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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Maybe you've heard about President Obama's budget plan, which the White House released a few days ago for consideration by Congress. Points of note for people like us:

1) Strips public funding for abstinence-only education. This is probably the one everyone's heard about, and while it's good news for those of us who live in the real world, it's not going to be relevant to this post. I just mention it because we're excited for an end to government-sponsored lying.
2) Does not reverse the Hyde Amendment, a 1977 amendment to the Congressional budget which forbids federal funds from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment to the pregnant woman (and even then, it usually doesn't).
3) Removes the Congressional prohibition (extant 1988-92, and again 94-present) on the District of Columbia using its own local funds to pay for abortions.

A lot of us are rooting for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, because we see it as a violation of poor women's human rights: the right to health care and the right to reproductive freedom. However, a lot of us are also nervous about what its repeal might mean in practice, at least in the short term that you'd call the "transition period". Currently, women who do not have Medicaid coverage for abortion can turn to local and national funds in hopes of receiving emergency assistance. Will they fall through the cracks if the definitions of "eligibility" and "coverage" fall into limbo? We can only fret.

The problem is that the emergency funds we try to get women in contact with are not publicly funded and are not bottomless. They have to prioritize, and sometimes this means unfortunate blanket decisions like "women who are eligible for Medicaid payment [through funds allocated at the state level] must go to Medicaid, not to us," even if we know that this doesn't work out in practice, or difficult choices like "we have a twelve-year-old client who really needs our money, so this fifteen-year-old will have to cope for seven more months and make alternate arrangements."

In times when the whole economy sucks, fewer people donate money to social causes, and the ones who do usually donate smaller amounts. Of course this means a double-whammy on our clients, who are often poor to begin with and now will have less of a chance of getting help from the organizations they call. So even as I worry about a potential future where abortion access is publicly guaranteed only de jure but not de facto, I know that the present, in which small private funds are the only safety net for unhappily-pregnant women, is not sustainable.

So, yes, you should be following the politics behind Hyde and behind DC sovereignty, because they matter a lot in the broad view. But you should also be donating to your local fund, because they matter in the here and now, and in the in-between, and in the cracks, to the individual women whom our national budgets and their amendments do not even realize exist.

The DC Abortion Fund, a local fund serving the DC/Maryland/Virginia area, helps support (among others) women trapped in the complex Medicaid situation in Maryland. And they have recently written about their worries for the future. I invite every reader to make a one-time donation or perhaps commit to a repeated monthly sum. Rest assured, since DCAF is volunteer-run, almost all of their donations go straight to women in need. Even so, they say that they will have to shut down -- stop funding any procedures -- in a few months if their current trends continue.

But it's not just them, sadly; I heard from another manager who had to shut down in late February, so great was the need in their area and so few were the donations since the Great Economic Meltdown of 2008, and have heard from many more who are setting strict limits on the number of women they assist per week or the amounts of assistance they give to any one person. If you'd like to donate to your own local abortion fund, you can search the National Network of Abortion Funds' map. You can also contact national funds run by groups like Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, the Third Wave Foundation, or the National Abortion Federation.

If you're wondering how you can make a huge difference in someone's life right away, or if your tax return is burning a hole in your pocket, please consider following these links and donating ASAP!


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