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As more states restrict abortions, patients need help with travel costs

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade later this year, 26 states will likely outlaw most abortions. People in these states would have to embark on long journeys, sometimes across the country, for the procedure. Reporter Katia Riddle brings us this story about an organization that helps people with this kind of travel.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: The volunteers who staff Northwest Abortion Access Fund say the work is a calling. And it's hard.

RILEY KEANE: It is exhausting. I am just, like, super wrapped up in their case. It's all I can really think about. My whole life is arranged around, I am getting this person their abortion.

RIDDLE: Riley Keane has helped hundreds of patients. She pulls up a chart on an iPad.

KEANE: You can see their intake is people that we haven't made contact with.

RIDDLE: It shows dozens of names. These are people who've called, looking for help.

KEANE: And after their needs are identified, they move into these relevant areas of the dashboard.

RIDDLE: Across the country, there are at least 80 funds like this one that help women with abortion costs. That's according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization. Keane says for the patients they help, abortion is already out of reach.

KEANE: Technical legality is really not the question. The question is access.

RIDDLE: Many are homeless or struggling with mental health issues. Some are teenagers. Like the majority of people who have abortions, many of their clients are already parents.

KEANE: I think when people think about who's getting abortions, they don't think about people who already have families. They don't think about people who are pregnant for the third, fourth, fifth, second time and are already stretched to capacity.

RIDDLE: The organization dates back to the late '90s. It's supported largely through private donations. Last year, they helped close to 1,500 people, including a 22-year-old named Christine.

CHRISTINE: The price was just going up and going up and going up. And I was so stressed out.

RIDDLE: Christine asked to be identified only by her middle name. She hasn't told her family about this abortion. At nine weeks pregnant, she faced a common problem. She couldn't afford an abortion right away. She started saving. But the procedure became more expensive with each day that passed.

CHRISTINE: I was just crying - and crying and crying and crying - for a while. I felt so hopeless.

RIDDLE: Christine's 15-month-old son sits on her lap during this interview. She and her boyfriend are struggling to support one child. She works as a barista in Las Vegas and is on Medicaid. She found Northwest Abortion Access Fund when it was nearly too late to terminate this second pregnancy.

CHRISTINE: My boyfriend and I couldn't believe, like, that anyone could be that nice.

RIDDLE: The organization helped to book her into a clinic in Seattle. Washington law permits later abortions than in Nevada.

CHRISTINE: Once we sat on the plane, I felt like everything was going to be OK.

RIDDLE: Total cost, including the procedure and the travel, was more than $8,000. She says she and her boyfriend never could have come up with that money. At no point did she question her decision.

CHRISTINE: I just told the baby from the get-go, I'm sorry, but I can't do it right now. Like, it's just - this isn't going to be best for anybody.

CHARLIE BROWN: And then over here - so patients start pretty much in this room by getting, like - this is some basic blood work.

RIDDLE: Dr. Charlie Brown works at the clinic in Seattle where Christine had her abortion.

BROWN: In recent years, people are traveling more and more to access care as more and more restrictions are imposed surrounding abortions.

RIDDLE: Brown says more than a third of his patients already depend on help from abortion funds just to get to his clinic.

BROWN: So everyone is kind of braced for what will happen later in the year with regards to the Supreme Court. If it happens, most of us won't be able to accommodate that additional demand.

RIDDLE: That demand is also worrying Riley Keane of Northwest Abortion Access Fund. Analysis from the Guttmacher Institute predicts that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it would affect 36 million women of reproductive age. That's the number who live in a place where abortion would be outlawed.

KEANE: We're seeing sort of a ripple spreading from this sort of stone that got thrown into the pond in Texas.

RIDDLE: Since Texas outlawed most abortions, Keane's been on the phone with a lot more patients from that state. She says it's given her a glimpse into a post-Roe world.

KEANE: We can't support everybody from every state in the nation if they have to travel to our service region to have a procedure.

RIDDLE: But, Keane says, she and Northwest Abortion Access Fund also can't bear the thought of turning anyone away.

For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ACORN'S "RETURN TO BLACKNESS (FOR GB)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.