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Abortion funds navigate a new legal reality post-Roe

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the nearly six months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion funds have been scrambling. Those funds help people travel to and pay for abortions, and now they exist in a complicated landscape of state laws. The people who work at these organizations are learning to navigate new legal threats, as NPR's Katia Riddle reports.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: Sitting at her dining room table, Riley Keane picks up the phone to call a woman thousands of miles away. The woman is 12 weeks pregnant. She's trying to get an abortion.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Calling.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGBACK TONE)

RIDDLE: Keane is a volunteer at the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. Organizations like this one have existed for decades. Together, they work with hundreds of thousands of people per year.

RILEY KEANE: This is Riley. We have been texting about your upcoming appointment. Is this still a good time to talk?

RIDDLE: The woman on the other end of the line is 24. She has two kids at home already. She tells Keane she has no source of income. NPR is not using her name or voice in order to protect her from any legal jeopardy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So is it safe for me to identify the organization that I work with on this phone, over text and voice?

RIDDLE: This woman lives in Louisiana, where abortion is now virtually illegal. Keane is based in Oregon. Even from her perch in a state with strong protections for abortion, Keane is careful. If she says something that could be interpreted as recommending the procedure, she could be aiding and abetting an abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Where is your appointment?

RIDDLE: This woman needs help getting to Seattle all the way from Louisiana for an appointment she's already scheduled. Closer clinics were already booked.

KEANE: We'll use email just to send you, like, plane tickets and hotel confirmations and things like that.

RIDDLE: There are about 100 independent groups like the Northwest Abortion Access Fund across the country. They spend millions every year helping women. Some of those funds say demand has been up threefold or more since the Supreme Court decision ended the national right to abortion. Debasri Ghosh is the managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds.

DEBASRI GHOSH: One of the bright spots of this really devastating time is that we have seen a major spike in donations.

RIDDLE: Ghosh says, so far, public support has been commensurate with this new demand. Her organization reports raising $10 million since June. Of the half dozen funds interviewed for this story, none reported having to turn people away for lack of money since Dobbs. Ghosh is hoping the support continues even as the Supreme Court decision fades from the headlines.

GHOSH: So really encouraging people to think about connecting with and supporting their local abortion funds with the same kind of consistency and commitment that you think about supporting your local food bank or, you know, your PTA.

RIDDLE: But money isn't the biggest concern. At least one fund has had to shut down its abortion assistance entirely because of geography.

KAMYON CONNER: I was the actual person who, on June 23, called our helpline company and told them to turn off our phone line.

RIDDLE: Kamyon Conner is the executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund.

CONNER: I remember sitting at my desk and crying.

RIDDLE: After the Roe decision, the Texas Attorney General issued an advisory that read, quote, "today, we celebrate Roe's reversal." He cited a law from 1925 that makes it a crime to help women get abortions. People can now be punished with prison time for, quote, "furnishing the means for an abortion."

CONNER: We pay for procedures. Is that furnishing the means?

RIDDLE: Conner says her organization doesn't know what it is or isn't allowed to do. The law hasn't been enforced for decades.

CONNER: Is paying for a flight furnishing the means, you know?

RIDDLE: The organization is now exploring ways to provide services from within these legal constraints - things like paying for a sonogram so a woman knows if she's pregnant in the first place.

CONNER: So I think we're in this, like, weird gray area, and specifically around - does it mean we can't furnish the means for someone to get this outside of the state of Texas?

RIDDLE: Legal experts say the only way to answer that question is through the courts - potentially criminal prosecution. Conner says she lives with that fear every day, but she tries to be brave and not let the Texas law intimidate her. Katie Riddle, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katia Riddle