Here’s how philanthropy must respond
Reproductive justice – including access to safe and legal abortion – is foundational to eradicating poverty in this country. Research shows that those who are forced to carry out unwanted pregnancies are more likely to be unemployed, unable to afford basic needs, and experience household poverty lasting years following the pregnancy. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is an outrageous injustice that will push low-income families deeper into poverty – and the philanthropic sector must mobilize to ensure that does not happen.
The ruling will disproportionately and significantly harm low-income households, especially women of colour. Lack of abortion access will increase child poverty and strain public resources across the country – even in places considered safe havens of reproductive justice. For example, abortion providers in the San Francisco Bay Area, where my organization operates, are expecting huge increases in demand as surrounding states ban the procedure. While we want to be a safe and welcoming place for those unjustly impacted elsewhere to receive needed care, the stark reality is that this will also limit accessibility in a state where abortion access is already largely determined by geography and socioeconomic status.
Because this is the first time in 50 years that the right to an abortion is not protected by the Constitution, it’s a whole new landscape for many nonprofit and philanthropy organizations. The reversal of Roe v. Wade should be seen as a paradigm shift for our industry, a decision that will exacerbate inequality and make it even more difficult for people to escape and stay out of poverty. Every mission statement written, program designed, and theory of change we hold dear as poverty-fighting community-based organizations must be re-interrogated in light of the stripping away of reproductive justice and healthcare access. In short, the fight to eradicate poverty just got harder.
Funders can help communities as they confront this tectonic shift. While many community-based organizations will be on the front lines to restore reproductive rights, many more will see their clients and communities impacted by restrictive reproductive healthcare access. Across the board, nonprofit organizations and the communities they serve will be facing greater challenges in a post-Roe world. From mental health, to education attainment, and workforce development organizations, philanthropic leaders must recognize the new challenges all of these organizations are now facing to meet their goals and deliver on their missions because abortion care is illegal or less accessible. In addition to simply increasing the overall level of funding, we need to adopt new approaches to meet this unprecedented moment. These include:
1. Think outside of traditional methods. New conditions require new and innovative strategies. Not only is more funding necessary to improve access to reproductive healthcare – funders also need to make sure that money reaches under-resourced community organizations working on abortion and poverty-related issues. Due to the high cost of abortions and travel, local abortion funds have struggled to meet the needs of clients even before Roe was overturned. They urgently need funding to meet the already rising demand.
To make support as effective as possible, grantmakers should adopt nontraditional methods like flexible funding, general operating support, and waiving stringent reporting requirements. Many community-based organizations are small and understaffed; their time should be spent providing services to those in need, not writing grant reports. While these organizations might be new to your portfolio, they know their own needs – and the needs of the communities they serve – best.
2. Support nonprofit organizations in providing their workforce with reproductive healthcare. Nonprofits in affected states will see their own staff, no matter what field they’re in, struggle with healthcare issues or other personal crises due to a lack of abortion access. This is especially true given that women make up 73 per cent of the nonprofit workforce. While many large companies have proudly stated their plans to cover travel expenses for employees needing to cross state lines for an abortion, most nonprofits don’t have the resources to fly their staff across state lines to access care. This is an area in which funders can have a direct impact by providing nonprofits with the resources they need to support their employees.
While donors may bristle at the thought of funding overhead costs rather than more direct impact, the reality is that impact is carried out by staff. It’s vital that we invest in nonprofit staff to ensure that they have full access to healthcare to continue doing their important work.
3. Embrace political advocacy to fight for civil rights. For decades, interest groups that want to abolish reproductive rights have used their own philanthropic and nonprofit systems to chip away at civil rights through advocacy, education, and leadership development that led to this so-called victory. Now more than ever, philanthropic and nonprofit actors that believe our rights should be protected and expanded should actively and intently support advocacy, education, and legislative work to strengthen policies that protect and expand civil rights. This moment requires naming the issue and being unapologetic in our support of legal abortion access. This is the time to use every tool in our toolbox to fight for reproductive justice.
You don’t have to divert your work entirely to this cause, but you cannot pretend the ground did not just shift dramatically underfoot. Lack of abortion access will disproportionately impact poor and marginalized women, making it even more difficult for them and their families to escape poverty or achieve financial stability. Support those on the frontlines working to restore reproductive rights, so that you can continue fighting poverty meaningfully and stand up for, and with, women of colour.
Kevin Zwick is the CEO of United Way Bay Area.