Crowdfunding for All—Except Women?

“It’s just been really, really painful…Sometimes the pain is so bad that I can’t get out of bed, and I can’t go to the bathroom. When I cough, it feels like my organs being shredded inside of me.” These are the words that Bailey, a young woman suffering from a pregnancy gone wrong, used to describe her condition to Vice after her crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a much-needed abortion was abruptly halted.

Last week, Bailey’s campaign was shut down by GoFundMe, the crowdfunding site that claims to be “for everyone.” The site alleged that they had received complaints about the project’s irreverent wording and title, “Stop Bailey from Breeding.” After disbanding Bailey’s campaign, however, GoFundMe went a step further and updated their content guidelines so that all crowdfunding ventures involving abortions will no longer be permitted. Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists will still be able to use the site to raise money for their cause.

Many of GoFundMe content guideline updates actually make sense. For instance, the site will not allow users to raise funds to support illegal activity, get-rich-quick schemes, militias and gangs, or treasonous behavior. The site will also not permit users to fundraise for projects involving “sorcery, unexplained sciences, or absurd claims,” which could be seen as a positive reinforcement of reason and science over New Age pseudoscience and superstition.

However, the reasonableness stops there. Not only does GoFundMe specifically state that projects using the site must not support abortions, but it also classifies abortion as a “termination of life,” an ideological statement inconsistent with the medical definition of abortion. Since the site has announced its new policies, organizations on the religious right, such as Live Action and Life News, have defended GoFundMe’s new policies, though they would likely be up in arms if the site also banned crowdfunding for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” and other anti-abortion projects.

Fortunately, Bailey was still able to raise enough money to have the abortion procedure she needed, but far too many women in the U.S. struggle to afford basic abortion care. The average full-price for a first trimester abortion is $470, an exorbitant cost for a woman living below the poverty level or just above it who is trying to support herself and her family. This cost is compounded when one takes into account the fact that, due to state-mandated waiting periods and TRAP laws, women must often take time off of work to travel to a clinic, see a doctor, and finally have an abortion procedure. Women lose, on average, nearly $200 in wages because they must miss work to have an abortion. Even women with health insurance can have difficulty affording an abortion, as many states have prohibited insurance companies from covering the procedure. Nonprofit organizations like the Lilith Fund can try to mitigate the costs of an abortion, but they all too frequently see more demand for their financial assistance than they have funds to distribute.

Ideally, women wouldn’t need crowdfunding to pay for their abortions because the religious right and politicians sympathetic to its cause would not continue passing laws that increase the hurdles and high costs that women must overcome to access the procedure. However, given the enormous expense and other difficulties that women face in obtaining an abortion, crowdfunding is a means by which some women can afford the procedure. When GoFundMe prohibited projects that fund abortions, it placed one more barrier in the way of women who need to terminate a pregnancy.

Many of GoFundMe’s updated policies make rational sense, but anyone with a sense of empathy should be moved by Bailey’s appeal to end a pregnancy that is causing her excruciating physical pain. The callousness with which anti-abortion groups have dismissed her agony is appalling, as is GoFundMe’s carelessness toward women’s need for abortion care in a political climate that continues to limit their options for obtaining the procedure. We should all be empathetic to the plight of women in need of abortions, for whatever reason, who could not access the procedure without crowdfunding.

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