Abortion Funders in the Southeast Are ‘Helping People Decide What They Want to Do With Their Lives’

While states in the Southeast have enacted some of the most prohibitive abortion bans in the nation, funds there have found innovative, holistic ways to support folks making reproductive decisions.

Abortion funds are local nonprofit organizations that provide abortion seekers with monetary support. While traditionally designed to pay for a patient’s abortion, funds also increasingly help with supplemental costs, like transportation or lodging. Because these organizations provide crucial financial aid and on-the-ground practical support, their role in the abortion access movement has increased since the Dobbs decision.

To shed light on abortion funds’ contributions to the abortion access and reproductive justice movements, Ms. will feature interviews in the coming weeks with fund representatives across the U.S. Each installment will focus on a distinct region—beginning here, in the Southeast.

Since the fall of Roe, all states in this region have implemented abortion restrictions, ranging from complete abortion bans to 15-week bans.

(U.S. Abortion Policies and Access After Roe / Guttmacher Institute)

For a closer look at the Southeast, we interviewed representatives from three abortion funds: the Carolina Abortion Fund, Access Reproductive Care Southeast (ARC Southeast) and the Yellowhammer Fund.

Carolina Abortion Fund (CAF)

Since its founding in 2011, the Carolina Abortion Fund (CAF) has assisted abortion seekers in North and South Carolina.

  • North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban requires patients to visit a clinic twice: first for counseling, and then 72 hours later for their abortion.
  • South Carolina’s six-week ban requires patients to attend a counseling session (online or in person) 24 hours before their abortion.

We spoke with Lauren O., a CAF board member.

Access Reproductive Care Southeast (ARC)

Three Black clinic workers started Access Reproductive Care Southeast (ARC Southeast) in 2015. This organization supports callers in six Southeastern states.

  • State legislatures in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama have all passed complete bans with limited exceptions.
  • Georgia and South Carolina have six-week bans.
  • While Florida currently has banned abortion at 15 weeks, it is likely the state will also pass a six-week ban.

We spoke with Angel Whaley and Alexia R-H, ARC Southeast’s co-executive directors

The Yellowhammer Fund

Before the Dobbs decision, the Yellowhammer Fund, established in 2017, supported Alabama residents seeking abortions. When the state’s attorney general threatened to prosecute those who assist patients pursuing out-of-state abortion care, Yellowhammer suspended their abortion funding efforts. The organization has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s right to criminally prosecute. Meanwhile, the fund continues to support Alabamians through abortion advocacy, dissemination of emergency contraception, and financial support for legal expenses.

We spoke with Yellowhammer’s executive director, Jenice Fountain, and Kelsey McLain, their deputy director.

These interview excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity.

All of these activists came to abortion funding with organizing experience, but ultimately, they decided that abortion access activism best aligned with their commitment to reproductive and collective justice.

At ARC Southeast, Angel Whaley began her career working for Teach for America, the United Way, and other nonprofits.

Angel Whaley (ARC): Then I saw a documentary called ‘The Business of Being Born,’ and it got me interested in just the word ‘doula.’

I’ve always been fascinated by birth. And then I had two friends with complicated pregnancies, and that made me say, ‘Okay, I don’t just want to have a doula. I want to go get this training that can help people feel more at ease with whatever might come their way in that 40-week journey.’

When I joined a doula collective, I read ‘Reproductive Justice: An Introduction.’ It just opened up my eyes. My own experience of a very healthy, safe home birth is not the experience of so many Black women. I did not have these barriers, but it made me so aware of so many barriers.

I learned about ARC Southeast and felt like, okay, I have this amazing background of my own lived experience as a birth worker. There’s no better cause to fundraise for, in my mind. It just felt like the most important thing for me to put all of my energy into.

Alexia R-H (ARC): After college, I was in Americorps VISTA, and so steeped in community work. I got a masters in nonprofit administration, so I have worked in a lot of social justice spaces. And mostly my background was in LGBTQ+ organizations, and I had a lot of interest in reproductive health.

I had always wanted to be a midwife, and that was not the path that my life went. But then I was like, ‘How can I still be involved in this space?’ So I became a lactation specialist. The lack of knowledge around reproductive health, mostly by Black and brown folks, was astonishing.

I got the framework of reproductive justice after the work, and so not coming into it knowing all of the buzzwords. Being at ARC, I see how all of these pieces fit together. This is reproductive justice; it is all interconnected. This looks like the work that I should be doing. 

Lauren O. (CAF): In 2019, I was a stay-at-home mom. This was three years after my own ectopic pregnancy, and I knew abortion care had saved my life.

When the six-week ban in Georgia happened, there was a rally in Greensboro, and some really awesome clinic escorts shared about the Carolina Abortion Fund, and specifically about being an abortion doula. At that point, I had a huge interest in becoming a lactation consultant and had also explored being a doula. So when I heard the word abortion doula, I was like, ‘Whoa, I gotta hear more about that.’

