SCOTUS could overturn Roe v. Wade. How are N.H. reproductive health advocates preparing?
In the past year, New Hampshire has seen restrictions to reproductive health services due to funding cuts to reproductive health care centers and a ban on abortions after 24 weeks.
These changes made Josie Pinto’s work more urgent. Pinto is the executive director of the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire, which helps pregnant people in the state access abortion services. Pinto said the starting cost of an abortion is roughly $500, but can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars depending on gestation period, health complications and travel costs.
“Medicaid does not cover the cost of abortion,” said Pinto. “A lot of people that are low-income have nowhere to turn to besides abortion funds to actually get help with the procedure cost.”
The Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire officially launched in February of 2021. Since then, Pinto said it has provided $80,000 dollars worth of funding for 212 abortions.
Pinto says some funding covers travel costs for people seeking abortions out of state. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanvoer performs abortions after 16 weeks, but for people living in the southern part of the state, it might make more sense to travel to Boston.
Many people involved in the debate over abortion are expecting the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade this summer. Here in New Hampshire, organizers like Pinto are preparing for a post-Roe America.
“Even though we don't think abortion is going to be immediately banned in New Hampshire, we do think that there's going to be an influx of people traveling to our state and states across New England to get an abortion,” said Pinto.
Pinto says the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire is planning to support other funds in cities or states, like D.C. or Pennsylvania, which could be overwhelmed with people from southern states seeking access to abortion services.
NHPR’s Rick Ganley spoke with Pinto about access to abortion services in New Hampshire for Morning Edition.
Rick Ganley: Josie, the Reproductive Freedom Fund is fairly new. You've been operating for a little over a year now. How did you get started? Tell us more about it.
Josie Pinto: Yeah, sure. So we got started because I was working at Equality Health Center, the local provider here in Concord, and it was my job every day to actually be on the phone with patients scheduling their abortions. And all the time I had to help troubleshoot how we could possibly get them the money they needed for their appointment. And I would go home from work just feeling like there has to be more that I could do.
And I knew that this organization existed, the National Network of Abortion Funds. So I reached out to them and said, hey, we don't have one of these in our state of New Hampshire, I would love to help start one. And that was back in 2019. And it took us about two years to get the funding together to actually be able to give aid to patients. So, we did just launch in February of 2021.
Rick Ganley: Well, tell me how the cost of an abortion is a barrier to access.
Josie Pinto: Absolutely. So abortions are a really unexpected cost for a lot of people and roughly about $500. So we know that the majority of Americans don't have $500 to just spend in disposable income. But I do want to note that as you go up in gestation, the price really skyrockets. So just a few weeks ago, we had a patient that had a fatal fetal anomaly.
As you know, that is not something you can get an abortion with, right now, under the current 24-week ban. That person had to go to Boston and we had to pay $3,000 for their procedure. So the price can really get a lot higher once you look at higher gestation limits. So it is a huge barrier. And as a lot of people know, Medicaid does not cover the cost of abortion. So a lot of people that are low income have nowhere to turn to besides abortion funds to actually get help with the procedure cost.
Rick Ganley: What else have you learned in the past year about folks who are seeking abortion in the Granite State, and some of the hardships they might face or some of the access issues?
Josie Pinto: Yeah, I mean, there's a ton. Most people seeking abortion are already parents. So that's a huge part of their decision, is that they want to be the best parents they can to the kids that they already have. And so it's an economic decision for many. We also deal with a lot of patients that have to travel pretty far to get an abortion, particularly thinking of those up north and Berlin and Conway, often traveling hours.
For many people, Concord is the closest location. There are absolutely no providers up north. So we also see people crossing state lines, often to Massachusetts, to Vermont and Maine, just because that might be where the closest clinic is. We only have four places in New Hampshire that provide abortion.
Rick Ganley: I know there's no state data on who is accessing abortions and who needs them. Who are some of the people that have turned to you for help?
Josie Pinto: I think it's a wide variety of people, young people, like I said, parents, low-income people. You know, really, we serve anyone who needs it. We don't do any sort of means testing or anything. Like, anyone who calls us and needs money for their abortion, we fund them. And we've never turned a patient away.
Rick Ganley: And what's your funding model? How are you able to raise that money to provide that support?
Josie Pinto: Yeah, we're super lucky to have really great grassroots support. The most impactful thing someone can do with the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire is to donate to us monthly. And that enables us to help more people every single week because that's steady, reliable money coming in. So we've pretty much been able to do all this through grassroots efforts. To date, we've funded 212 patients and $80,000 worth of services.
Rick Ganley: I know many people on both sides of the abortion debate anticipate that this summer the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v Wade. Legislatures across the country are not waiting until then to put in place new restrictions that would aim to make abortion illegal. How is the Reproductive Freedom Fund [of New Hampshire] preparing for, you know, a possible post-Roe America?
Josie Pinto: Overall, this country is going to be factioned into places where you can get an abortion and places that you can't. So even though we don't think abortion is going to be immediately banned in New Hampshire, we do think that there's going to be an influx of people traveling to our state and states across New England to get abortion. So we're really looking at how we can meet that need.
And two things we're hoping to do come June when we're expecting Roe to fall, is start providing funding to anyone willing to travel to New Hampshire for their abortion. So right now, we only serve New Hampshire citizens. But if you're willing to travel here, we're going to fund you. And we're also looking at this area called practical support, which means not only are we paying for the cost of their abortion, but we're paying for things like gas, and child care, and hotel rooms and those other expenses that we know come with the cost of abortion as well.
Rick Ganley: But as you said, New Hampshire does not have an awful lot of clinics to serve patients that are here already. How will they be able to serve others who are coming in?
Josie Pinto: I definitely think demand will be high, and my only hope is that, you know, our surrounding states are also going to help. Vermont and Massachusetts both have more clinics than us. So my hope is that, you know, between all the states banding together, we can help meet the needs. But it's going to be a lot of regional negotiation between us, and we're lucky to have great relationships with surrounding abortion funds too. So we often help each other out when it comes to getting our patients the care they need.
Obviously, you know, the South is going to be hit the hardest. So our thoughts are just with how we can best support the funds that are going to have a much higher need level than us. And the states that are going to be the most traveled to, like D.C. and Pennsylvania, are areas that are going to see such a rise that I don't know that they'll be able to meet the needs. So I think we'll see a lot of those trickle-down effects of just the clinics getting hit the most, not being able to keep up with the need.