Editor’s Note • The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, clearing the way for Utah’s abortion trigger law to go into effect. Read more here.
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Utahns and people across the country wondered what they could do that would be helpful after news broke that the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.
In Utah, as thousands of protesters joined rallies held in recent weeks outside the Capitol and local schools, organizers encouraged attendees to stay engaged and suggested donating to the Utah Abortion Fund.
The fund helps people cover abortion costs. It exceeded its budget for the last couple of months, one of its coordinators recently told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Tribune verified the person’s identity, but is not naming them due to safety and privacy concerns for volunteers and the people they assist.
The coordinator shared how the fund works and what may happen in coming months.
What is the Utah Abortion Fund?
The Utah Abortion Fund was started in 2019 by “a small collective of local reproductive justice organizers.” It is the first and only fund in the Beehive State affiliated with the National Network of Abortion Funds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to “remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access,” according to the NNAF website.
Like similar groups in other states, Utah’s fund is “a volunteer-run mutual aid organization that takes calls from people who need help paying for an abortion,” the coordinator said.
The fund can help pay bills from a clinic, get people to or from their appointments, book bus, plane or train tickets, arrange hotel stays and cover necessary gas, meal and child care expenses.
How does it work?
People can ask for help by emailing email@example.com or calling (801) 215-9441. Organizers ask that callers share their name, phone number, whether the volunteers can leave you a voicemail, the date, time and location of an appointment, and the cost of the procedure and the amount of financial assistance needed. They also want a caller’s age, the city where they live, and their ethnicity.
It may take up to 48 hours for the volunteers to respond, according to the organization’s website.
“We don’t use any set screening criteria during our caller intakes. We trust that people are upfront and honest about what they need,” the coordinator told The Tribune.
“We work in a mutual aid framework — access to abortion benefits everyone. We are not a charity. It is very rare that we assist a caller who is not contributing something to their procedure out of pocket.”
Usually, people hear about the Utah Abortion Fund from clinics, but the organization is also active on social media.
The number of callers has increased every month since the fund started, but it varies. As of early May, “we’ve assisted 90 callers in 2022,” the coordinator said.
There are three volunteers who serve as leaders and run most of the daily operations. Together, they answer calls and emails, maintain clinic and partner fund relationships, distribute money and other resources (such as Plan B, N95 masks and pregnancy tests), run their social media and work on development and fundraising.
Where do donations go?
“At this time, 100% of funds that are donated go directly to covering abortion procedures or practical expenses needed to get someone to their clinic,” the coordinator said. In the last two months, “we’ve exceeded our monthly budget early and had to close the healthline.”
The organizers set aside a budget for each month, but recently, that “hasn’t been enough to cover every caller who reaches out.”
The fund is “fiscally sponsored” by a nonprofit, which helps with the processing of donations. That arrangement “means that any donations we receive are tax deductible,” the coordinator said.
Whom does the fund help?
The most common request from callers is for financial aid to help to pay for their procedures, the coordinator said.
“We have strong relationships with our local abortion clinics, other regional funds, and national funders,” and “are often able to help clients troubleshoot tough financial situations,” the volunteer said, such as by setting up payment plans or “reaching out for solidarity pledges from partner funds in neighboring states when we can’t cover a full procedure upfront.”
“Because Utah insurance plans, including Medicaid, do not cover abortion care, sometimes we have to get creative,” the coordinator said. “We have provided rides for callers when their abortion is a secret and have covered hotel stays in Salt Lake City when folks have an extremely long drive to a clinic.”
The fund also works with the ACLU to help people under the age of 18 “who have obtained judicial bypass, meaning they cannot safely tell their parents about their abortion.”
“Many of our callers are trying to pay for their abortion while also facing homelessness, intimate partner violence, addiction or unemployment,” the coordinator said.
What happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
The fund’s organizers are working on expanding their services in anticipation of the Supreme Court striking down Roe. That involves “recruiting, screening and training volunteers” to help.
“We will need long-distance drivers to support our callers leaving the state,” the coordinator said. “We will need more phone volunteers to help folks navigate their options. We will need people willing to help us find and apply for grants, plan fundraising events and design merchandise.”
People can apply to be a volunteer at utabortionfund.org/get-involved.
Organizers also hope to hire a paid staff member this year “since our workload is increasing so rapidly.” Currently, one of their members works “well over 40 hours a week for free.”
Since Politico published the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion earlier this month, “we’ve seen a lot more people activated and interested in supporting abortion access, whether that’s through volunteering, donating or attending rallies,” the coordinator said. “We’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time, so it’s great to see more people taking these threats to abortion access seriously.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Utah’s trigger law — which would outlaw most abortions in the state with a few exceptions — will likely go into effect. Even without that in place, though, “we regularly work with callers who live in Utah and must travel out of state for their abortion care,” and “callers in neighboring states who are traveling to Salt Lake City because it’s the closest clinic,” the volunteer said.
“Abortion has been difficult or impossible for so many Utahns to access even while it remains legal, so we already have a good idea of what Utah Abortion Fund’s work will look like after the trigger ban. But the needs of each individual caller are going to become a lot more complex.”
For instance, “a clinic visit that may have taken an afternoon,” the coordinator said, “could soon require a six-hour drive, an overnight stay in Las Vegas, taking extra days off work and finding overnight child care.”
Why work with Utah Abortion Fund?
Sharing their own reason, the coordinator explained, “I am a medical student going into a non-OB speciality, and I still plan to get training I need to provide abortions. I’ve been involved in abortion access in various capacities since 2016.”
The three leaders of the fund — in addition to their collaborators, partners and part-time volunteers — have backgrounds in education, labor organizing, sexual assault advocacy, health care and international abortion policy.
“We know that body autonomy and access to full-spectrum reproductive care are basic human rights,” the coordinator said. “I think we all feel an obligation to this work, no matter the risks.”
How can Utahns help?
“This is a great time for everyone to pause and do a little bit of research,” the volunteer said. “If you or someone you love needed an abortion today, what would it take for them to access care? ... We still hear from people, ‘I didn’t even know abortion was legal in Utah,’ or ‘I didn’t know Utah had any abortion clinics.’”
The best way that people can support the Utah Abortion Fund “is to help us build a sustainable, predictable income,” the coordinator said. Every donation is appreciated, but “our recurring monthly donors enable us to plan our programming and predict our budget.”
Keeping up the momentum that people have seen in recent weeks “will be critical for us as we expand services for our callers,” the coordinator said.
“We would be nowhere without support from our communities.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.