Palestinians wait to receive the bodies of their relatives who were killed in an Israeli air strike, at Al-Najjar Hospital, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 21, 2023 (Anas-Mohammed / Shutterstock)

By Nicole Froio / Prism

As Israel’s war on Gaza continues, a number of abortion support organizations are facing criticism over their public statements calling for a permanent ceasefire in Palestine. At the center of some of these critiques is the assertion that local abortion funds and U.S. healthlines have no business commenting on international policy.

According to eight abortion support organizations that spoke to Prism, speaking out about Palestine is very much in line with their work—work that is approached through an international reproductive justice framework and that has a material and political reach that far exceeds U.S. borders.

Ripple effects across the globe 

In the past year alone, one of the largest abortion funds in the U.S. provided resources to people seeking care from 14 countries across the globe. Since 1995, the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) in Washington, D.C., has helped provide access to abortion care to anyone who needs it—including people living outside of the U.S.

According to data provided by DCAF, the fund has assisted abortion-seekers from Norway, Australia, Canada, Spain, England, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, the Bahamas, Cuba, Poland, Ukraine, Mexico, and Curaçao. Domestically, DCAF also assists abortion-seekers from states that have restrictive anti-abortion laws. 

DCAF Communications Manager Jade Hurley said there are just a few abortion clinics in the country that perform abortions in the third trimester, and three of them are in the Washington metropolitan area.

“So we are a very, very crucial access point,” Hurley said, noting that because D.C. is an accessible travel hub, by default, the fund assists a great deal of people traveling internationally for later abortions.

Since the 1971 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Vuitch that allowed abortion to take place because of health reasons, including the “psychological and physical well-being” of the patient, Washington, D.C., is widely considered an abortion destination. The ability to access later abortions also attracts people from states and countries where restrictions prevent access to care.

“A good example is the constitutional right that was just passed in France, which only guarantees abortion up to 14 weeks [gestation],” Hurley said. “While this is super exciting and it’s always a good thing to have abortion rights enshrined in a country’s constitution, this still means that after 14 weeks of gestation—and there are a lot of abortions that have to happen after that—French people will likely have to go somewhere else to have the kind of abortion access that D.C. specifically has.”

Dodging bans and restrictions is the main reason why people needing care traverse borders, but there are other reasons some prefer accessing abortion in the U.S. According to Jessica Pinckney Gil, the executive director of California’s Access Reproductive Justice (Access RJ), people seeking abortion care are sometimes looking for a supportive pro-choice community that doesn’t exist in their home country.

“They may be traveling to California because they have friends or family, or other loved ones, that can support them through their abortion,” Gil said. “And so that might make it more desirable if they don’t have a strong support system wherever they’re located or are in some kind of more dangerous or fraught situation at home.”

Chelsea Williams-Diggs, interim executive director of the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), said that since 2019, NYAAF has supported people from 17 countries, including Ireland, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Italy, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Guyana, India, Togo, and France, to name a few. Williams-Diggs also cites New York City’s large and diverse immigrant community as a reason for the fund’s work with international clients.

“We live in a world where folks are transient. People have connections, family, and loved ones everywhere. For example, New York City has the largest Dominican Republic population outside of the DR,” said Williams-Diggs. She further explained that the fund provides financial assistance and case management to people who are sometimes just temporarily in town with family members or who recently migrated to the U.S. and are undocumented.

Both Williams-Diggs and Hurley were eager to dispel the myth that Europe and Canada are safe havens for abortion access, citing the number of people they assist who have traveled to the U.S. for later abortions that are generally not available where they live. In this way, abortion funds receive direct insights into the ways reproductive rights restrictions in one country affect abortion access in another. Gil said that when abortion access is increased or limited in one place, it can have a “ripple effect” across the globe. 

“Reproductive justice advocates have been screaming from the rooftops for decades that we need to look at these issues holistically,” Gil said. “We don’t live single-issue lives. I don’t get to show up one day as an executive director, and the next day as a parent, and the next day as a Black woman. I am all of those things, all day, every day. We need to look at the abortion access landscape more holistically and globally because what happens in Texas impacts us in California; what happens in Chicago impacts those in New York; what happens in Kansas impacts those people in Palestine.” 

