Finding My Power, Funding Abortion

By Brittany Mostiller-Keith

When I discovered I was pregnant, time stopped. In 2007, I was a mother of three small children, and the youngest was five months old. I was working part-time. The pay barely covered my rent and my family and friends were in no position to help out financially. We were all surviving day-to-day.

The Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF) came into my life at a time when I needed real support and something outside of myself to believe in. Not only did they help fund my abortion, CAF offered a sisterhood of women of color who empowered me to be part of the fight for bodily autonomy for everyone in our community.

I started as a client, another woman whose abortion was made possible by a local abortion fund. Over the years, I became part of the Chicago Abortion Fund community, joining community talks, leadership programs, and lobby days, and today I’m proud to lead the Fund in supporting Chicagoans looking for the same compassion and support.

It was at CAF that I learned the term “reproductive justice” and how to talk about the ways I have always been impacted by injustices in my community along the intersections of race, class and gender and the ways the CAF has always been pushing back. I learned that this work is necessary to my survival, that listening to, trusting, and empowering Black women and Black femmes in particular are necessary for our survival as a community.

As CAF’s new executive director, I am excited to usher us into our 30th year this October. To our clients, we uniquely offer an intimate understanding of how real access to abortion care comes from working at the crossroads of political advocacy, community culture shift, and direct financial and practical support.

Across the country, abortion funds are navigating the barriers people of color face in accessing health care, including economic injustice. Forty-two percent of women obtaining abortions earn incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children), according to Guttmacher research in 2011 to 2012. Sixty-one percent of these same women are already mothers. Only 27% of women obtaining abortions have incomes between 100–199% of the federal poverty level – a statistic no doubt impacted by the unequal pay that women, trans, and gender nonconforming people of color receive compared to white men. And when a woman is denied abortion, she is more likely to fall deeper into poverty compared to women who are able to receive the medical care they need.

These statistics are a lived reality at CAF, where most of our clients, 80%, are either low-income women of color or low-income mothers. We see firsthand how people who are already struggling to make ends meet scramble to raise the funds for an abortion, nearly $500 early in pregnancy. Most people who have decided to end a pregnancy want to do so as early as possible, but the $480 fee is very high for many people, who often don’t know who to ask for financial assistance in their community. Other people, shamed by abortion stigma, are afraid to ask anyone.

CAF and funds across the country are filling a vital gap and dismantling stigma at the same time. We're telling callers, "We trust you," even as our politicians do not. We’re telling Black women, Black trans folks, Black gender-nonconforming loved ones, “We trust you. We will follow your lead.”

As one of many Black women leading funds across the country and literally taking power into our own hands, we #sayhername and our own names. We hold our communities down by giving rides and money and childcare to other Black folks seeking abortion care. We join the fight with other reproductive justice organizations to bring down shameful billboards and bad policies.

Despite the federal policy that denies insurance coverage for abortion (the Hyde Amendment) squarely attacking low-income people, many of whom are Black, we hone in on our divine power and say this is our right. We are loving Black women, trans and gender-nonconforming folks as we continue to take access into our own hands.

This is about so much more than funding abortion.

At CAF, intimacy, storytelling, and community building are the tools we use to shift abortion funding from being transactional to transformational for our callers. This model helps us transform the relationship to power that our callers hold as reproductive justice leaders who hold our elected officials accountable.

In a poll conducted by Black Women’s Roundtable and ESSENCE Magazine, health care was the top issue that Black women want political candidates to address. More specifically, the women I work with want to pass the EACH Woman Act through Congress, a bill to eliminate most economic barriers to abortion by lifting the bans on private and public insurance coverage.

Studies show that when policymakers place severe restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion, it forces one in four low-income women seeking an abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Our clients have seen and lived those struggles and are fighting to change policy so that others will not have to share that struggle.

In the bright years ahead, we will shift from being reactive to proactive, building out our vision for reproductive justice even as we fight the incessant attacks from politicians trying to wear our communities down. We know that we have a long road in front of us to create the change our communities deserve, and we will keep serving clients even as we build power. We will continue to trust people to make the decisions that are best for them. We fund abortion. We build power.

Photo: Shutterstock

Brittany Mostiller-Keith, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF), previously held the position of deputy director. Before becoming deputy director, she was a member of the My Voice, My Choice Leadership Group, an advocacy project of CAF whose members received funding through the organization. Since receiving financial assistance from CAF, Brittany has become a fierce advocate for reproductive justice through lobbying, public speaking, panel discussions, organizing community outreach, facilitating educational forums, and empowering women.

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