The Reproductive Freedom Fund of NH sees surge in donations and prepares for influx of patients

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Kelly Omu was 16 weeks pregnant when she learned the devastating news – her unborn daughter had a life-threatening tumor called a fetal cystic hygroma on the back of her neck.

Doctors told Omu she would have to undergo further tests to determine the exact severity of the growth, but it was undoubtedly fatal.

“We asked them if it would make a difference if we waited the next two weeks, if we found out what caused it or if it was fatal,” she said. “And they said with the amount of swelling she had even at 16 weeks, she wouldn’t make it to birth.”

It took another two weeks for Omu and her husband, David, to find an abortion provider who was accepting patients after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even though New Hampshire law allows the procedure for up to 24 weeks. The couple checked into a clinic in Boston and traveled to Massachusetts on a cold winter’s day, walking amid shouts of pro-life activists shouting “you could have been parents”.

A few days earlier, the Jaffrey resident took to Facebook to express his frustrations with the whole process, particularly the difficulty of finding an accessible abortion in the Granite State and the cost. Through her messages, she was in contact with Josie Pinto, founder and executive director of the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire.

The fund helped pay for the $3,000 two-day abortion, a costlier and longer procedure due to its timing. Tests later revealed their daughter had Turner syndrome, a condition where a woman has only one X chromosome. Kelly and David Omu posthumously named her Mariposa, the Spanish word for butterfly – the symbol of strength and perseverance for families struggling with Turner syndrome.

The fund provides financial assistance to New Hampshire residents seeking an abortion in any state, such as Omu.

Once a leaked draft opinion from the United States Supreme Court in May revealed that the justices were about to strike down a woman’s right to an abortion nationwide, the fund received a wave of financial support.

“It was difficult to raise funds at first, but when the Supreme Court leak happened, we raised the same amount of money that it took us two years to raise in 14 minutes,” said said Pinto.

When the formal decision of the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was released in late June and rallies were held across the state, yet more support poured in.

“It’s really picked up,” Pinto said. “And that’s really great.”

Much of the money raised will be used for an anticipated new need – patients coming to New Hampshire to seek medical care in states where abortion is illegal or where clinics are overbooked.

Pinto expects the two main influxes to come from New York and Pennsylvania, neighboring states where abortion is restricted or are in the process of restricting it. When clinics there are overbooked, people will likely flock to New England states to book appointments, she said.

Women who already have ties to the Granite State, such as school or family, are also likely to come here if they need an abortion.

“I think the next step for us is to try to accommodate all of the new requests that we’re going to get from these out-of-state travelers, which might look like picking up more people at airports or get bus tickets. Kind of coordination at a much more regional level than what we actually had before that,” she said. “We were pretty focused on New Hampshire and sometimes helping someone get to Massachusetts or even all the way to DC, but I think those things are going to become a lot more in demand of us.”

Financial aid

Pinto started the nonprofit in 2019 shortly after discovering that New Hampshire had no program to help cover abortion costs.

“I moved to New Hampshire in 2017 for a job with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Massachusetts, which has three abortion funds. Very soon after living in New Hampshire, I realized that we had no not even a single abortion fund,” Pinto said.

She landed a job at the Equality Health Center in Concord, one of New Hampshire’s top three abortion providers.

“It was actually my job to answer the phone for patients and schedule appointments, so every day I was talking directly to patients who were scheduling abortion appointments who couldn’t afford to. pay them,” Pinto said.

In January 2019, she began laying the groundwork for the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire.

“I said, ‘you know what, I really don’t know anything about starting a nonprofit. But I know a lot of people and I think I can do it with the right team,'” she said. “Then I officially built a board and we got to work, but we didn’t launch until February 2021 because we wanted to raise enough money so we didn’t run out. money immediately. We spent about two years building the organization and raising the initial $30,000 before launch.

Her passion for activism began at UMass Amherst after she was sexually assaulted. The rally against sexual and domestic violence began to wear him down over the years.

“Over time, telling my story of being a survivor and doing this work felt really intense and I got to a point where I no longer felt like it was helping me heal,” said said Pinto. “The passion for it never died down, but I kind of pivoted more broadly because I started learning more about reproductive justice and all the different ways it can be applied to so many issues. different.”

The Reproductive Freedom Fund primarily provides out-of-pocket payments for abortions after a health center discovers financial need. The organization also offers transportation and is looking to expand to offer hotel accommodations as more out-of-state patients come to New Hampshire.

“We’ve never turned anyone away, and we’ve helped over 250 patients and distributed over $100,000 in direct abortion support,” Pinto said.

Sensitization

Another key component of the fund is lobbying and outdoor activism.

Just a day before her abortion, Omu testified before New Hampshire lawmakers in favor of adding an exception to the 24-week abortion ban for fatal fetal abnormalities like Mariposa’s.

Pinto helped Omu prepare to talk about her experience following her Facebook post.

“It felt like it was my only duty as a mother to speak for my daughter and myself, and I hoped that would inspire even someone who was in that room or watching that day, and it did so much more than that,” Omu said. “I believe my story has touched thousands of people, whether they see a butterfly and remember my story, or it is used in an in-depth discussion at a family celebration. It was worth sitting there listening to the hurtful and baseless comments made by the opposition that day, and I hope that one day our children and our mothers will not have to divulge such private information. in public to be heard.

Pinto sees continued lobbying as fundamental to the future of the fund, especially after the dismantling of the protections put in place following the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

“It’s safe to say that other abortion restriction bills will come, but I don’t know if they will pass. They certainly didn’t go overboard in the last session, but it’s still a concern when they’re even ranked first, because even if they’re not taken very seriously, they still take our ability and our time to organize ourselves against them,” Pinto said. “I think it’s time for people to be bold, and I think there are Republicans on our side. I really hope people put values ​​before party, and maybe that we will be able to get more votes and ensure that this fundamental right is protected.

Pinto sees personal stories as the way of the future to pass progressive reproductive legislation and overturn restrictive laws, as with Omu’s testimony.

“People who learn more about the concept of reproductive justice and really take advantage of this time to talk to people about their abortion lives, such as sharing their own abortion stories with people they know, can have huge impact, especially lawmakers,” Pinto said. “Obviously the legislative session doesn’t start again until January, so we’ll be working with abortion storytellers until then. I would welcome anyone who has an abortion story to share to contact us, and we can help them work on it so that when the legislative session begins, we have a whole bunch of abortion storytellers ready to share their story.

While the fund is still young, Pinto’s past activism has prepared it to see its mission accomplished.

“I organized from a place of personal experience and didn’t want more people to go through the trauma of your personal body being violated. I really feel like your bodily autonomy is the most important thing,” Pinto said. “If you don’t feel safe in your own body, how can you feel safe or do any other social justice work beyond that? This is a deeply personal question for me.

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