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Abortion Is Legal. This Group Makes Sure It’s Accessible Too

At the National Network for Abortion Funds, organizers fight to make sure people have access to their legal rights.

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For many pregnant people, abortion is a right on paper, but not in reality. Roe vs. Wade remains the law of the land on a federal level, but states run by conservative legislatures continue to pass restrictive abortion laws hoping that a conservative-leaning Supreme Court will back them. For many legislatures, the target is banning abortions as soon as possible (this week, Texas passed Senate Bill 8, banning abortion at six weeks, in what amounts to a total ban on abortion in the state). But others aim to make pregnant people ask: how much does an abortion cost? Onerous laws make abortions expensive, inaccessible, and hard to get. That’s where abortion funding steps in, especially from national networks like the National Network of Abortion Funds.

For people who would choose to end their pregnancy, that means that abortion has become nigh impossible to access due to costs, proximity to clinics, and onerous legislation that seeks only to limit abortion access. But the National Network of Abortion Funds is fighting back — seeking to make sure that the people who need an abortion can access it quickly, safely, and affordably.

Founded in 1993, the NNAF was created by a group of grassroots, regional, local, and state-wide organizations that wanted to build a network of funding to help regular people access abortions. Today, the NNAF serves as a membership organization for a network of more than 80 organizations supporting a pregnant person’s ability to choose safe reproductive healthcare.

They help people get to their appointments, navigate rides, pay for rides, pay for hotel stays, and provide home-stays and child-care. Some of their work helps provide doula support or helps regional organizations work on professional organization and development building. 

Yamani Hernandez, the Executive Director of the NNAF, says the NNAF’s biggest work is in helping those small groups build their capacity and power “as they organize against the systemic reason why their work is necessary.” 

Hernandez has had a long career in working in comprehensive health care and notes that the NNAF is essentially trying to organize itself out of existence — to a vision of the future where health care isn’t a choice between paying rent or paying for a doctor’s visit. Hernandez spoke to Fatherly about access, the Hyde Amendment, and how the average person can help reduce the stigma around abortion.

What is the difference between abortion being legalized, and access to that abortion?

Legal access to abortion doesn’t ensure that you’re actually able to get one. That’s been the case for almost the entire time that it’s been legal. We often say that abortion funds actually make rights reality. 

If you cannot access your rights, because you can’t afford to access them, are they really a right? Or is it just a right in name, and not actually in reality? 

We really try to make sure that we are making sure that [abortion] is not just a right on paper, but that it’s a real, tangible thing. 

Why does abortion access matter for families?

It’s important for families because every family has the right to decide when, whether, and how they become a family. There are many, many reasons why people have abortions. There are as many reasons as there are people, or families. Letting people be able to make those decisions is really important. A lot of times we hear some narratives about abortion that are not super accurate. Sixty percent of people who have abortions are already parenting. It’s really something that people are thinking about in the context of the families that they have, or the families they want to have, or the families they don’t want to have.

Those are all, we believe, really important decisions to be made, and it’s important that they’re made by families, by people who would be having an abortion, rather than policymakers and politicians.

What has changed, if anything, about the conversation of access and affordability in the last few years?

I think the profile of abortion funds, as a concept, has immensely grown, even in the last five years. People, when they think about the word abortion, think about Planned Parenthood. Over the last 5 years or so, there’s been a growth in consciousness with the public around the fact that there’s more of an ecosystem of abortion care — and it’s not really just one provider or one advocacy organization, but it’s scores and scores of organizations and providers that are not under one umbrella.

The profile of abortion funds being raised has had [partly] to do with the political climate, and the fact that every time some kind of really onerous, ridiculous piece of legislation gets introduced, the general public will get very activated. 

[Add that to being] a part of national coalitions, like the All Above All campaign, which is the campaign to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which basically prohibits public funding for abortion — abortion funds are a huge engine of that campaign. 

2016 was the first time that the Hyde Amendment was on a Democratic Party platform. It was addressed in 2018 when there were all of those abortion bans. There was a huge public response. There was Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, all saying to donate to abortion funds. That was a game-changer for abortion funds — to start to become more of a household name. 

How so?

Because of protection and wanting to not be targeted, I think for a long time a lot of abortion funds have operated under the radar. They haven’t necessarily been super out in front. But over the last five years or so, they have definitely gotten bolder and more visible.

Right. And it makes sense because so many of the laws that pass about abortion fundamentally make it hard to afford.

Yeah. It’s just a very mean-spirited concept — that you would try to make someone’s rights hard to access.

To your mind, what’s the next frontier in abortion rights and access?

Access to medication abortion, and telemedicine in particular, is a huge thing we are very interested in seeing the needle shift on. As we saw with the pandemic, people really need flexibility to access care. As soon as you want an abortion or need an abortion, you should be able to access one as quickly as possible, as close to home, and as affordably as possible. 

Anything that gets us closer to that is what we are fighting for. And in addition to the advocacy pieces, we are really trying to build up the infrastructure of [abortion] funds, to be able to meet the demands of callers who need help. 

Until the government actually performs its job, which is to take care of the people who work and live in this country, we want abortion funds to be able to have the capacity to fill in as much as possible. We can’t do that without more resources. So we are working hard to make that happen. 

What’s your ideal vision of a future when it comes to reproductive care access?

I think we want to get to a point where healthcare is not something you have to go into debt for, and that you don’t have to make life-altering choices around. Whether you pay your rent or whether you go to the doctor. That, to me, is a vision of the future that we’re fighting for — the idea that everybody has health care, they don’t have to worry about it, and it is considered not just a right, but a reality.

What do you want the average person to understand about reproductive rights?

Not to take it for granted. A lot of people don’t think about abortion until they have to think about it, until they need one. Even people who might have said, “oh, I would never get an abortion.” You just don’t even know, until you’re in the position of needing one.

My answer is just to think about it. Think about it and don’t take it for granted. Stand up for your rights to be actually accessible, and not just something that’s written on paper. Not everybody is going to be an activist on this issue, but there are other small ways to participate in making the climate supportive — a climate where you’re not afraid to say the word ‘abortion.’

Don’t add stigma to it. If you are comfortable talking about it, talk about it as a normal part of reproductive life. Reduce stigma. One in four women who had an abortion — I usually don’t use gendered language, but that statistic is specifically gendered. A lot of people think that they’re the only person they know who has had an abortion. But if people talked about it more, it [would be] more normal.

Offer support. Ask people what they need, if they do at all. Some people don’t. Some people do. Ask how you can support people.