Abortion Support Network (ASN) is a grassroots charity is a grassroots charity that provides financial help, information on arranging the least expensive abortion and travel, and accommodation in volunteer homes to women forced to travel from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man (surprise! It’s illegal there!) for abortions. We do this with a mobile phone, a spreadsheet, a website, a bank account and countless volunteer hours. We do this because “I can’t afford an abortion” shouldn’t be the only reason someone becomes a parent.
This year, ASN turned five years old. Since we launched in October 2009 we’ve helped over 1,600 women and families to get the information, the practical advice, and, most importantly, the money they need to get safe and legal abortions in the UK. In five years, we’ve heard from an incredibly diverse range of people. Women as old as 51 and girls as young as 13. Women in or escaping abusive relationships, pregnant as result of rape, with serious mental or physical health issues. Women with children, women with grandchildren, women with no children. Married couples who felt they had enough children already. Students wanting to continue their educations rather than their pregnancies. And what did these people all have in common? They were pregnant. They didn’t want to be pregnant. They are poor. And they never in a million years thought they’d be calling a total stranger in England to ask for money.
And our phone never stops ringing. The number of times we hear from women and families in the worst imaginable circumstances never decreases. In 2009, we heard from 4 women. In 2010, 89 women. In 2011, 253 women. So far this year, we’ve heard from well over 500 women. In 2015, we estimate nearly 700 more women will contact us, and we want to be able to help them, and also to step up our outreach efforts to women who haven’t heard of us yet. At the same time, we’re a group of volunteers. With the exception of one part time role funded by a £7500 grant from The Feminist Review Trust for the duration of 2014, ASN is run by volunteers and funded almost exclusively by private individuals. So we find ourselves at a crossroads: scale up by paying someone a proper wage so ASN can continue to be here for people fleeing Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man for abortions; or scale back and reduce the services we offer and the number of people we are able to help.
Given the ever-decreasing pot of trust and foundation monies available for charities – especially small, grassroots, women’s sector charities – we decided to look to the group that has from day one enabled ASN to be the helpful voice at the other end of the line: private, socially minded individuals. On 1 December, we launched our crowdfunding campaign, The Next Level. We started with £10,800 from three anonymous donors and are hoping to raise an additional £16,500 from the crowd so that we can be here not only next year, but for the next three, five, ten years and beyond.
Though we live in hope, and despite the herculean efforts of campaigning groups such as Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign, Northern Ireland’s Alliance for Choice and Abortion Rights UK, it is unlikely that there will be abortion law reform any time soon. And we know that making abortion against the law, or criminalizing it in any way, does not stop or even decrease abortion. It just means that, when faced with unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, women with money have options and women without money have babies. Or, as we have discovered, women without money or access to money will do dangerous things. ASN has heard from women who have ingested chemicals, overdosed on medication, tripped themselves downstairs, searched online for herbal “remedies.”
While groups work for much needed law reform and to change the beliefs of people who can’t seem to grasp that choosing not to have a child at a particular point in your life, or ever, is in itself a valid, moral decision that is, to put it bluntly, not their business, Abortion Support Network is the right-now solution for the women who need abortions today. And we are so, so grateful for the support we receive.
Mara Clarke is the Founder and Director of Abortion Support Network. Please visit www.abortionsupport.org.uk to sign up for their eNewsletter or to follow ASN on Twitter or Facebook, or http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/asn-the-next-level/ to make a donation to #TheNextLevel campaign.