From cash to clinic escorts, pro-choice supporters aim to shore up access to pregnancy terminations after Supreme Court ruling
Half of U.S. states set to ban or heavily limit abortion
Pro-abortion groups see rise in donations, volunteers
Need outweighs resources, say abortion providers
By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, July 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Alicia Lucksted has spent three decades volunteering as an abortion clinic escort in and around the U.S. capital Washington D.C., supporting patients as they walk past hostile protesters who shout, criticize and harass them.
Now, a growing number of pro-choice supporters are joining her, after the Supreme Court struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a women's constitutional right to abortion.
Many U.S. pro-choice groups and abortion providers have seen a surge in membership, volunteers, and donations in recent weeks as advocates seek to protect and shore up abortion access.
"As an escort, you can feel the fear and intimidation that some patients feel," said Lucksted, 55, a volunteer with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF).
"People deserve their right to bodily integrity and personal autonomy," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The WACDTF typically receives about 20 emails a month from people interested in volunteering, said Lucksted, but in the weeks after the court ruling, several hundred people applied.
Along with being clinic escorts, people are assisting abortion helplines, offering free legal guidance, and driving people who are forced to travel further across state lines to find abortion services as clinics in their home states close.
More than six in 10 Americans support abortion rights, Pew Research Center polls show, and the number who back legal access to abortion is growing.
But more financial support is needed to help a rising number of people facing clinic closures and restrictions on terminations, said Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion providers.
"The need continues to drastically outweigh available resources," said Fowler.
"On the heels of the Supreme Court overturning Roe, more states have, and will, continue to decimate abortion access."
Nearly one in four women in the United States will have an abortion by age 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The top U.S. court's Jun. 24 ruling gave states a free rein to limit or ban abortions.
Half of states are expected to ban abortion or impose heavy restrictions, said Guttmacher, and 13 Republican-led states have passed "trigger bans" that took effect automatically after Roe v. Wade was struck down, or will do so in the coming weeks.
In Ohio, for example, a law banning abortion at six weeks of pregnancy came into force hours after the Supreme Court's ruling.
For one 10-year-old Ohio girl, who became pregnant after being raped, it meant she had to travel to neighboring Indiana to get an abortion, a case that President Joe Biden highlighted when criticizing the court's decision.
Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL/Pro-Choice America, one of the most powerful national abortion rights groups, said they are stepping up efforts and financial backing to support pro-choice candidates in November's midterm elections.
"We're ready to channel the anger that Americans feel as they watch extremist lawmakers eviscerate abortion access to fuel change by electing and protecting champions this November who will fight for their rights," Timmaraju said.
Some pro-choice groups help to pay for an abortion - which typically costs up to $750 in the first trimester - along with any travel, hotel and childcare expenses.
In the weeks following the court decision, abortion groups Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund saw a seven-fold increase in donations compared to last year, of which more than half were new donors.
Charity Navigator, a group which rates the performance of charities, similarly reported a 656% increase in donations to pro-abortion organizations through its platform in the three weeks following the court ruling.
Aaron Keen, 35, is among thousands who were galvanized to volunteer to support abortion services in recent weeks.
"I wanted to do something more than just comment on social media ... to do something meaningful and to protect reproductive rights," said Keen, who volunteers at the Cherry Hill Women's Center, an abortion clinic, in New Jersey.
His partner Drew Webb, who volunteers at the center as a clinic escort, said he is even more determined to keep giving his time in the wake of the court ruling.
"Outside the clinic, there are people screaming hateful messages, bible verses and yelling 'this is murder'," he said.
Nikki Madsen, executive director of the Abortion Care Network, said it had seen an "unprecedented response" from people seeking to support local independent clinics, which provide three out of every five abortions in the United States.
"Investing more in community abortion clinics and state-based advocacy has never been more critical," Madsen said.
COSTLY INTERSTATE TRAVEL
States where abortion is still unrestricted have seen an influx of people seeking the procedure, including in Maryland where abortion is legal and is home to two of only four clinics nationwide providing late-term abortions.
"While there are many uncertainties, we fully expect that this pattern will continue to intensify in the coming weeks," said Lynn McCann, director of development and communications at the Baltimore Abortion Fund.
Roughly half of patients come from out of state, she added.
The fund has raised more than $225,000 since Roe v. Wade was overturned, McCann said, donations that will help to meet the growing demand for their services.
Meanwhile, pro-choice groups in states that have recently tightened abortion laws are seeing an influx of support.
In Kentucky, a state with a near-total abortion ban, the Kentucky Health Justice Network has seen a "big outpouring" of support, said Erin Smith, the network's executive director.
"When Roe fell, people offered stocks and bonds. Some people are taking their retirement out and sending it our way because the outcry and outrage is there," said Smith.
As more states enact trigger laws, pro-bono lawyers are offering their legal expertise to mount challenges.
If/When/How's RJ Lawyers Network, a network of lawyers across the country campaigning for reproductive justice, have seen a 30% rise in membership in the last two weeks.
Pro-choice campaigners said they are braced for a long battle.
"There is no quick-fix solution to the devastation caused by the overturning of Roe," said Anna Malefatto, donor relations manager at nationwide pregnancy support group All-Options, which saw donations roughly double after the Supreme Court ruling.
"We are committed to helping folks access abortion care for the long haul."
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Sonia Elks. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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