Like a lot of things these days, the trend got started on TikTok.
In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft decision in May and the subsequent overturning of Roe v. Wade last month, internet users concerned about the decision have been telling people seeking abortions that they can visit them to go “camping,” a new euphemism for staying in their homes while accessing abortion care.
Often accompanied by the Chainsmokers’ song “Paris,” the posts make offers ostensibly inviting patients over for camping trips or sightseeing vacations in abortion-legal states. According to the app, the hashtag #wegodowntogether, which references a part of the song, has had more than 44 million views with many of the videos being uploaded in the last few weeks. And while the posts may come from a desire to help those navigating the now treacherous landscape of abortion access in the US, those who have been working within the abortion healthcare system for years are cautioning patients against participating in the trend.
“It’s a culmination of people not understanding what the landscape of abortion access already looks like,” said Lauren O., a board member of the Carolina Abortion Fund.
The problem that Lauren sees with this new trend is obvious.
“While I’m sure the vast majority of people who are offering up their homes are safe, by encouraging people to seek help and seek shelter with strangers from the internet, you’re encouraging people to take on an exorbitant amount of risk,” she said. “And that makes it easy for someone who’s not friendly or safe or an advocate to abortion access to harm them or traumatize them into changing their mind. It’s not just a risk of antis, it’s a real risk of just random people who would like to have access to pregnant people for any nefarious reason.”
According to Lauren, who is also an abortion doula, there have already been instances of clients who were set up to rely on strangers due to the new trend.
“At one point a patient had arranged a ride through one of these networks and an anti-abortion protester had a similar car and the patient almost got into the car with them and drove away,” Lauren said. “We know from common sense that bad things can happen, and we don’t want to put people in situations like that when it’s not absolutely necessary.”
In North Carolina, for now, abortion is legal so taking unnecessary risks like staying with strangers doesn’t make sense, she said.
“Right now, it’s not illegal for people to travel out of state to access abortion care,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I will help you if you need an aborton.’ Mind you, people should help through established practical support networks where there are security measures in place.”
One of those established networks in North Carolina is the Carolina Abortion Fund, a nonprofit that has existed since 2011 and helps patients pay for abortions, lodging, travel and anything else they might need to access care.
Tara Romano, the executive director of Pro-Choice NC, said that her organization has been taking her lead from abortion clinics and abortion funds when it comes to helping patients.
“They have been doing this work for years, so we follow their lead on what they think is best for patients at this moment,” Romano said. “What we’re hearing is that they have systems in place. At this moment, what can work best is getting people where they can be safe, like a hotel. It’s about wanting to be respectful of abortion patients who are already going through a lot. They may have to travel for these appointments, some of them are already struggling if they have to spend the night and they may not want to do that at a stranger’s house.”
Molly Rivera, communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said that the organization recently hired a full-time patient navigator whose sole job is to make sure patients can access their appointments. That includes helping them pay for hotels, gas or just making sure they are informed about barriers to access like North Carolina’s 72-hour mandatory delay for all abortions.
“There are many organizations like the Carolina Abortion Fund and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic who have been helping people get an abortion for many years,” Rivera said. “We have the infrastructure in our state to make sure people can make an appointment and get to their appointments as well.”
In the days after the leaked Supreme Court draft decision, the Carolina Abortion Fund saw a huge increase in the number of doantions to their organization. In a blog post from May 6, the organization stated that they had raised close to $110,000 and received donations from 1,125 one-time donors – an increase from the typical 50. According to the post, the $110,000 allowed the organization to care for 423 patients in North and South Carolina with an average pledge of around $260. As of May, the organization had received about 4,000 calls and had been able to fund about 60 percent of them. In order to make that 100 percent, Lauren said that people should use their goodwill to donate to abortion funds.
