If Roe V. Wade Ends, What Should Feminist Funders Do?

What a disturbing time for humanity. It turns out that several of our new Supreme Court justices are outright liars about their commitment to Roe. v. Wade as the law of the land. As a result, we are now facing the end of legal abortion care in the U.S. What should funders of a pro-choice world do?

Doctors and activists gathered at the state Capital in Rhode Island recently to protest the draft new SCOTUS ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. (Image credit: Womxn Project)

That’s a big question, but it all comes down to increasing funding for women. If we increase funding for women, particularly women’s health care and women in political leadership, we can increase the ability for women to control their own lives. These are two of the most significant areas that need more funding, if we want to solve the problem of access to abortion.

We know who some of the big funders are for abortion care, and we know that another one has recently come on board as a major funder: MacKenzie Scott. Her last round of grants including a staggering number of donations to Planned Parenthood of America and many of its affiliates.

Now we need more funders to follow her lead. What if every ultra high net worth person funded abortion care like MacKenzie Scott? Would this problem get better? Would we be able to ensure that women’s bodies can get care without interference from the state?

Hard to say, because the world hasn’t gotten there yet. In fact, we’ve actually lost ground in the effort to protect abortion care and end state interference for women in this procedure. 

That’s because the funding to address this issue is wholly insufficient. A January 2021 report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) found that, between 2015 and 2019, foundations gave $912 million to reproductive rights issues. Let’s break down that fact a little further. So that means out of an estimated $388 billion between 2015 and 2019 in foundation giving (estimates of total foundation giving 2015 to 2019: $68 b, $76 b, $81 b, $75 b, and $88 b = $388 billion), only $912 million went to reproductive health. That less than 1% of total foundation giving. That’s clearly not enough.

Even more staggering: NCRP reported that of that $912 million, only one-fifth (20%) was earmarked for abortion rights, and only 3% was specified for abortion funds, which help people access abortion if they don’t have the resources. 

It would be nice to think we could have this fight for the protection of a woman’s right to choose once and for all at some point, but that outcome is likely a ways down the road, given the funding struggles we continue to have.

There are some good primers out there on how to fund reproductive rights. For now, I’m going to keep my recommendations short and to the point:

  1. Offer to cover the cost of abortion care once Roe is overturned. Big firms like United Talent Agency are offering to provide that level of support for women, and a handful of corporations including Amazon, Citi, and Yelp have come out with a similar pledges, even as these pledges contradict their election spending for anti-choice candidates. More employers need to show their support for abortion care by making similar provisions. Foundations and foundation leaders can encourage this by offering this level of care to their employees, and providing support for their grantees to do the same.
  2. Support state-based efforts to fund abortion care. States can also work on getting their own abortion protection laws in place locally. We are working on this here in Rhode Island with the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act.
  3. Be the voice and face of abortion rights. Use your personal power to stand for abortion care. Join a demonstration. Start an abortion fund to help under-resourced neighbors in your community.
  4. Increase Foundation Giving: If you have a foundation or work for one, prioritize funding for reproductive rights, and specifically abortion care. From 2015 to 2019, foundation giving for reproductive rights averaged less $200 million a year. That’s not nearly enough. This number needs to rise quickly to address the growing threat to women’s health and rights.

Sarah Haacke Byrd and Mona Sinha Weigh In for Women Moving Millions

As leaders of Women Moving Millions, CEO Sarah Haacke Byrd and Board Chair Mona Sinha have penned the following:

Since the leak of the Supreme Court draft decision this past week, which would effectively end the right to abortion in much of the United States, we, along with many in our community, have been processing the implications of the news and wrestling with feelings of betrayal, anger, and hurt. This is what we know: at this moment our very freedom and right to equality of opportunity are under threat. 

The theme of our April Summit, “The Future of Democracy is Gender Equality,” with its corresponding program, was designed with intention and urgency. We are living through an unprecedented period of assault on women’s rights. The rise in autocratic behavior globally threatens women’s safety, health, and opportunity. At the heart of this field of battle is the right to reproductive freedom.

We are in a critical moment in the fight for women’s fundamental rights. When bodily autonomy is threatened, half of the population can no longer participate equally in society. Furthermore, poor women and women of color, already struggling under the weight of the pandemic, will bear the brunt of this decision. As a community dedicated to expanding the rights of women and girls, we now have a responsibility to act. 

As we always do during these moments of crisis, we start with listening. Early last week, we began to reach out to partners and members working in reproductive rights and justice to learn how we can be effective partners in this work. Here is what they had to say about what we and you can do now:

  1. Support the ecosystem of political organizations working to increase women’s political power and expand voting rights.
  2. Call upon business leaders to take a stand and center women’s rights in the workplace.
  3. Review your investment portfolio to ensure value alignment.
  4. Raise your voice and reach out to your state and Congressional representatives to let your opposition be known.
  5. Share information and resources with one another about funding priorities, advocacy opportunities, and learning resources. 

Reproductive rights and freedom are essential to realizing WMM’s vision of a gender equal world. We are committed to being partners in change in the long journey before us. 


Abortion as Love: Network of Funds Announces New Campaign

Reproductive Rights and Women’s Philanthropy: Aligning Our Resources

What Philanthropy Must Do to Protect Reproductive Rights

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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