A couple Alaska-based NWAAF board members palling around.
A couple Alaska-based NWAAF board members palling around. Courtesy NWAAF

Call volumes at the Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF) hotline remain the same this year compared to last year, but the number of people who cannot pay any money toward their abortion has increased since the pandemic kicked up last spring, said NWAAF board director Nilofar Ganjaie.

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Ganjaie attributed the trend to the economic toll COVID-19 has taken on the people they generally serve—low-wage workers who don't have the $100 to $400 they need to cover the unexpected cost of an abortion. Before COVID-19 even hit, about 40% of the population fit that description, according to a 2018 report from the Federal Reserve.

Since April 1, Ganjaie said "about 30%" of callers claimed to have been "impacted by COVID-19," meaning the virus caused them to lose some or all of their income or housing. That's a pretty large blast radius for a disease that has directly infected about 10% of the country.

Necessary policy changes related to the virus also increased the cost of the organization's services. These increasing costs and the very real prospect of challenge to Roe at the Supreme Court have left the group somewhat on edge this year.

The NWAAF issues small grants to help residents of Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon pay for all or part of the cost of abortions. They also arrange transport to clinics and provide some lodging for long trips. This year the organization paid for 1,000 abortions in the region and arranged rides and housing for 168 people.

The average cost of an abortion is $650, and this year NWAAF's average grant size increased from $360 to $380. "That may not sound like a lot, but for us $20 spread across 1,000+ callers adds up," Ganjaie said.

In the past, the average caller would ring up and say they could scrape together $250 or $300 for the procedure and would only need NWAAF to fill the gap. "But now they're calling and they literally have nothing," Ganjaie said, which can sometimes lead to conversations about whether the caller can sell any clothing items or gifts to help pay.

Before COVID-19, NWAAF volunteers could drive callers to appointments and offer guest rooms in their own places, but, in order to make the process safer for everyone involved, the organization now books AirBnBs with contactless entry and pays for ride-hailing cars. Though these measures cost more, they also work out a little better for callers, who end up having more control over when to call for a ride.

And all that said, plateaued call volumes have helped keep overall costs under control. So even though service costs and grant sizes have increased, Ganjaie speculated the pandemic may be sparing them more callers than they otherwise would have had. She guessed the lower-than-expected numbers may be attributable to fewer opportunities to meet people out and about, coupled with some noise—particularly in Alaska—from anti-abortion groups trying to classify Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers as nonessential businesses that should be subject to shutdowns.

Another boon: Ganjaie said donations are slightly up this year, thanks to renewed and increased grant funding, small-dollar donations, and a two-day bump following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

So financially things are going okay for now, but the specter of Roe falling sometime soon still looms large for the organization.

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If some Heritage Foundation dorks present a case that overturns Roe at the national level, then Idaho's trigger law, which has been in place since 2018, will automatically ban abortion. Ganjaie said 50% of NWAAF's callers come from Idaho, so if those clinics have to stop performing abortions, then the organization will have to start paying for a lot of people to travel over to Washington or another state.

"I’m honestly not confident that the Washington clinics we have can manage that influx," Ganjaie said. "There’s always this looming worst case scenario threat ahead, and those scenarios sometimes come true, so it behooves us to be as prepared as possible for it."

If you want to help them prepare, then open up your wallets and head on over to their website.