Gina Martínez Valentín is a co-author of this opinion.
This past week, the Women’s Freedom Fund received a request from an out-of-state patient traveling to Colorado for an abortion. Despite being offered travel support from their network and even local strangers, the woman ended up cancelling her appointment, citing the financial burden of travel. Stories like this are too common, begging the question – what is the benefit of abortion being legal if it isn’t accessible?
Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment, a law that bars public funds from covering abortion procedures.
Although Colorado was the first state to legalize abortion, we passed our own version of Hyde in 1984, making abortion less accessible for Coloradans with lower incomes or experiencing financial hardship. That same year, the Women’s Freedom Fund was created as a response to help mitigate this gap in financial and logistical access to care. For those of us that work in the world of abortion funds and services, we see the direct impacts that restrictions like the Hyde amendment have on everyday folks as they try to access an abortion.
This is the difference between legality and accessibility.
The Women’s Freedom fund isn’t the only organization that provides this type of assistance in Colorado.
The Colorado Doula Project is a practical service network based in Denver that trains abortion doulas – someone who provides guidance and support through the process – and provides transportation, doula support, funding, and other logistical needs for people seeking an abortion in Colorado. The Women’s Freedom Fund and The Colorado Doula Project work in tandem to support people seeking abortion services. We believe everyone has the right to make informed and empowered choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
Many of the clients served by these support networks already have children, are survivors of sexual or domestic violence, or have nowhere to sleep that night. Due to financial need, some have asked if there are free, albeit unsafe, alternatives to a medical abortion procedure. Requests for financial assistance pour in each day, sometimes by the dozens, but each story is different and carries a unique set of considerations. Some patients are vehemently pro-choice and confident in their right to access this health care; others are burdened by shame, internalized stigma, and secrecy from family members. Abortion funds, like ours, receive endless calls from people of all walks of life, working diligently to piece funding together like a high stakes puzzle.
Due to harsh restrictions likes Hyde, many folks are forced to put their financial security, physical and mental health, and bodily autonomy on the line in order to access the abortion care they need.
Even though we (Women’s Freedom Fund) are able to give 100% of our donations back to patients, due to high volume we can only cover about 20-50% of most of our procedures. For procedures later in pregnancy, those percentages drop as we see bills in the five figure range. On top of that, many of our patients travel to get to their procedure: from rural counties in Colorado, neighboring states, and even across the country. Sometimes it is easier to get board a flight from Arkansas than drive 8 hours to be faced with 72 hour waiting period.
Even in Colorado many of our rural residents face long road trips, empty gas tanks, and high hotel fees in addition to missing days at work for multi-day procedures. 222 of our clients in the last two years were under the age of 21.
This is what access actually looks like in Colorado: a state that is often referred to as a “safe haven” for getting an abortion, surrounded by states with even less access and more restrictions.
As states across the country increase restrictions on abortion, we have seen a dramatic influx of inquiries, over that last two years, requesting financial assistance for procedures in Colorado. The uptick in requests has strained our resources, resulting in slower processing times, a scarcer pool of funds to distribute, and more stories like the woman from last week.
Everyone has the right to receive the health care they need, regardless of income. Policies like the Hyde Amendment are discriminatory and harm the most vulnerable in our communities.
If you believe that access to abortion shouldn’t be based on economic status, we implore you to commit to advocacy around ending the Hyde Amendment and supporting local abortion funds.
Amanda Carlson, MSW, Women’s Freedom Fund Director
Gina Martínez Valentín, Lead Organizer & Full Spectrum Doula at CO Doula Project