Then I went to my first Carolina Abortion Fund training, and it was such a transformative experience in my life. It was incredible to see inclusion practiced so radically in ways that I had never seen it practiced before, like making space for different neurotypes, making space for people with children and providing childcare, and providing support and no judgment to people with substance use issues who are taking the training. It was amazing. I really felt at home and transformed by spending time in that space. And so, yeah, this is where I need to be. So, I applied to be a board member a few months later. 

Jenice Fountain (Yellowhammer): I started a really localized effort called Margins. During COVID, kids didn’t have lunches, so I thought, ‘Let’s make the lunches in my kitchen and pass them out to the kids on foot. Let’s just get masks and hand sanitizer and do the things that the state won’t do.’

So we did that. We threw it up on Facebook. We’re like, ‘Hey, we should probably feed kids, since they’re not eating.’ Monetarily, we probably hit around $100,000 that year.

At some point Yellowhammer was writing me, ‘Hey, we should really balance out what we do around abortion access with some family justice work. We’re gonna send you like $15,000 for your backpack drive.’ I was like, ‘No, you’re not. You know, we’re crowdsourcing online. We’re not thinking like thousands of dollars.’ Eventually they’re like, ‘Do you want to get paid to do that work?’ And there’s me making nine dollars at a pizza place like, ‘Absolutely, anything would be great.’

I’ve been navigating poverty for a long time. I climbed out of a hole because someone trusted me to know what I needed, and gave me cash, which was always a point of Margins, too. 

From then on, abortion funds were really where I was like, ‘This is home.’

Kelsea McLain (Yellowhammer)

Kelsea McLain (Yellowhammer): For me, it was just my own abortion.

I had an abortion right after I got out of college. I was in a really precarious living situation where I couldn’t afford rent. I sure as hell didn’t have money for an abortion, and it sent me into a tailspin. I tried self-managing [with abortion pills], but I didn’t consult anyone who was an expert in that. I just Googled it. So I probably took risks with my health. And once I got a little bit scared about that, I kind of broke down and involved family that was very supportive, but I was terrified.

After it was all said and done, I was like, ‘This is not right, and this shouldn’t be.’ I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I had been through. So it led to clinic escorting, which led to a job working for an independent abortion care provider, and that ultimately led to getting involved with abortion funds. From then on, abortion funds were really where I was like, ‘This is home.’

Day-to-day operations look different at each fund. We asked the activists how they personally fit into the larger work of their organization. 

Alexia R-H (ARC): We’re currently a staff of 19. About half of those folks are on the helpline, so those folks are the people who receive calls. We get about 50 calls a day. They are the people who are doing everything from finding your hotel, the closest airport and the clinic, making sure you have transportation, making sure you understand what you need when you get to an airport to get on the airplane.

Then we have a couple of other teams, like our outreach and organizing team. They spend their time figuring out how and where to show up, so that could be anything from organizing within coalition spaces, tabling, preparing free Plan B kits, distributing them to our outposts.

Then we have our operations team, the backbone. We have some operations folks that are just responding to clinic invoices. We still get faxes from some clinics, so there is a person having to scan every single invoice, and that could be 300 in a given month. That has to be done to get checks out to clinics. The other operations people keep us up and running and safe; there is a lot of risk that comes along with our work.

Angel and I make sure everybody else has what they need to get their work done, removing any barriers to that work for them, be that safety, self care, burnout. 

Angel Whaley (ARC): A lot of that is us thinking through: In the face of all these barriers and laws, what if we need to pivot in a huge way? What might that look like in 2025? With six-week bans in some states, what does that look like?

Kelsea McLain (Yellowhammer): The biggest thing that we really want to stress is that Yellowhammer hasn’t done any funding at all since Dobbs. When people reach out to us seeking abortion care, we share with them what we understand and trust to be constitutionally protected resources, which is articles written by journalists that explain all of the things that we would explain to people if we had the legal right to do that without facing conspiracy charges in Alabama.

We are providing incredibly limited support for those folks. We got rid of our physical office and got a bus. (It’s very cute!) It’s an old snowcone-mobile that we retrofitted into a resource center on wheels. It goes wherever it’s requested.

We always try to partner with someone who’s already on the ground in that community and doing some sort of community outreach and advocacy so if folks don’t know us, they have a trusted entry point. And we bring diapers, safer sex kits, lunch, popsicles for kids—whatever we can bring to make sure folks have what they need.

We’re also in the process of just making sure we have infrastructure ready to go for if we can resume funding. That’s been a struggle post-Dobbs, just staying plugged in and connected and making sure I don’t lose contacts, and making sure that we don’t completely miss out on how things are working. If we win this lawsuit, it won’t be the end of the state attempting to criminalize our work. 

Yellowhammer Fund’s mobile unit helps distribute emergency contraceptives, condoms, pregnancy tests, period products, diapers and more. (Instagram)

Lauren O (CAF): After the Dobbs leak, things got so crazy. Staff was drowning. We [volunteer board members] had to start taking on some interviews, we had to start doing helpline shifts again, and it has kind of stayed that way.

We have a ton of committees that actively do work, from practical support to transportation to recruitment to rewriting handbooks. I think a lot of the board members prefer that to just showing up and voting, because that doesn’t feel like doing the work. 

