Working the abortion fund hotline

6 weeks or so ago, I trained with my local abortion fund – The Lilith Fund – so that I could volunteer to help out with their hotline.

According to the National Network of Abortion Funds, this what abortion funds are:

Abortion funds are groups of people who help women pay for their abortions.

Nearly all abortion funds are grassroots organizations that work directly with women and families who face obstacles to abortion. Funds help women to pay for an abortion and for travel to a clinic or for an overnight stay in a motel near a clinic. Some funds provide a place to stay in their own homes for women who have to travel a great distance. Many funds also help women to pay for contraception and the morning after pill.

Abortion funds are often women’s only allies as they try to raise money to pay for an abortion.

They are also at the forefront of a dynamic and growing movement that honors the leadership and voices of low-income women, young women, and women of color.

[NB: more people than just cis women need and want access to abortion care]

Lilith Fund helps low-income Texans from Waco south (there is a north Texas abortion fund: Texas Equal Access Fund).

How the hotline works: it is open three mornings a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). During the line’s open hours, people who need help funding their abortion call and leave messages giving basic information. A volunteer then transcribes that information into a document. That afternoon/evening, whatever volunteer is on duty, looks at the list and determines who to call first. You have a set amount of money per day (right now it is $880) that you can give out at your discretion. Most people’s abortion costs around $450 but go up from there. You get 20 to 25 people who call each day. $880 is NOT nearly enough to cover everyone who needs help. On average, each person the LF helps gets $75.

I was nervous about volunteering for the hotline. I was nervous about being responsible for dividing up the money (or, rather, turning people down). I was nervous about listening to and having to react in real time to people’s difficult situations. I assumed that it would be too much emotionally for me to handle.

I was wrong.

Yes, the stories are hard sometimes and making decisions regarding who to fund is stressful. But these things are balanced by (or even utterly destroyed by) the power of a single person saying, “Thank you” six times over, happy that anyone cares about their situation, relieved to receive help without judgement.

I have now volunteered twice with Lilith Fund and I can say two definitive things about it:

  1. Even if you think you understand what limited resources and difficult access to abortion care means on the ground, until it either happens to you or you spend time talking to people to whom it affects, YOU DON’T KNOW.
  2. Helping people get the abortions they want or need has been the most life-affirming thing I have done in a very long time. It has changed my life.

If you can, you should volunteer with your local abortion fund and/or donate. Find a list of abortion funds here.

I’m going to spend the rest of this post re-telling some of the stories that I have heard in the two (only TWO) hotline sessions that I have done. I hope to make this an on-going series as I volunteer each month with Lilith Fund.

These stories are important. These people are real. Their struggles are real. Their needs matter. 


[Originally in this spot I had stories from people I talked to while working the hotline. A good friend of mine whom I respect more than almost anyone else in my life contacted me because they felt uncomfortable with me telling other people’s stories. While I did get permission from people who work at Lilith Fund to publish these stories, I admit that I was initially hesitant. I do want to tell these stories and we need to tell abortion stories more often, especially the stories of people who are so rarely heard from or are not given space to talk about their experiences. But I’m feeling uncomfortable with my decision and for now, possibly forever, I’ve removed them.]

Donate to Lilith Fund here.


UPDATE, May 16: I’m not going to be adding the stories back. At least not for a long while. And if I do, not in the same form. What I will definitely be doing, though, is writing a lot about the ethics of storytelling, which is now my brain’s main obsession.

But I do want to pull out some of the lessons I have learned thus far:

  • An often-repeated lesson while working the hotline: you don’t know ANYTHING about people and the situations they face and why they make the choices they do. Calm demeanors do not indicate ambivalence or easy pasts or sanitized backgrounds.
  • The Hyde amendment is the devil’s work. Medicaid does not cover abortions. Why? The Hyde Amendment:

    This provision, prohibiting federal Medicaid coverage of abortion in almost all circumstances, was the beginning of the anti-abortion movement’s post-Roe, all-out effort to ban abortion. It was a gateway bill, opening the door to the flood of restrictions which today constrict a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion, forcing women to “choose” between paying for other basic necessities and having an abortion, and, in too many cases, making abortion impossible. It became the precedent for all other denials of abortion funding, and reinforces our discriminatory, two-tier health care system in which people without financial resources cannot get the care they need.

    Without this 35-year old law, many people would already have the means to access the abortion they need without having to go through an abortion fund.

  • It’s very common that people calling LF were using contraception when they got pregnant. Contraception fails to work all the time.
  • There are times when LF literally saves people lives by helping them get the medical care they *need* for survival. When you volunteer with an abortion fund, you can help save people’s lives.

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