For four years before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states, an all-volunteer group of Chicago area women called the Jane Collective served as a kind of Underground Railroad for women wanting to terminate their pregnancies.
The "Janes" took the women's medical histories, arranged for their counseling, provided support services such as child care, and comforted them before, during and after the procedure; they also launched a fund for low-income women. By the time the Roe ruling codified reproductive rights for all Americans, the group had overseen roughly 11,000 abortions.
Now that the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has overturned Roe, allowing states to set their own standards on reproductive rights, women in 26 states find themselves with limited or no legal recourse to abortion. Many of them will find themselves in the same situation as the women who were helped by the "Janes": urgently seeking an abortion and unable to find or afford the help they need.
The Supreme Court's decision is not expected to affect legal protections for New Jersey residents, who are protected by some of the strongest abortion legislation in the nation.
In fact, in anticipation of it, state regulators are now allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives — more than 15,000 licensees — to be trained to perform the procedure if they choose. Gov. Phil Murphy also has stated that he will not cooperate with anyone trying to prosecute individuals who get abortions in New Jersey, or their providers.
These measures could prove to be big incentives for out-of-staters seeking abortion services in New Jersey, and many residents frustrated by Roe's overturning want to do something — anything — to assist them.
"There's been a swelling of people asking how they can help," says Marcia Mann, vice president of development and external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey. "Volunteers and supporters are contacting us daily."
Here are some of the many ways these groups are helping.
In addition to the national Planned Parenthood Federation, which disburses funds to affiliates throughout the country, donors can give directly to PPMNJ's recently created Abortion Support Fund. The fund ensures that New Jersey residents, as well as anyone who comes to New Jersey for abortion care, will receive the health care services and logistical assistance they need, including transportation assistance and hotel expenses.
Supporters are encouraged to raise money through house parties, movie nights and dedicated social media pages. Recent fundraisers held by Montclair's Rabble Rise Doughnuts, Java Love and DFIT Studio helped raise $24,000 within a couple weeks, Mann says.
New Jersey Abortion Access Fund, one of 80 funds that make up the National Network of Abortion Funds, provides financial assistance to people seeking abortions by partnering with providers and social service agencies in the state; it also offers grants to help cover associated costs, and assists New Jersey residents who go outside the state for abortions after 25 weeks of pregnancy, when it can be harder to find a provider. The fund works directly with four abortion clinics in New Jersey, in Englewood, Hackensack, Montclair and Cherry Hill.
NJAAF also contributes frequently to “solidarity pledges,” in which similar funds from several states together help a patient in another state.
“Abortion funds will continue doing what they’ve always done — make sure people can get the abortions they need — with or without Roe in place,” Debasri Ghosh, managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in the nonprofit's spring newsletter. “When institutions fail us, we are the ones who provide safety and community care for one another.”
The National Council of Jewish Women's Jewish Fund for Abortion Access, in partnership with the National Abortion Federation, maintains a vast hotline that connects callers to case manager-navigators who help them get resources at NAF-approved clinics.
"Abortion access is a Jewish value," says Bari-Lynne Schwartz, outgoing co-president of the NCJW's Bergen County section. "In Judaism, if the life of the mother is at stake, it's required that she have an abortion."
Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central and Southern New Jersey, with affiliates in Hackensack and Englewood, lists ways supporters can volunteer on its website. Among these are assisting with advocacy work related to reproductive rights, including legislative updates and voter registration, and distributing educational materials at health fairs and community events.
PPMNJ has applied for grants to underwrite an abortion patient navigator. That individual would coordinate with people who come to New Jersey for abortions, setting up appointments, making sure they have accommodations, arranging for meals and providing other services.
PPMNJ also hopes to launch an Abortion Doula Program modeled after one that Planned Parenthood's Southwest Ohio affiliate has successfully run for five years. In the same spirit of the "Janes," volunteers would be trained over a weekend to accompany abortion-seekers "from the beginning to the end," says Mann, providing compassionate support during the procedure, following up as they recover and answering any questions they may have. "In Ohio, they found that patients were more likely to call someone they've made a relationship with," she says.
Lobbying and protesting
Like many reproductive rights activists, Regina Branca, co-chair of the Reproductive Justice Team at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, urges New Jersey voters to press their legislators to support state Assembly bill A4350. The legislation, which was introduced June 20, would fund the training for the nurses, physician's assistants and midwives now permitted by regulators to do abortions, mandate private insurance coverage and streamline paperwork. It also includes language that would protect health care providers from being charged with crimes if they perform abortions on patients from out of state.
Branca, a Ridgewood resident, was an out-of-state abortion-seeker 35 years ago, when she traveled from her college in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where there were no providers, to Binghamton, New York. As she encountered a sea of protesters in the clinic parking lot, a nurse came out, put an arm around her and told her, "Don't worry about these people."
"It's a personal choice, up to the person, provider and family," she says. "I thought 'How dare you shame me!' "
Spreading the word on social media
"The easiest way to help is to amplify information on social media," says Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey. She advises supporters to share the Abortionfinder.org link, which leads users to service providers nationwide, as often and on as many platforms as possible. "The power in this moment that didn't exist in the pre-Roe world is the power of social media and the Internet," she says.
Abortion Finder: abortionfinder.org
New Jersey Abortion Action Fund: njaaf.weebly.com
Planned Parenthood Federation of America: plannedparenthood.org
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey: plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-metropolitan-new-jersey
Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central and Southern New Jersey: plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-northern-central-southern-new-jersey
Guttmacher Institute (collects state-level data on publicly funded family planning services, unintended and teen pregnancy, and abortion): guttmacher.org
NARAL Pro-Choice America: prochoiceamerica.org
Thrive New Jersey (coalition of more than 70 organizations committed to expanding access to reproductive and sexual health care in the state): thrive-nj.com
Cindy Schweich Handler is the editor of Montclair and Wayne Magazines, and a writer for The Record and Northjersey.com. Email: Handler@northjersey.com; Twitter: @CindyHandler
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Roe v. Wade overturned: How NJ groups are supporting abortion rights