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Northwest Abortion Funds Merge to Form Largest Fund in U.S.

Despite being home to bluest states, despite Affordable Care Act, residents across Northwest call hotline for help paying for abortion services.

Seattle, Wash. – The Northwest’s two abortion funds – Washington-based The CAIR Project and Oregon-based Network for Reproductive Options – have united as one organization, the Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF), to better serve people across the region who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of safe abortion care. The newly merged organization will cover the largest geographic area of any fund in the country, encompassing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska, and is the third-largest fund nationally in budget and number of people served.

Abortion funds help fill the gap in abortion access left by no insurance, insurance that withholds coverage of abortion care, and insurance with deductibles so high the entire procedure must be paid for out of pocket.

“The right to abortion is meaningless if you can’t afford to pay for it,” said NWAAF board member, Nadia Piedrahita. “But that’s the reality for thousands of people in the Northwest. Our callers are forced to choose between paying rent or paying for their abortion. Many are moms, and coming up with the money for their procedure can mean cutting back on food and diapers for their children. One caller had to pawn her wedding ring. Another had to return the Christmas gift she’d bought for her toddler.”

It used to be common for both public and private health plans to cover abortion care, but politicians have interfered--chiefly through the Hyde Amendment--to strip out abortion coverage, prompting abortion funds to spring up and step in. However, with 1 in 4 women in the U.S. having an abortion in her lifetime, there is no way that abortion funds, which are supported primarily by grassroots donors, can fully meet the need.

While the state Medicaid programs and many private health plans in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska cover all pregnancy care, including abortion care, politicians in Idaho currently withhold abortion coverage from public as well as private health plans. As a result, half of NWAAF’s calls for abortion funding come from Idaho alone.

But the Hyde Amendment harms Northwest residents in red and blue states alike: anyone with a federally-funded health plan who can become pregnant or whose dependents can is denied abortion coverage, with narrow exceptions. This includes federal employees, Native people, people with disabilities, federally incarcerated people, detained undocumented immigrants, Peace Corps volunteers, as well as people serving in the military and veterans--amounting to tens of thousands of individuals across the region.

“I think it surprises people to hear that an abortion fund has to operate in a blue state,” said Piedrahita. “But we get calls all the time from military service members who are shocked to discover that their insurance withholds abortion coverage. Or from people with insurance they got through their employer or on the Exchange that covers abortion, but that has a $3,000 deductible. Either way, they have to pay for their entire procedure out of pocket, and without an abortion fund, that can mean out of reach.”

The average cost of a first-trimester abortion in the Northwest is $650, which must be paid at the time of the appointment. A recent survey by the Federal Reserve found that 46% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing money or selling something.

In 2016, the two Northwest abortion funds together received 60 - 70 calls per week. With a combined weekly budget of just over $3,300 and an average grant of $180, the money often runs out by Tuesday or Wednesday. When that happens, hotline advocates must tell callers that if they still need financial help, they will have to reschedule their appointments and make new arrangements for child care, time off work, borrowing a car, and their other logistics. NWAAF helps with these logistics as well; in 2016, the funds gave out $32,000 in transportation (Lyft rides, bus tickets, flights) and lodging (motel rooms) for people traveling for abortion care.

“The merge of NRO and The CAIR Project is a powerful demonstration of what is possible when organizations collaborate closely and forge deep ties in their shared mission to make abortion a reality across an entire region,” said Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “This merge means that the Northwest region will be served more efficiently, and that rural areas will have increased access and funding for abortion. Our network of 70 funds is built on not only funding abortion but building grassroots collective power with and for people who have abortions. We are looking forward to working with the new NWAAF to build the reality we all deserve.”

The Washington and Oregon abortion funds were founded in 1998 and 2002, respectively, to fill local unmet need for abortion funding. They have merged to better advance their mission of funding abortion and breaking down barriers to abortion access for people in the Northwest.

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About the Northwest Abortion Access Fund

The Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF) is an abortion fund serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. Trained, compassionate volunteer advocates run our toll-free hotline. We help people pay for their abortion care by sending funding directly to the clinic. We also help people get to and from the clinic. And we make sure people traveling for care have a safe place to stay. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a member of the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a membership organization of over 70 funds across the United States.

About the Hyde Amendment

The Hyde Amendment withholds coverage of abortion care from federally funded health plans, including Medicaid, our nation’s health insurance program for low-income people. It is not a law; politicians vote to pass the Hyde Amendment every year as part of the annual federal budget. It is estimated to force one in four low-income people seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Research shows that a person who wants to end a pregnancy but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who is able to get an abortion. The Hyde Amendment disproportionately affects people struggling to make ends meet, people of color, and youth.