More Kansans need help paying for abortions, but aid groups are getting fewer donations
Groups that help Midwesterners pay for abortions have seen a sharp rise in requests for help in 2023. But donations are waning.
More than a year after abortion became illegal in many parts of the U.S., the nonprofit that helps Kansans pay for abortions says demand for financial assistance continues to grow.
The Kansas Abortion Fund works directly with clinics that provide abortions, which refer patients who need help paying for medications and surgical procedures that can stretch into the thousands of dollars.
In 2022, the fund doled out $111,473 to 431 Kansas residents to help cover the costs of abortions at clinics in and out of the state. Eleven months into 2023, the group has more than doubled both the amount of money distributed and the number of grantees: $230,735 to 900 patients.
That’s due, in part, to a decision by the fund’s board to lift income requirements for those seeking assistance from 110% of the federal poverty level last year to 150% in January. The fund removed all income requirements over the summer.
“We became pretty acutely aware of how insufficient that 110% was, and how many people fell through the cracks,” board member Josh Siebenaler said.
It also reflects the rising expenses Kansans are incurring while seeking an abortion, as an influx of out-of-state patients leads to a scarcity of appointments at Kansas clinics. That can mean delays and, for procedures later in pregnancy, higher costs — for the procedure itself and travel, if they can’t secure an appointment close to home.
The Kansas Abortion Fund is one of 100 independent organizations across the country with a similar mission. Like many, it was buoyed by a deluge of donations in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, receiving more than half a million dollars from abortion rights supporters including high-profile names like the band Paramore.
But that enthusiasm is waning. Siebenaler said donations are down 37% this year, prompting the fund’s all-volunteer working board to put off any plans to expand their scope of operations.
“We definitely have felt the urge to bring on hired staff and have people doing this full-time,” Siebenaler said. “But we’re not the size of organization to support that sustainably, especially with fundraising being so in flux.”
Lauren Praechter, the fund’s treasurer, said the board continues to evaluate its financial position and will make adjustments to income eligibility requirements for patients to ensure its long-term survival.
“We did not expect to fund this many abortions this year. But we know that demand is only going to increase,” she said, “so we’re going to have to figure it out.”
The same story is playing out at funds across the country as public attention on reproductive rights — and so-called “rage-giving” to abortion funds — ebbs, according to Gretchen Ely, a social work professor at the University of Tennessee who studies the groups.
“There was an uptick in understanding about the role of abortion funds when Roe fell. People were so very upset, and they were donating,” she said. “But I think there’s an attention span issue.”
That has led some funds, including those in Mississippi, Utah and Appalachia, to temporarily stop providing financial assistance for abortions. Several funds in Texas paused operations for months in the face of legal uncertainty. A judge later said they likely couldn't be prosecuted under the state’s abortion “bounty” law for helping people pay for appointments in other states.
“They’re constantly navigating the legal landscape and may even have to direct funds to legal representation and things they didn’t have to before,” Ely said.
It’s added strain to an already imperfect network of support for abortion seekers, according to Ely. Her research has found that even before Roe was overturned, many patients who got financial assistance from abortion funds still struggled to afford the procedure.
Meanwhile, other abortion rights groups are ramping up operations. The Midwest Access Coalition, which helps people pay for and coordinate transportation, child care and other external costs associated with getting an abortion, is hiring more case managers. That will allow the group to assist around 100 more people each month, according to executive director Diana Parker-Kafka.
“We’ve never seen the need plateau,” she said.
The group raised $5.5 million last year and around $4 million this year. Parker-Kafka said they’ve been anticipating and accounting for that decline.
At the same time, they’re assisting many more people than they used to. The things they pay for — hotels, flights and child care — are also becoming more expensive.
“We realize that we can’t get to everyone,” Parker-Kafka said. “We have to take it year by year so that we can continue to provide more support to more people.”
Nationwide, the long-term ramifications of the fall of Roe are becoming clearer. New research suggests that births rose, on average, over 2% in states that banned abortion. The rise was even greater in states like Texas and Mississippi that are farthest from abortion access points.
But many people are continuing to get abortions — and, by one estimate, abortions are actually slightly up compared with pre-Roe figures.
Parker-Kafka said that reflects the massive mobilization of abortion rights groups in expanding provider capacity and travel support in places like Kansas, where abortion remains legal, albeit restricted. Two new clinics that provide abortions opened in the state in the year after Roe fell, bringing the total to six. One of the new clinics, in Wichita, fully covers the cost of medication abortion for those who can’t afford it.
“It’s a testament to the amount of work that abortion funds and practical support organizations have been putting in,” she said, “to make sure that there is no breakdown in access.”
Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.
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