CHICAGO — Local groups that help people access safe abortions have gotten a deluge of volunteer requests — but they also desperately need long-term funding, support and for people to get educated on how to talk about abortion care, organizers said.
The groups are trying to keep up with huge influxes of patients looking for help and volunteers trying to aid them after Roe v. Wade was overturned last week and abortion bans started in states across the nation.
Planned Parenthood Illinois had taken steps to increase the patients it could care for and prepare for the reversal of Roe, said Julie Uhal, a SAFE Expansion program manager for Planned Parenthood. The organizers had a “lot of tears,” but, at the end of the day, they had to “just pull [themselves] back together … to provide care [for patients] no matter what,” Uhal said.
Many local groups have already heard from far more people than usual, and leaders have warned the number of out-of-staters who need to come to Illinois for care — and need financial help for that — could skyrocket as this state moves to protect abortion while nearby states are banning or heavily restricting it.
People looking to volunteer can make an impact by becoming a clinic escort, Uhal said. Escorts accompany people into and out of Planned Parenthood facilities.
Organizers also cautioned against participating in DIY Facebook pages or online abortion networks, sometimes called “Auntie Networks,” which have gained popularity in the past week. Instead, people need to invest in trusted organizations that can keep people safe, they said.
“Stop saying that you want somebody to come camping at your house,” said Megan Jeyifo, Chicago Abortion Fund executive director. “Anti-abortion people are hip to that. They know what you’re saying, and I promise you they’re also saying it to people.”
For a person to trust even an established network like the Chicago Abortion Fund “is very vulnerable,” Jeyifo said.
The Chicago Abortion Fund — which provides logistical, financial and emotional support to people during their abortion process — has received nearly double its usual requests this week, Jeyifo said. But the group operates with protocols to “keep people safe” — something Auntie Networks don’t necessarily have, Jeyifo said.
“Offering your pullout couch to a stranger on the internet is just very dangerous,” Jeyifo said. “We have these networks of care set up that have been doing this work for decades, and we need investment in those networks of care.
“We don’t need the wheel being recreated. It will put people at risk, and it is dangerous.”
It would be “extremely easy” for someone who is anti-choice to join an online group, pretend to be helpful and then traumatize someone who is looking for reproductive health care, said Madison Lyleroehr, a member of the Board of Directors for local abortion fund Midwest Access Coalition.
Like the Chicago Abortion Fund, Midwest Access Coalition has “a structure in place to properly vet folks who are volunteering and train them,” Lyleroehr said. Vetting participants will be critical to guarantee the safety of people seeking abortion care since patients risk criminalization, Lyleroehr said.
Though participants may be “well-intentioned,” Auntie Networks make Uhal feel “wary.”
“The reality is that people are going to be entering extremely vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations when they’re forced to face criminalization and cross state lines to access health care,” Uhal said. “You can see how connecting with some unvetted anonymous stranger online makes that much more potentially dangerous and unsafe.
“You don’t know who that person is — it could be anyone. It could be a protester who just left a shift screaming outside of a clinic.”
Instead, people who want to offer their home or other resources to someone in need of care should go through their local abortion fund, Uhal said.
“There are really, really well-established networks of local abortion funds who have been doing the work for decades to build community and lay down roots in anticipation of this exact moment to help people access abortion care when it becomes criminalized and more difficult,” Uhal said.
It’s also helpful when people fundraise and talk about why abortion access is important, Jeyifo said. Money is “desperately needed,” Jeyifo said; on Monday, the group heard from double the number of people it expected.
“They need the train tickets, they need the hotel stays, they need meal stipends, the child care — all of that,” Jeyifo said.
Lyleroehr said Midwest Access Coalition also expects to see more and more people needing financial support to access safe abortion.
“It’s important to follow the the funds and organizations who have been doing this work on social media and amplify their messages,” Lyleroehr said. Abortion funds and providers “are going to have the most up-to-date information on what is needed and on what’s going on.”
Organizers are also calling on people to educate themselves about options for self-managed abortion — how people can safely take abortion pills from home — and on how to talk about abortion.
The Chicago Abortion Fund website has links to toolkits people can use to learn about how to have those conversations, Jeyifo said.
Planned Parenthood Illinois also has a telehealth service line so people can have abortion medication mailed to them.
Education can play a key role in battling misinformation and helping people access self-managed abortions so they can have a safer abortion, according to Planned Parenthood and Midwest Access Coalition.
“This new post-Roe landscape, it doesn’t look the same as the pre-Roe landscape,” Uhal said. “There are options for abortion today that didn’t exist in 1972, especially when you think about the medication abortion pills and their accessibility over telehealth.
“… It’s not a dangerous, back-alley type thing anymore. There are more options out there.”
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