, and a modest, dedicated donor-circle replenishes the dwindling bank. 

As a case manager, I have told a crying 17-year-old with no parental support that DCAF will pay for the majority of her $3600 surgery, but I have also told a crying 17-year-old with no parental support that she will have to adjust to having her baby because our funds have been stretched and we have asked our supportive donors too often.

I foresee the situations of our neighbors getting worse in this financial climate before they get better. 

I fear one day she will have $0 and DCAF will have $0 to give her, and her life will grow even more disproportionately complicated.

I believe that when you give to your local abortion fund regularly, you profoundly simplify a potential mother’s life, giving her even the slightest bit more room to breathe, to recognize her potential in this life. 

In recognizing complexity, ambiguity and downright basic rights, you honor life by making reproductive justice a reality for every woman regardless of what’s in her wallet.

Elisabeth Sowecke is the lead case manager at the DC Abortion Fund, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.


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