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What is your future worth? — We may have lost abortion in health care, but we can’t forget the women

In three and a half years, I’ve talked to a couple hundred women and girls who’ve called the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. I’ve had days where I was on the phone every single hour with a woman trying to get onto MassHealth but who had to borrow her boyfriend’s mother’s phone and didn’t want her to know what was going on. I’ve spent three-day periods talking to a hospital social worker about cultural competency and language accessibility. I’ve had to pretend to be selling magazine subscriptions, or had to hang up when a husband or boyfriend picks up the line.

I’ve told countless women to take a deep breath, to put the phone down if they need to. I’ve cried with lots of them, and I’ve kicked the wall over the unfairness of it all after hanging up.

I’ve told them that they are good people doing their best, that they are worthy, that they are deserving, and that they are the experts in their own lives.

These are the stories that were left out of health care reform. These are the women trying to take care of themselves and their families. And while the rest of the nation marches on, they’re still struggling to make it. Every year, over 170,000 women need abortions that they can’t afford. That’s the legacy of the Hyde Amendment — and the new legacy of the health care reform act.

Throughout April and early May, abortion funds around the country are throwing bowl-a-thons to raise money to pay for abortions. Bloggers like Katha Pollitt and Amanda Marcotte and the crews at Feministe and Abortioneers are taking part in a virtual Blogger Bowl-a-thon.

We’re all pulling together because there are too many women being left behind:

A few years ago, I partnered with Nina, a young immigrant woman living outside Boston. Shortly after arriving in the U.S. with her father, Nina attended a high school party. There were boys at the party, so she didn’t tell her dad where she was going. Late in the evening, surrounded by people she still hardly knew and with whom she barely shared a common language, Nina was raped by a classmate. She kept this a secret from her father, because certainly he would tell her that this was her fault. After all, she had disobeyed, she had spent time with boys.

And then Nina learned that she was pregnant.

Nina was 17 — too young, under Massachusetts law, to get an abortion without a parent’s permission or the consent of a judge.

The judge thing baffled Nina, and she couldn’t imagine having to stand in front of a strange man in a robe, a gavel in his hand as he listened to this very private, very shameful story, deciding if Nina was too immature to decide not to be a parent. So Nina waited. She would be 18 soon enough.

On the day of her 18th birthday, Nina went to a social worker to seek help in getting an abortion. Her social worker called the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. I took that call.

Because Nina had waited to turn 18, she was very close to the legal limit for abortion in Massachusetts and her procedure was going to be very expensive. We gave Nina everything that the EMA Fund had to give for the month, and then pooled the resources of six other abortion funds around the country. In 18 hours, we raised the $3000 that Nina needed.

A prison of laws and violence and politics and colonialism had put Nina where she was. Helping her get her abortion couldn’t solve all these things — but the EMA Fund invested in Nina’s vision for herself and her future. We believed that Nina’s life was worth the money and the time we spent.

We believe that all people who call abortion funds are worth the $50, the $3,000, the 15 hours it takes to get them what they need. We train our activists to be compassionate partners in a difficult, draining process.

We think that all people are worth everything that we can give. And we know that tomorrow, it could be our friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, lovers, neighbors, or us calling abortion funds for help.

So. What are you worth?

Please help us strike back at Stupak, subvert the Hyde Amendment by paying for abortions on Tax Day, and extend a helping hand to the hundreds of thousands of women who need help each year paying for their abortion care. Find a bowl-a-thon in your community, give to the blogger of your choice, or start your own page.

Let’s strike down some of these barriers to abortion care. Enough is enough.

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