“I don’t discourage anyone from participating in mutual aid outside of practice support networks, but in situations when someone is needing to access medical care, you have to ask yourself, Is it more helpful to offer my home or my time and money to try and help them reach the financial goal to stay in a private hotel?” Lauren said. “People seeking care want privacy, they want space to process what they’re experiencing in a neutral territory where they don’t feel like they’re encroaching on someone’s home. It is almost universally better to put your time, effort and resources into raising money for people to do that in the way that will be the least traumatizing and the most affirming that it can be.”
Who is most likely to need help accessing abortion care?
Another reason why advocates are discouraging the couch-surfing trend is because often the people needing help when seeking abortions are ones who come from marginalized backgrounds and are already more vulnerable.
“We know from history that abortion bans particularly harm people who are low income, in rural areas and who lack access to healthcare: young people, undocumented people, BIPOC people,” said Rivera. “So it would stand to reason that more restrictions would especially harm these folks. People with resources will always be able to get an abortion.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, one of the leading research organizations focused on reproductive rights, 75 percent of abortions in 2014 were among low-income patients. And this disparity means that patients who are low-income or lack insurance often struggle to come up with the money to pay for procedures and, as a result, experience delays or are forced to carry their pregnancies to term. According to the same data, the cost of an abortion at 10 weeks was approximately $480 about a decade ago.
“The most common factor of people looking into options like this are they are working-class, they live paycheck to paycheck, and they are already struggling to afford the cost of their procedure,” Lauren said. “Part of the reason folks end up in these informal structures is a lack of awareness of abortion funds. These are folks who are most likely in rural areas. When people are isolated they don’t know that extended networks like abortion funds exist.”
In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, more patients from surrounding states that have banned abortion like West Virginia and Alabama will be seeking care in North Carolina. Currently in South Carolina, abortion is illegal after about six weeks of pregnancy but the conservative state legislature is considering even greater restrictions.
“We’re seeing people travel from out of state, but also North Carolina is a big state,” Romano said. “There’s going to be more people traveling into this state because North Carolina is still a state where abortion is legal and that’s rare for the Southeast.”
According to Rivera, in the last week, more than a third of the patients that Planned Parenthood was seeing in North Carolina for abortion care were from out of state with some of them traveling from South Carolina, Tennessee, but also as far as Louisiana and Texas.
“We are in a new reality,” Rivera said. “We’re all going to need to confront this. This includes new risks that didn’t exist before.”
One of the risks is the possibility that states start passing laws that criminalize not only the patients who seek abortions, but those who help them. These are often called “aiding and abetting laws” and are similar to the law passed in Texas which empowers private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.
“This is a trend that we need to take seriously,” Rivera said. “These laws come with penalties and prison.”
That’s just another reason why people who want to help abortion patients should do so through established networks.
“Using this thinly veiled language doesn’t fool anyone,” said Lauren. “It doesn’t fool antis who may want to antagonize you because you’re seeking to help people; it doesn’t fool law enforcement; it doesn’t fool an anti-choice organization who may want to sue you. It doesn’t protect people seeking abortions or you.”
For now, abortion is protected in North Carolina. In the last week, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an Executive Order protecting abortion access, but with the November elections coming up, Rivera said that Republicans may gain the supermajority they need to start banning abortions here.
“The best thing that people can do is pay attention to this election,” Rivera said. “The Supreme Court has given a majority of these decisions to state lawmakers. This election, they are on the ballot. We have the opportunity to either promise to protect or ban abortion. If anti-abortion legislators are able to win or regain a supermajority in the legislature this fall, they will have the ability to overrule any veto by Gov. Cooper.
“People need to know that abortion access is not guaranteed and if we lose abortion access in North Carolina, a huge region of the country will be lost,” Rivera said.
So if people really want to help keep abortions safe and legal, Rivera encouraged them to donate to local abortion funds and vote, and leave the rest to those who have been fighting the fight.
“We have been preparing for this for a long time,” she said.
To learn more about the Carolina Abortion Fund, read NC Health News’ article here or visit their website. To find an abortion provider, visit abortionfinder.org or plannedparenthood.org.
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