Local impact

For Lexis Dotson-Dufault, executive director of the Abortion Fund of Ohio (AFO), the international reach of her organization is about more than helping immigrants or people from other countries access care. Like all of the abortion funds Prism spoke to, the AFO operates through the reproductive justice framework created by Black women. The central pillars of the framework are bodily autonomy, the right to have or not have children, and the ability to raise children in safe and sustainable communities.

“In order for reproductive justice to exist, all people need to be free and liberated and not live under oppression,” Dotson-Dufault said.

Under this framework, AFO’s executive director explained that the fund’s advocacy and solidarity cannot be contained to Ohio. She called on reproductive justice organizations to do political work on Palestine locally because local impact on international issues matters.

“If our organizing, our advocacy, and our mobilization is not based on intersectionality and on a global context, then we are working in a silo and that is not the liberation that I envision for us,” she said. “We need to be working locally on advocating for a free Palestine, especially as an organization that is focused on reproductive rights, health, and justice. We have a responsibility to bring light to the extensive reproductive oppression that is occurring not just in Palestine, but in a multitude of countries and regions that are impacted by America and white supremacist colonialism and imperialism.”

Some abortion support groups have supported direct efforts in Palestine. Nebraska Abortion Resources (NEAR) collaborated with Omaha’s Empowerment, Dignity, and Essential Needs (EDEN) Initiative and the Palestine Red Crescent Society to collect menstrual pads for people who don’t have access to these products due to Israel’s blockade in the Gaza Strip. The effort to collect donations was an astounding success, with more than 30,000 pads collected from across the state. NEAR’s Executive Director Shelley Mann said the fund received no pushback on the campaign, including a call for a ceasefire and requests for financial donations to send the pads to Gaza. 

“We can call for a ceasefire all we want, and we can say things on social media, but at the same time, I’m not sure that goes as far as giving people something actionable to do,” Mann said. “I think that’s our role, to be able to say … ‘We want to help folks in Palestine, and here’s why.’ It’s our role to put forward language that we know is positive and safe language to use, and also to give people that example to follow.”

NEAR is a small organization that must routinely help people travel to access care because of Nebraska’s ban on abortion after 12 weeks gestation, so Mann understands better than most the power of support networks that reach beyond local work.

“We really work in coalition and partnership with abortion funds across the country to get access for folks in Nebraska,” Mann said. “So it just makes sense that [our work] would extend beyond just the U.S. The genocide happening in Palestine is a very serious issue that we need to be talking about as abortion funds if we want to center reproductive justice. We know that there are lots of things happening there that obviously are not in alignment with our values, so if we are not speaking out, then what are we doing?”

Internal struggles

Despite many abortion funds demanding a ceasefire and doing local political work around the crisis in Palestine, tensions exist across the sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice movements.

Asha, who worked for an abortion fund on the East Coast, spoke to Prism anonymously because she feared employment repercussions. Since early October 2023, Asha said she asked her fund to speak up in support of Palestinian liberation. This was around the time Israel bombed the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA)’s only health center in Gaza. According to Asha, the fund’s leadership requested a presentation on the pros and cons of speaking out on the subject but rejected the request after she presented them with a list. After receiving external pressure, the fund signed a public local letter demanding a ceasefire in late 2023. However, there is little record of this signature on the fund’s digital platforms.

Leadership instructed the social media manager to make posts temporary or only reshare content about the letter created by other organizations. This strategy was part of a larger organizational policy to abstain from commenting on reproductive justice issues unrelated to abortion unless it had a local impact, according to Asha.

The policy was drafted in 2023 after the fund signed an open letter in support of Stop Cop City, but refused to share the messaging of the letter on their official digital platforms. The approach moving forward was to impede the fund from making any public statements about Stop Cop City and any other political issues that fall under the reproductive justice umbrella, despite internal calls from staff to do so.

