Advocates push Minneapolis to provide money to support abortion access

People hold signs and yell during a rally outside.
Kendall Theroux holds a sign reading “My body my rules” during an abortion rights march and protest at the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17.
Tim Evans for MPR News

The abortion fund, Our Justice, along with Pro-Choice Minnesota and Minneapolis City Council members Aisha Chughtai and Robin Wonsley, have launched a campaign to get the city to provide direct funding for abortion access.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, ending nationwide constitutional protections for abortion, Minnesota became an island among surrounding states with restrictive abortion laws and limited services. Providers and advocates say they’re already seeing an increase in need for support and services.

“We're already at double the requests that we were at this time last year,” said Megumi Rierson, communications director with the abortion fund Our Justice.

“We're seeing significantly more patients coming specifically from Texas, which will likely mean that requests will be a little bit more expensive,” they continued, “Because it will not only be abortion funding, it will also be a matter of us getting a hotel room for folks. And also referring out for travel support.”

Those travel costs, especially right now with inflation, can be significant.

With several states limiting abortion access, patients are now forced to seek appointments in far-flung places, often on short notice. That means booking a last-minute flight, which can cost hundreds — or thousands — of dollars, or potentially driving hundreds of miles. And that’s not including other costs, like multiple nights of hotel stay, local transportation, childcare costs, potentially lost wages and the cost of the procedure itself.

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That’s what led these groups to follow in the footsteps of other cities like Portland, Chicago and New York, all of which have allocated money to abortion funds as part of their city budget.

Rierson said they’re asking the city to create a general item in the budget for $800,000 that would go to the fund. It would be managed by the city health department, and available through an open RFP process to “any group that operates in Minneapolis to provide abortion funding care, abortion funding, practical support and travel and lodging support.”

So far, several members of the Minneapolis city council said they would support the fund. Others didn't respond, or said they haven't had time to review the proposal.

In an interview with MPR News, Mayor Frey said that since the leaked draft Dobbs opinion came out in early May, he’s been speaking with officials at Planned Parenthood — and now stakeholders in Hennepin County — to see how the city can best use its resources to support people seeking abortions.

As for creating an abortion fund, Frey said no idea is “presently off the table.”

“I love the proposal, in that we want to have a fund that's available for people that have access, or that need access to it, need to be able to get to our city, get to our state, to have safe abortions because we view our state as a safe haven,” the mayor said. “How exactly that's funded and where it comes from, that's part of the work that needs to happen now going forward. And also where our city resources are best utilized.”

Some advocates say this model, of having established organizations apply for the funding and then distribute it to people in their networks, is the best way cities can ensure financial support gets to the right place quickly.

“When a city is looking at funding an initiative, often it is most effective to get that program started by funding work that's already happening in the community. And that's a way that public dollars can plug in immediately to important work that's already happening,” said Neesha Davé, deputy director at the Texas-based Lilith Fund.

She previously worked in an Austin city council office when the budget amendment passed in 2019 to set up a fund to help pay for costs associated with abortions, such as childcare, lodging and travel.

“Abortion-access organizations, like abortion funds and practical support organizations, have rich expertise in helping people access abortion care, and in filling gaps where governments have failed,” Davé said.

Rierson said right now they’re working on gathering public support for this campaign. As of July 21, they had around 3,000 signatures on an online petition. They plan to deliver the signatures to the mayor in mid-August, before he submits his proposed budget.