While each fund is its own nonprofit, they collaborate whenever possible. 

Alexia R-H (ARC): We collaborate with at least 20 funds on a pretty regular basis.

For example, if someone is traveling from Georgia to Illinois, and we know they have Chicago Abortion Fund or Access Coalition there, our helpline team will coordinate and say, ‘Here’s what we can do. How can you all show up for this caller? Can we split it, or whatever the case may be?’

We have a pretty good working relationship with funds. That is something that’s been built over time. 

Jenice Fountain (Yellowhammer): Pre-Dobbs, we had great relationships with all the funds. We’re a little bit more careful now not to bring them into our shit with litigation, not to drag them into some foolishness, but also not to have us at risk.

There is a lot of power in large-scale fundraising efforts, but I think there’s even more power in just having a group of folks who know what your community needs, who are willing to fight for your community with a lot of tenacity.

Lauren O. (CAF)
CAF operates a confidential, toll free helpline that provides financial, practical, and emotional support to callers in North and South Carolina trying to access abortion care. (Facebook)

At each fund, staff and board members have to tread lightly in order to keep themselves both physically, emotionally and legally safe, while still letting abortion-seekers know that help is available.

In addition to strategies such as unlimited paid time off, funds have found creative ways of supporting each other. 

Angel Whaley (ARC): Our healthline workers are really good at saying, ‘I just did a really complex practical support case. I’m going to take a break.’ And the rest of the staff knows how that feels and says something like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna handle this next voicemail.’ We have a culture of transparency.

For 2024, we’re interested in doing some more trauma-informed training. Some funders have funding specifically for capacity building and resilience.

Jenice Fountain (Yellowhammer): I think we all have therapists. And we have paid healthcare that includes therapy. When you get hired, we have a lot of great practices. Say you don’t have clothes that you feel comfortable working in; we want to get you where you could comfortably engage with your work. 

Kelsea McLain (Yellowhammer): We have big dreams for self-care practices, like we would love to reach a point with our budget to have a self-care stipend for staff. When we get together and do our staff retreat, we try to make sure it’s in a place that feels restorative. We don’t track your mouse movements; staff are able to start their workday when they start their workday, and end it when they end it.

I think our work-from-home policies also do not lead to feeling like you are being surveilled and stressed out or not trusted. 

Activists spoke often about the importance of grassroots work. 

Lauren O. (CAF): I just appreciate the scrappiness, the smallness, the local, “grassroots-ness” of abortion funds.

Scaling up shouldn’t come at the cost of the soul of these organizations. And that soul is really what makes abortion funds powerful. It’s where we derive our power from. I think there is a lot of power in large-scale fundraising efforts, but I think there’s even more power in just having a group of folks who know what your community needs, who are willing to fight for your community with a lot of tenacity. 

Jenice Fountain (Yellowhammer): We’re building relationships in an intimate way. And really meeting people where they are.

Abortion funding requires great resilience. For many of the fund activists, this work is fueled by hope, rage, and a pull toward something bigger than themselves. 

I enter the work in rage. I am doing abortion access work in sheer rage and spite. 

Jenice Fountain (Yellowhammer)

Lauren O (CAF): I believe that this is such a sacred experience. No human being should ever feel like, ‘Well, I’ve got to figure out what I want to do with this pregnancy by midnight tonight, or else I’m just not going to be able to do what I want to do.’

Alexia R-H (ARC): As a queer Black person, I’m always fighting for my freedom, and that means that I am fighting for our collective freedom. If the most marginalized have everything that they need, that means that everyone is gonna have what they need. That is why I show up.

Jenice Fountain (Yellowhammer): I enter the work in rage. I am doing abortion access work in sheer rage and spite. 

Angel Whaley (ARC): I just have to believe that liberation is possible, or else I don’t know what I would do.

I think this year in particular, because in addition, there’s a genocide happening, there’s an election upcoming, and you can’t help but critique almost everything that is occurring in society right now. I work somewhere where we show up for each other. I work somewhere where we are unapologetic about our belief in the liberation of our Palestinian siblings. I look at my 3-year-old, and know that there are tens of thousands of her that are gone.

I work somewhere where we are helping people decide what they want to do with their lives, and one of our core values is autonomy and self-determination, and we believe in the collective power of the people. Even if I don’t see it, if my daughter gets to be liberated herself and I instill in her the fact that she is also responsible for the liberation of other oppressed people, then that’s what keeps me going.

While states in the Southeast have enacted some of the most prohibitive abortion bans in the nation, funds there have found innovative, holistic ways to support folks making reproductive decisions. These organizations are building radically inclusive workspaces that prioritize staff members’ well-being and create a culture of trust.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

About and

Hannah Dudley-Shotwell, Ph.D., is honors faculty at Longwood University. She is the author of Revolutionizing Women’s Healthcare: The Feminist Self-Help Movement in America (Rutgers, 2020).
Justina Licata, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of U.S. history at Indiana University East. Her research explores the history of population control, reproductive justice and social policies in the 1990s.