After Roe, the network of people who help others get abortions see themselves as ‘the underground’


NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Waiting in a long post office line with the latest shipment of “abortion aftercare kits,” Kimra Luna got a text. A woman who’d taken abortion pills three weeks earlier was worried about bleeding — and disclosing the cause to a doctor.

“Bleeding doesn’t mean you need to go in,” Luna responded on the encrypted messaging app Signal. “Some people bleed on and off for a month.”

It was a typically busy afternoon for Luna, a doula and reproductive care activist in a state with some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. Those laws make the work a constant battle, the 38-year-old said, but they draw strength from others in a makeshift national network of helpers — clinic navigators, abortion fund leaders and individual volunteers who have become a supporting cast for people in restrictive states who are seeking abortions.

“This is the underground,” said Jerad Martindale, an activist in Boise.

Abortion rights advocates worry Idaho is a harbinger of where more states may be headed. Here, abortion is banned with very limited exceptions at all stages of pregnancy, and a law signed by the governor but temporarily blocked forbids adults from helping minors leave the state for abortions without parental consent. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about Idaho’s enforcement of its abortion ban in hospital emergencies.

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said laws like Idaho’s protect the unborn. While she doesn’t know if anything can be done to prevent people from helping others get abortions, she said, “I would certainly wish that they wouldn’t do it.”

But Luna and others consider their work mutual aid, as essential to the community as a volunteer fire department.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just acted scared and didn’t do the things that I do,” said the single parent of three boys, who uses the pronoun they. “I know I’m put here to do this.”

Luna, who traces their family back generations in Idaho, lives and works out of a small house inherited from their grandparents. Their reproductive rights activism goes back to giving out condoms in eighth grade. And their abortion — while married and living in New York — only strengthened their resolve.

Luna helps run Idaho Abortion Rights, launched in 2022 with extra bail money that was raised after they got arrested at a protest. In their home office, they proudly display a name tag from the arrest near abortion pill flyers with sayings like “The Future is in Our Hands.”

Strongly believing those pills should be accessible, they once brought some to the state Capitol steps to prove residents could still get them online, and recently got a face tattoo of a mailbox with abortion pills falling out of it.

Luna is a full-spectrum doula, aiding in births as well as abortions, and trains others how to be abortion doulas. They mostly provide remote support, advice, answers to questions throughout the abortion process and referrals to resources like, the Northwest Abortion Fund, out-of-state clinics and domestic violence shelters.

“We’ve always found a way to make sure people get help no matter what that help is,” Luna said.

Sometimes, that’s getting to an abortion clinic. Luna once flew to Colorado with a woman whose fetus died at 28 weeks gestation, staying by her side for the two-day procedure. “She needed somebody just to be there for emotional support and tell her what to expect,” Luna said.

They also care for people after abortions. One April morning, eight women — from Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska — requested aftercare kits. Luna assembled them on the couch, pink-and-purple braids falling in front of their face as they filled packets with supplies like sanitary pads, Advil, over-the-counter stomach and nausea medicines and red raspberry leaf tea.

Before going to the post office, Luna loaded their vehicle with big boxes of condoms for the evening’s “packing party” — where volunteers would assemble other prevention-focused kits to give away.

In places where abortion is legal, navigators at clinics provide some of the same sorts of logistical help Luna does, such as linking patients with abortion funds to pay for procedures and travel. In the year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the National Network of Abortion Funds said it saw a 39% increase in requests and doled out around $37 million to people seeking abortions.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has three full-time navigators for its 21 clinics, one of them virtual, in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Together, the navigators handle about 1,000 calls a month — some from out-of-state patients who drive up to 17 hours for care, said Adrienne Mansanares, the organization’s president and CEO.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland also has a three-person navigator program, which handles an influx of patients from restrictive states like West Virginia or places like Virginia, where the procedure is allowed until the third trimester but demand is so high that many people can’t get appointments.

“What we’re doing is just making it so that they can access something safer, sooner and with less complications,” said Tica Torres, who oversees the others on the team.

Abortion opponents, meanwhile, try to steer people away from ending their pregnancies and toward centers they say also provide support like pregnancy-related information, parenting classes and baby supplies.

For someone “not sure how she is going to move forward and trying to figure out what resources are available for her if she wants to carry the pregnancy to term, there is support” at about 3,000 locations nationwide, said Tobias, of the Right to Life Committee. “That is definitely the better way to go.”

Some people facing unplanned pregnancies find answers online.

DakotaRei Belladonna Frausto, a 19-year-old student at San Antonio College in Texas, recalled feeling “clueless and overwhelmed” when they became pregnant a couple of years ago. They knew they wanted an abortion, but learned they’d have to travel 700 miles to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to get one. They eventually got help through a Facebook group.

Frausto, whose family is Mescalero Apache, decided to start a new private group, which has several chat rooms where 500 members can share abortion experiences, resources and support — and find others of similar diverse backgrounds.

“What makes this group so effective,” Frausto said, “is that people know everyone in the group who is actively answering questions has been in the same spot.”

Many of the two-dozen volunteers who gathered at a Boise community center for Luna’s “packing party” shared their stories as they assembled boxes containing emergency contraception, condoms and information about accessing abortions.

Stephanie Vaughan, 39, said she had an abortion at 17, when a baby might have kept her from going to college and getting a good job. Martindale, standing across the table from her, recalled how a girlfriend was able to get an abortion when they were teens.

“No one knows how to raise a kid if you’re a kid,” said the now-45-year-old.

Martindale and his wife, Jen, devote much of their free time to Idaho Abortion Rights. At any point, they have 3,000 packages of donated emergency contraception to give away at their house.

“I have children that can be pregnant. I live in a state with a lot of marginalized people,” said Jen Martindale, 48. “It’s a community responsibility.”

Tori Coates, a 20-year-old Starbucks barista, said if she got pregnant right now, “my option personally would be to suffer. I can’t afford to leave the state.”

By the time volunteers headed home, the waning light of the day illuminated the mountains. The Martindales had more work the next morning: taking reproductive health supplies to local shops that offer them for free.

Their first stop was Purple Lotus, a clothing and accessories store. Jerad Martindale set a box on the counter, which worker Taylor Castillo immediately opened. “Pregnancy tests? Oh good,” she said. “Those have been flying!”

Customers ask daily about the supplies, she told the couple, especially emergency contraception. Teens often duck in to grab them.

Castillo said she’s glad to help. When she suffered a miscarriage in 2021, her doctor prescribed the same pills used in medication abortion. She wonders what would happen if she needed those pills today.

“Now, everything is on fire,” she said. “The good thing is, there are mutual aid programs that are willing to stand up for us.” ___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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