The fight for reproductive rights is all over the news these days; CultureMap's own Jeffrey Kreisberg denounced this state's war on women as the "Texas vagina intruders." I can't help but agree — quite vehemently, in fact.
The absurdity of a controversy over birth control — really? This is America in 2012, isn't it? — almost makes the abortion debate seem quaint. The disconnect is huge: A high percentage of those who are currently opposing access to and health care coverage of birth control are also anti-choice, support abstinence-only sex "education" programs and vote against social programs to help low-income women with all those unplanned pregnancies (that of course, should never be aborted).
Somehow, they seem to miss the mark: the access and affordability of birth control has a direct correlation on unplanned pregnancies. That is simply Biology 101.
"I worry about the future," says Sarah Weddington, the attorney who successfully argued the landmark Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. "Roe is still very much the law, although diminished in its intensity. Access is now the real issue."
But local non-profit organizations such as Lilith Fund are still fighting the good fight for reproductive equity, and making reproductive choices available to all women regardless of financial ability. The state-wide Lilith Fund, based in Austin, assists Texas women in exercising their fundamental right to abortion by removing barriers to access.
Take Rachel*, for example. From Brownsville, Rachel had lost her job and her home when she found out she was pregnant. She was in no position to have another child, and the two-year-old son she already had came first. Not knowing where else to turn, Rachel called the Lilith Fund hotline, whose volunteer discussed her situation and finances with her. Ultimately, Lilith Fund contributed $150 toward the cost of a safe and legal abortion.
The state-wide Lilith Fund, based in Austin, assists Texas women in exercising their fundamental right to abortion by removing barriers to access.
Rachel was grateful. "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the assistance that you have helped me and my family with," she wrote.
Last year, the Lilith Fund gave grants to more women that ever before in its 11-year history: More than 1,000, totaling more than $79,000. The non-profit operates on a modest $130,000 per year budget, and definitely faces challenges in the relatively hostile Texas political environment toward women's reproductive rights.
"The right to choose an abortion is meaningless without access to abortion services," states the Lilith Fund website. "Restrictions on abortion access and funding are discriminatory because they especially burden low-income women. We oppose all efforts to restrict abortion rights and are committed to fighting for access to abortion for all women."
The volunteer-staffed hotline has exploded, says Board President Shailey Gupta-Brietzke. "Our call volume has gone through the roof with the economic depression that hit in 2008. Since then, we've revamped how we handle/prioritize calls. We still have a great number of requests for help that we cannot meet." The fund hired its first paid staff member in late 2010, allowed the recruitment and training of more volunteers.
Political restrictions on abortion and attacks on women's reproductive health do nothing to reduce the number of people seeking abortions, say Lilith Fund board members. "Women who have decided to have an abortion still want to have that abortion despite political tactics designed to humiliate them and prevent access," Board President-Elect Amelia Long says.
"Restrictions on access drive costs up so that poorer women can't get an abortion. Laws like the forced ultrasound bill drive the real costs of an abortion up. A doctor must perform the ultrasound — not a technician — and that can cost more. There's a 24-hour waiting period, so patients have to take off work, find childcare and arrange transportation on two different days."
"I love working for the Lilith Fund, because I see how we directly change women's lives," adds Gupta-Brietzke " I started volunteering on the Lilith Fund because I wanted a volunteer opportunity where I directly helped women in need. I got to do that through the Lilith Fund. I am excited because the organization has grown so much under great leadership over the past few years. I am happy with where things are going and the new leaders who are stepping up to do that."
Political restrictions on abortion and attacks on women's reproductive health do nothing to reduce the number of people seeking abortions, say Lilith Fund board members.
The Austin-based organization serves the entire state of Texas, and to reflect its geographic coverage has in recent years recruited board members from outside Austin, like Gupta-Brietzke who is in Houston. Other board members have been in Houston, San Antonio and Beaumont, representing the fund's expanding base.
One of the Lilith Fund's annual fundraising events is upcoming; the third annual Bowl-a-thon is a fun event held in San Antonio (April 14, 2-5 p.m.), Austin (April 15, 1-5 p.m.) and Houston (April 28, 3-5 p.m.).
"We're looking for more captains to head up teams or spare bowlers who want to be placed on a team," says Heather Busby, board member and long-time Lilith volunteer. "Bowling is totally optional & fundraising is easy. Costumes and wacky themes encouraged. There will be weekly prizes for top fundraisers and various prizes given out the day of the event. Last year we raised more than $15,000 and this year our goal is $20,000."
To support Lilith Fund and its mission, you can support the Bowl-a-thon or make another donation to Lilith, or volunteer for the hotline and other volunteer needs. If you know someone who needs assistance, the Lilith Fund Hotline can be reached at 1-877-659-4304 (English) and 1-877-355-1461 (Spanish).
Weddington, who recently spoke at a Lilith Fund event, strongly encourages support of women's reproductive rights. "Be the voice of those who are not heard," she says. "Access is what makes the right have meaning."
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.