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Abortion funds are back in operation

By Maggie Q. Thompson, April 7, 2023, News

March was a (relatively) good month for Texans trying to access abortion care. First, on March 23, Whole Woman's Health announced the opening of its closest clinic to Texas, a full-service facility in Albuquerque that also marked the relaunch of Whole Woman's Health of New Mexico. Then the powerhouse Texas abortion fund Lilith Fund resumed the work it originated to do: helping people pay for abortions (now, post-Roe, these are all taking place in states where this care is still legal).

All abortion funds had been on pause for months as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other officials threatened the nonprofits with prosecution if they continued to cover abortion-related expenses for care sought in other states. Whether or not Paxton actually has power to enforce any such punishments, Lilith Fund and other abortion funds sued over his statements' chilling effect on constitutional rights to free speech and interstate travel. Federal Judge Robert Pitman ruled in the nonprofits' favor in February, granting a preliminary injunction that blocks Paxton and local prosecutors from prosecuting anyone for helping people obtain abortions in other states until the completion of the court case.

Following Pitman's decision, Lilith Fund spent weeks with their attorneys figuring out exactly what that ruling meant for their operations, and then retraining volunteers and generally pivoting their operations. Now they're up and running, offering $1,000 to Texans who contact them in need of an abortion and $500 to Texans seeking non-abortion reproductive health care, including STD testing, contraception, sonograms to determine how far along they are in a pregnancy, and more. They're funding everyone who requests assistance for now, and haven't put a cap on the number of people they can serve.

The effects of bottlenecking in clinics may arise, though. "Clinics in other states are facing huge capacity challenges," interim Executive Director Neesha Davé told the Chronicle. "I'm sure if you're a Texan calling one of these clinics you're going to face a huge wait time."

The new WWH location is not overwhelmed at the moment. There, fully bilingual staff provide medication abortion up to 11 weeks of gestational age, and first- and-second trimester in-clinic abortion procedures up to 18 weeks. They plan to expand up to 24 weeks for procedures in the near future.

WWH's CEO and founder Amy Hagstrom-Miller told the Chronicle in December that she expected a New Mexico-Texas border clinic would serve roughly 4,000 people a year – "not as busy as all four of our Texas clinics were combined, but maybe as busy as one of our clinics in Texas was," she said at the time. Whole Woman's Health VP Andrea Ferrigno told the Chronicle Wednesday that they don't have a good idea of what demand will ultimately be for the clinic's services, but that they expect it to ramp up in the coming weeks. For now, the new clinic doesn't have a waitlist, so you can call and get an appointment within a week. As to whether WWH is still planning for a New Mexico clinic right near the border with Texas, Ferrigno said "we are currently focused on our Albuquerque clinic and welcoming everyone who needs abortions."

* Editor's note Friday, April 7, 10:50am: A previous version of this story omitted Judge Robert Pitman’s last name. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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