The Woman Who Raises Money to Fund Abortions

Brittany Mostiller, the director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, is working to make sure reproductive rights aren't just for those who can afford it.

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Oct 21 2016, 4:05pm

Photo courtesy of Brittany Mostiller

In honor of Planned Parenthood's 100-year anniversary, we're taking an in-depth look at the history and future of reproductive rights. Read more of our coverage here.

By profession, Brittany Mostiller helps women who can't afford an abortion in any way that she can. As the director of the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF), and the only employee, she sits down and listens to voicemails from women all over the Midwest who have reached out through the organization's helpline. She gets callers from within the state of Illinois and from women in surrounding states with harsher abortion restrictions like Indiana and Wisconsin.

These women call Mostiller because they have nowhere else to turn: With bills to pay and without a safety net, low-income women who would typically have their medical costs covered by Medicaid are left in the lurch because of the Hyde Amendment, a provision that doesn't allow federal funding to pay for abortion care. They may have spent weeks trying to scrape the money together and now they have rolled past their first trimester. A procedure that would have been $500 has just doubled in cost.

Read more: 'Abortion Saved My Life': The Activist Who Shields Women from Clinic Protesters

Mostiller listens to the voices of women who need the money for a second trimester abortion, which can cost up to $1500. She can only give each caller $300 at the most, and in some cases she can't give them any money at all. "Folks leave a voicemail and we try to call them back within 24 hours. The voicemail is open three days a week between 3:30 and 6:30," she explains to me over the phone. Some days she'll get six calls, and other days she'll get up to 15, but in either case she can only deliver relief to a fraction of the callers. Last year, through grants and fundraising, CAF had $45,000, which they they were able to give money to 209 women. This year, they have $55,000.

"We let them know in the voicemail that we can only fund a third of our callers just because we get a lot of calls. We let them know that if they don't hear from us that means we're unable to fund them," she says pragmatically. "I don't like the idea of calling folks back to say that you can't fund them. They'll see the number and get their hopes up. I just know what it feels like, so I'm really conscious of that."

Still, she tries to help in any way possible. "Sometimes when we're not able to fund someone we can direct them to other resources. I'll try to coordinate with other funds in the Midwest to see if they can help them. I try to get as many resources out as possible. Even on our voicemail we leave some resources," she says. It's always nice to be able to give some kind of support even if it's not the crucial thing that they're calling for. It's never-ending, necessary work."

It sucks that we exist.

Indeed, empowering a woman to be able to make her own decision about her body and family can make a world of difference. Because of Medicaid limitations and other restrictions on reproductive rights in the US that target poor women and women of color, one in four low-income women seeking an abortion have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Taking away the right for women to decide whether and when to have a child has been linked to increased poverty, but having access to abortion care could mean that these women have the option of staying in school, of earning more money—it could change their lives.

Mostiller jokes that she shouldn't have a job: "It sucks that we exist. I don't want CAF to exist, in theory. But we are here for folks who need support."

When I ask her if reproductive justice has always been something she was passionate about, she says, "Absolutely not." She didn't realize the numerous barriers that women in the US have to face when they need an abortion until she had to have the procedure nine years ago. Before she was the director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, she explained, she was caller to the fund's hotline. In 2007, she was 23 years old, a mother of three, and "just surviving."

"Realizing that [Medicaid] wasn't going to cover it was hard for me because I had decided I didn't want to have another child," she says. "When I called CAF I needed about $500 and they granted me $300. I didn't know what to do except cry and say thank you because I was going to be able to get my life back and continue to raise and support my beautiful daughters. I felt like I could be me again. I could be mom again."

Read more: A State-by-State List of Lies Abortion Doctors Are Forced to Tell Women

It was because of the support she received, both before and after having her abortion, that she was inspired to become a volunteer with the organization. "They actually cared and gave a damn about me. They supported me all the way and opened my eyes to a lot of the injustices that women face, particularly when they're seeking abortion access," she says. "It just changed the whole trajectory of my life. It's all because I called CAF."

And now, as the director and a mother of four, she continues on the tradition of uplifting women who reach out to CAF holistically. "I always let folks know: I know what it's like to call, I know what you're going through. I see you. I support you. At this time in their life they're faced with a barrier to abortion access, and we're here to alleviate some of that stress. But also knowing that—as black, as people of color, as marginalized people—that they're still going to encounter many barriers in society. So we try to think about how we can help them feel empowered to navigate those as well," Mostiller says. "We just try to make stuff happen for folks."