The Shadowy World of “Private Abortion Funds”

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research

Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Who pays for abortions today, and how much?   Recent data offers some surprising answers, including the existence of a “National Network of Abortion Funds.”

According to the latest survey of abortionists from the Guttmacher Institute, in 2009 the average cost for a first trimester surgical abortion  at 10 weeks was $451.  Chemical abortions, done with abortifacients such as RU486, averaged slightly more, about $483.  Surgical abortions at 20 weeks were priced at  $1,500 or more.

The truth, however, is that many women pay nothing for their abortions, at least in monetary terms.  

Seventeen different states, including states with large populations such as  California and New York, pay for the abortions of many of their citizens through their state programs providing medical services to low-income persons.  While, thanks to the Hyde amendment, federal funding for abortion is limited to circumstances of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life, many of the states add their own funds to cover abortions in virtually all circumstances for women of certain income levels.  

For the year 2008, Guttmacher says about 20% of women who had abortions reported Medicaid as their method of payment, though they probably were referring to the state programs available to Medicaid qualified patients (“Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008,” published May 2010). That would represent about 242,480 of the 1,212,400 abortions performed in the U.S. that year. 

For many other women, though, private insurance covers the cost. While some people pay for their health insurance, others are on their parents’ policies or are subsidized, wholly or in part, by their public or private employers. The same Guttmacher study says that about 12% of all abortions in 2008 were paid for with private insurance (though two thirds of all women reported having health insurance, 63% of those paid for the abortion out of pocket).  This would translate to about 145,488 abortions in 2008 being paid for by private insurance.

However Guttmacher says that an additional 13% in 2008 were paid for by “financial assistance programs such as private abortion funds and reduced fees to cover some or all of the cost of the service.”   Few realize that there is a “National Network of Abortion Funds” which both raises funds for thousands of women’s abortions and actively lobbies for repeal of the Hyde Amendment to restore broader federal Medicaid coverage for abortion (see www.fundabortionnow.org).  The percentage given by Guttmacher  would be equivalent to about 157,612 of the 1.2 million abortions reported for 2008.

There are private abortion funds in forty different states, many with multiple groups, and in the nation’s capital, as well as a few national abortion funds.  The state groups include funds with names such as Pauline’s Abortion Loan Fund (Alaska), ACCESS Women’s Health Justice (California), the Freedom Fund (Colorado), Emergency Medical Assistance, Inc (Florida), the Women in Need Fund (Georgia), the Planned Parenthood of Illinois Reproductive Justice Fund (Illinois), the Peggy Bowman Second Chance Fund (Kansas), the A Fund, Inc. (Kentucky), the Fountain Street Church Choice Fund (Michigan), the HOTDISH Militia (Minnesota), and the Hope Fund (Rhode Island).

A report issued by the Third Wave Foundation’s Emergency Abortion Fund (EAF), a national abortion fund, gives an idea of how these funds operate.  EAF used pledges of $62,500 to fund or help fund 505 abortions in 2010, many of them to women having late abortions (85% second trimester, 5% third trimester) or to women of color (83%) (Emergency Abortion Fund [EAF], 2010 Report, June 2011, found at www.thirdwavefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/EAF-report-2010.pdf).

EAF also says it helped fund 148 abortions to minors.  One of those was to a 14-year-old Detroit high school student who lived in Detroit who was at least 27 weeks pregnant and was looking at a $10,000 procedure cost.  EAF says that she secretly “fundraised” after school, got enough money together for a bus ride to Boulder, Colorado, where there was a clinic who would do the abortion.  Still $3,000 short, EAF gave $350 and the clinic agreed to do the abortion “at a steep discount given the severity of the case and their age.” 

EAF also notes that they gave $250 to another 14 year old from Jackson, Tennessee who was 28 weeks pregnant so that she could get an abortion in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Her cost, partly aided by another abortion fund, was said to be $9,000.  How the girl came up with the other funds or whether the clinic ultimately offered any discount is not reported.

In each case, EAF offered what it considered dire economic or social circumstances, but did not give any indication of any special medical issues that posed a threat to the mother’s life.

So what have we learned here?

All told, it appears that more than four out of every 10 women have their abortions paid through someone else – by state programs, by insurance, or by special abortion funds. (Guttmacher says that 57% of women paid for abortions out of their own pockets, but is also the source of the other figures that total 45%.  Though this yields a total percentage of all types of payment equal to 102%, perhaps this is due to rounding or because of some abortions being funded through multiple sources.)

In one sense, it doesn’t matter whether the clinic gets its money from the woman or from state health programs,  insurance, or special funds, since it gets paid either way. However the more that people can count on others to pick up the tab, the more they are likely to access the service.  Guttmacher tells us that 92% of abortion patients on the Medicaid program  in states that covered abortion made use of the state funding.

Of course, whenever a child is aborted, we all pay for that loss in multiple ways.  Sometimes through our tax dollars, yes, but always through the coarsening of society and the loss of another brilliant, productive innovator who could have impacted generations.  Even when other people pay for the abortion, a woman still bears the cost in her empty arms and broken heart.   And the child pays the ultimate price of all, giving up his or her life.  

It’s a very steep price.

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