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The Kansas Abortion Fund is here to help

The Kansas Abortion Fund’s president Sandy Brown and vice president Elise Higgins help run the state’s sole abortion fund. They shape policy, testify before state legislatures, and work with donors to ensure that Kansans have access to abortion. They keep fighting, despite measures in the state and overtures by state policymakers to make it more difficult. Here is their story, in their own words.

We grew out of the Second Chance Fund, an organization founded by a woman named Sylvie Rueff in 1996. At the time, it was very small—a phone tree to help provide funding for women who needed abortions in and around Lawrence, Kansas. Today we're a board of five, and we're all volunteers. As long as you are a Kansas resident, we can help fund you to get your abortion.

In 2019, we changed our name to the Kansas Abortion Fund. Part of the reason that we changed our name is because we wanted to turn away from the stigma that was inherent in the phrase "second chance." The people with power in our state believe that abortion is wrong or unacceptable in some way. We don't. We believe abortion is a social good, and we're proud to fund it. We want people to know that we're available if they need an abortion.

Most private insurance plans in Kansas don't cover abortion because of a law that was passed here in 2012. (One of the compromises that Democrats made in order to get the Affordable Care Act passed was allowing states to ban private coverage of abortion under the exchanges.) A first trimester abortion, when the vast majority of abortions are done, costs about $750. One that's later in the second trimester can be a few thousand dollars, especially if there's a medical complication. And if it's after 22 weeks gestation, you have to go to another state like Colorado or New Mexico. If you're in a hospital, you could be looking at a bill that's tens of thousands of dollars. Because of Kansas law, you're not allowed to deduct that expense on your taxes, even if it was an abortion that was required to save your life.

It’s a group effort, from non-profits to health care providers and clinics

We work in concert with the four abortion clinics in Kansas: two Planned Parenthoods, a private clinic (Center for Women's Health) and Trust Women. They will vet a person who is in need of an abortion, and then call us. We have two requirements that that person needs to meet: they have to be a Kansas resident, and they have to be eligible for another larger organization such as the National Abortion Federation (NAF). If they are and they still need more funding, we step in.

At the end of the month, the clinics send us an invoice. We have direct contact with the clinics. Every now and then we will have contact with a patient inadvertently, but we typically just work with the clinics.

We work with clinics in other states as well. Again, as long as you're a Kansas resident, we will help. For example, two days ago, a Boulder abortion clinic reached out to us for the second time in two weeks. They have a person coming in, and their procedure costs $9,000. NAF will give probably $7,000, we will give our amount, and then the person has a small amount to cover themselves. We get it done, no matter where they need to go.

Right now, we do not help with what's called “practical support,” which are things like travel and accommodation. We just don't have the means or person power to get that up and going. We would like to, and we can see that in the future as we grow. That will invariably be a next step for us, but we are making things run like a nicely greased wheel right now. That's our focus and priority.

We joined the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) as an affiliate in 2001. We are under their umbrella. If you go to the NNAF’s website, you will see all the other glorious funds in the country. Some states have several funds, but we remain the only one in Kansas. I would expect it would stay that way only because we serve all the purposes.

We're also part of a regional coalition of abortion funds and abortion providers that cover the Midwest and the Southwest. There are a lot of different pathways for communication, some of which run through the NNAF, and others that are more sort of self-organized. There's even a Slack channel that helps to facilitate communication and where we share best practices.

We shape policy too

There's also an advocacy piece that we work on. We are part of a coalition of other organizations like Planned Parenthood, Trust Women, Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, and the ACLU working together to defeat a constitutional amendment proposal. In January, we gave testimony to the Kansas legislatures and legislators, both senate and house for the constitutional amendment that we'll be voting on a year from August.

We're repositioning into figuring out where we fit into voter contact work and voter turnout work for the 2022 primary. Abortion has to stay legal in Kansas. If it's not, we'll figure out other options, but it would be our preference that that abortion continue to be legal and accessible in the state. We know the likelihood of it continuing to be legal decreases dramatically if this constitutional amendment passes.

How the Hostetler / Wrigley Foundation Helped

The money from the Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation went directly to funding abortion procedures. Because of that money, we were able to keep the level that we give stable. We are lucky now to not have to worry that we're going to have to say no to people in a couple of months. That's not the case with all funds across the country. Recently the Utah Abortion Fund announced that they are cutting down some of the services they offer because they are running out of money. That's the case with multiple funds in multiple states. We don't have to worry that our funding is tenuous. We know with confidence that we will be able to fund the people who qualify. And that's huge.