by Wendy Hathaway
The COVID-19 pandemic increased barriers to abortion access in unprecedented ways, from unemployment to transportation and travel to childcare and more. These hardships are on top of a growing number of radical attacks on abortion access across the country. Locally, at least 69 abortion restrictions have been enacted in 14 states — including Texas — since January, putting 2021 on track to potentially become the most hostile year for abortion access in decades.
These new restrictions are a continuation of an ongoing fight, and abortion funds have been preparing for years for what’s next.
Extreme legislation passed in Texas
On May 19, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law some of the most restrictive abortion measures in the country. In addition to banning abortion as early as six weeks (before many people know they are pregnant), the law also targets anyone who helps a pregnant person get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. This includes abortion funds, abortion providers, and even individuals — friends, parents, partners — by allowing private citizens to file a civil lawsuit.
“It feels like a direct attack because that’s literally what we do,” explains Zaena Zamora, Executive Director of Frontera Fund. “It’s overreaching, unconstitutional, and a way to bury us in litigation and lawsuits. But as bad as it is for funds, it’s especially troubling for anyone seeking an abortion. It can already be an isolating experience and this law is a scare tactic to keep pregnant people from confiding in, and seeking help from, people they trust.”
Blanca Murillo is Development Director at Lilith Fund, the oldest abortion fund in Texas. The fund provides financial assistance to people across central and Southeast Texas, including San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. Murillo says that while legal challenges to the law are being explored, Lilith is simultaneously working to figure out what else they can do to support their callers, which may include funding transportation and out-of-state appointments. “Honestly, we are worried but we’re still committed to funding people who need abortions, and we will figure it out.”
Leaving Texas to seek an abortion isn’t an option for everyone. Frontera Fund started funding people in the Rio Grande Valley in 2015 and has since expanded to cover areas south of Corpus Christi. They work with a large population of undocumented folks who face additional barriers to abortion because of travel restrictions. Zamora anticipates seeing more pregnant people turning to self-managed abortion once the law goes into effect.
“We’re not going to take this,” says Casie Pierce, Development Director at TEA Fund. “We’re prepared to fight this and we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is to provide financial assistance for people who can’t afford the cost of an abortion.”
The staff and volunteers at Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund have experience in resisting anti-abortion laws like these. TEA Fund is based in Dallas/Fort Worth and covers 110 counties across much of northern Texas. Last year, they joined forces with the ACLU of Texas and Lilith Fund to sue seven small towns that passed ordinances banning abortion and labelling abortion funds like TEA Fund as criminal entities. They withdrew the lawsuit after the municipalities amended the ordinances.
Raising money to fund abortions is a crucial component of overcoming barriers to abortion access. As with every abortion fund, these three organizations had to adjust their fundraising strategies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite not being able to gather in-person, a combination of dedicated fundraisers and creative virtual events led to a successful Fund-a-Thon season.
Pierce and her TEA fundraising team sought feedback from past Bowl-a-Thon attendees as they brainstormed plans for this year. They landed on a talent show and asked supporters to record and upload videos that were later shown during a virtual celebration that included raffle prizes and talent awards. People choreographed dances, sang songs, played guitar, and shared poetry; Pierce’s young nephews assisted her in a juggling act.
“It was a little stressful at first, when we weren’t sure if anyone would share their talents,” Pierce says. “But it turned out a lot of people were really excited to participate.”
Frontera Fund found success doing a COVID-safe no-contact bake sale last spring and decided to replicate the idea this year. That, as well as a virtual loteria event, helped Frontera surpass their fundraising for the first time ever. “It was really inspiring to see people show up to support us,” Zamora says.
In 2020, Lilith Fund decided to cease Fund-a-Thon activities early in light of the pandemic. Murillo says although this year was still different, of course — previously, they held in-person events in their three largest cities: San Antonio, Houston, and Austin — they were pleasantly surprised by how well fundraising went.
Los MENtirosos, a Latinx drag king troupe based in San Antonio, emceed the virtual event, mixing up rounds of loteria with drag performances. “I was worried about how to make this fun when we’re not in a room together,” Murillo says. “Loteria can get really loud, laughing and fighting over cards. But it was so much fun! We were happy with the turnout plus we were able to introduce our supporters to drag king culture.”
With Fund-a-Thon season wrapping up, these funds and others across Texas will continue to collaborate on advocacy work such as building support around Rosie’s Law, which would restore health insurance coverage of abortion services in Texas. TEA Fund is working with partners Avow Texas, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, and the ACLU of Texas, toward passing a localized Rosie’s Resolution in Dallas County, which would recognize the importance of abortion access as a critical form of reproductive health care.
Despite the onslaught of threats to Reproductive Justice in Texas and nationwide, Murillo is encouraged by the people who keep showing up. “There’s power in the South,” she says. “People don’t realize how hard we work. I’m constantly meeting people who say ‘We’re going to figure this out, we’re going to fight back, we’ve got this.’ That’s what keeps me going and that’s what keeps the movement going.”