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California volunteer networks brace for influx of patients seeking abortion: Gunshots


Lee Mitchell had three abortions before Roe v. Wade doesn’t make it legal. Now she plans to volunteer as a driver and host for women traveling to California from other states where the procedure is banned.

April Dembosky/KQED


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April Dembosky/KQED

California volunteer networks brace for influx of patients seeking abortion: Gunshots

Lee Mitchell had three abortions before Roe v. Wade doesn’t make it legal. Now she plans to volunteer as a driver and host for women traveling to California from other states where the procedure is banned.

April Dembosky/KQED

As many states began banning abortion following Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wadevolunteers in California are stepping up to help people who want to travel to their state for treatment

Californian Lee Mitchell posted a message on Facebook, written in code:

“If you are a person who suddenly finds yourself needing to go camping in another friendly State of campingjust know that i will be happy to lead you, support you and not talk about the camping trip never to anyone.”

Abortion remains legal in California. But her veiled offer was focused on women in other states, who might now be desperate to access abortion services — for whatever reason. She planned to pick them up from the San Francisco airport, drive them to a local clinic for an abortion, then offer them a place to sleep on her couch, and maybe even a hand to hold.

That kind of support is something she didn’t have herself when she traveled to California for an abortion in 1970.

“I lived in Minneapolis. I looked and looked and at the time there was no source,” she recalled. “So I had to pay the money to fly to California.”

It was one of three abortions Mitchell had had before. Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973 – one in California and two in Washington, DC. This was before birth control and sex education were commonplace. Mitchell is now 75 and finds it hard to believe this is happening again.

“I was just furious,” she said, after Judge Alito’s draft opinion was first leaked. “What I did was I fueled myself by looking for ways to help others.”

California could see an increase in the number of abortion patients

About twenty-six states now plan to ban or severely restrict access to abortion following the court ruling. As women seek to travel outside their home state to seek abortion care, California medical clinics and volunteer networks are actively preparing to welcome them. For 1.4 million people, their closest abortion provider will now be in California. This represents an almost 3,000% increase in potential demand for California-based services.

State lawmakers are working to create a state abortion convenience support fund that would help women with the logistical costs of traveling here for an abortion, including transportation, lodging, and child care. Meanwhile, nonprofit groups scramble to recruit and train aspiring volunteers like Mitchell, channeling their anger and activism into real-world help: trips to clinics, safe places to stay, a trail ‘landing.

“I’m amazed to see people coming together, supporting and showing up in droves for people they don’t even know,” says Tricia Gray, volunteer engagement coordinator at Access Reproductive Justice, an abortion fund. California-based nonprofit.

For months, Gray’s group has fielded calls from people who already need help traveling from Texas, Arizona and even New Mexico, where abortion remains legal but clinics are struggling. to meet the needs of women coming from Texas. This is in addition to the hundreds of Californians they already help each year – 40% of California counties do not have clinics offering abortions.

Gray currently has about 60 active volunteers, but is working to increase that number to 250 statewide. Geographically, it focuses on neighborhoods near LAX, Los Angeles’ main airport, which they say will be a hub for out-of-state patients. Demographically, she hopes to find volunteers who reflect their callers, who are predominantly black, people of color and low income.

“Marginalized communities are always forced to be responsive, and we had to be proactive in supporting our callers,” says Gray.

Tickets, babysitters and hotels make out-of-state abortions expensive

With the pandemic, current volunteers are still making trips, but home stays have been suspended – Gray hopes to resume them in about next month, when it is safe to do so. For now, volunteers help pay for and book hotel rooms instead, which can cost $400 or $500, she says, depending on how many days a person needs to stay for the procedure. .

With the added costs of airfare, a babysitter, and lost work hours, the total logistical costs of an abortion can exceed a few thousand dollars. As the number of patients has increased, volunteer networks and non-profit organizations cannot meet the growing demand.

Planned Parenthood’s 17 clinics in Northern California, for example, expect the number of patients seeking abortion care to triple, adding about 8,000 patients a year, said Gloria Martinez, senior director of operations.

Whenever someone from out of state makes an appointment, one of the clinic’s abortion navigators calls them to see if they need travel assistance, Martinez says. Navigators can arrange reimbursement for certain expenses, but not for everyone who calls, and only up to $500 for each patient.

Taxpayer money could help support the efforts of nonprofits

The Abortion Convenience Support Fund proposed by state lawmakers would help by providing grants to nonprofit organizations such as Access Reproductive Justice or Planned Parenthood, which can then be used to help people, in the in and out of state, to pay for logistical costs, including airfare, taxis, gas, childcare, or translation services. They can also be used to fund the work of staff members such as abortion navigators or volunteer coordinators like Gray.

Local anti-abortion activists oppose the proposal.

“We call it ‘abortion tourism,'” says Greg Burt, a Sacramento-based attorney with the California Family Council. “Come to California, go to the beach, get an abortion and we’ll pay for it, by the taxpayer.”

He says he wishes the state would spend more money on removing barriers to childbearing, rather than focusing on removing barriers to abortion.

“These incentives send the message that we value one more than the other,” Burt says.

Nearly 80% of Californians said they opposed the cancellation Roe vs. Wade, according to an October poll. At the San Francisco mall in June, KQED surveyed shoppers and also found that a large majority thought it was a good idea for the state to use taxpayer dollars to help women in other States to come here for abortion care.

“I think it’s okay, because what if a woman gets raped? said Latasha Johnson, 44, referring to some laws in other states that would ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

“Setting aside taxpayer dollars is really important to ensuring safe abortions for people,” said Caroline Fong, 19, a student who in the fall will return to her campus in Missouri, one of the 13 states with a so-called trigger law. ready to automatically ban abortion after the Supreme Court decision.

“If we can help, we should,” said Howard Dixon, 60. He added that the government “wastes a lot of money anyway. So I’d like to think that some of my money is going to a good cause.”

Two people didn’t like the idea.

“We don’t agree with that,” said Joe Bacan, 44, a construction worker, speaking in Spanish. “We believe in protecting life.”

His wife, Claudia Sanchez, 49, added: “There are a lot of things we could invest in that would be better than that.”

The proposed fund, detailed in Senate Bill 1142, is one of 13 bills being considered by the state legislature aimed at making California an abortion sanctuary state.

Lee Mitchell supports all of these legislative and philanthropic efforts, but she wants to get personally involved, in a concrete way. She’s fueled by imagining what it might have been like back in her 20s, if only her future self, or someone like that, had picked her up from the airport.

“I would have liked that. I think I probably would have opened up to the person, to Lee, 75,” she says. “I don’t know if everyone would have. I would have.”

Seasoned advocates like Tricia Gray say the simple act of driving someone to the clinic, chatting about traffic, or ordering them Thai food can be life-changing for both the person seeking abortion care and the volunteer .

“It’s transformative because of the simplicity,” Gray says. “It’s very revolutionary to just drive someone up and say, ‘We’ve got your back. We can’t fix everything, but at least we can fix this.'”

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