“Once they had this policy in place, any time I suggested something that didn’t meet their standards for intersectionality, they could just immediately point to this policy and tell me no,” Asha said. “The policy continued to prevent us from speaking up on things.”

There were internal tensions regarding whether the abortion fund was acting in alignment with the reproductive justice framework, which it publicly claimed to do. Despite the organization’s commitment to serving Black and brown people seeking abortion care, Asha felt that the comfort of Zionist donors and grantmakers was more of a priority than acting in solidarity with brown feminists’ liberation struggles.

“There was a reluctance to engage with decolonization movements,” Asha said. “And while leadership initially told us we wouldn’t be speaking out on Palestine because of the [organizational] policy, we later found out they had said in a private conversation that it was also a concern that they would lose funding from Zionist grantmakers.”

About a month after Asha and her co-workers brought concerns to leadership about the organization’s silence on Palestine, she was laid off. Her boss said they were “restructuring.” Asha believes losing her job was retaliation for her pro-Palestine position in the workplace—and for her efforts to push the fund to take a public stance. 

“I was the only person they got rid of,” Asha said. “So that was the fallout of continuing to speak up about Palestine in the workplace.”

Leveraging power 

The colonization of Palestine has become—as Angela Davis said—“a moral litmus test for the world.” This is especially true in movements for sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice. The internal and external conflicts ignited by Israel’s siege on Gaza are pivotal spaces to clarify political positions and solidify an internationalist reproductive justice framework across the field.

For Virginia’s Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project (RRFP), which responded to Prism’s questions as a collective, reproductive justice is a global issue that connects us all—and that means speaking up about Palestine is very much in line with the work of abortion funds.

“We are not just insurance agencies that pay for abortions,” the RRFP said. “We are part of a reproductive justice movement that calls for access to care for all outcomes of pregnancy. While we work to support people navigating barriers locally, we do this in solidarity with other communities working locally in their areas.”

A core value of RRFP’s work is collective liberation. Members said the “communal support and resistance in Palestine” should inspire movements across the U.S. to “fight harder” in their communities and to see their fights as connected.

There is a direct connection between the lack of reproductive justice in Palestine by way of military siege and the lack of reproductive justice that exists for Black, brown, and Indigenous people in the U.S. because of police repression, poverty, and surveillance, according to the fund’s members.

“The violence and oppression U.S. imperialism exports globally are intertwined with state-sanctioned violence against Black, brown, and Indigenous communities domestically,” they said. “Reproductive justice and collective liberation are global causes because we know that violence and repression do not happen in a vacuum.”

As one example, RRFP members cited how U.S.-Israeli cooperation terrorizes communities domestically through local police departments, federal surveillance, and protest suppression tactics.

For Phoebe Abramowitz, co-director of the healthline ReproCare, the reproductive justice field already works across borders to exchange tactics and approaches, so doing work on Palestine isn’t beyond the scope of work for organizations in the field.

“We see it as important to be in solidarity across borders and to support people in the global community fighting for liberation and as a part of reproductive justice,” Abramowitz said. “And specifically to be in solidarity with feminists and other countries who we have learned so much from and have so much to continue learning from in terms of guaranteeing reproductive justice and abortion access for our communities.”

Abramowitz also emphasized that the siege on Gaza is undeniably a reproductive justice issue that speaks to rights denied to Palestinians.

“Palestinians deserve autonomy and agency over their lives and futures, including the right to self-determination and freedom from oppression. This feels like an understatement, but pregnant people and babies in Palestine are not receiving the care and resources that we know they deserve and that everyone deserves,” Abramowitz said.

The reproductive justice emergency created by Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza urgently demands that the reproductive rights field aligns its politics with whom the field seeks to serve. As the presidential election looms, sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations find themselves in a position to leverage their organizing power.

Ultimately, it’s the U.S. government’s involvement in Gaza and its role in helping to carry out reproductive injustices against Palestinians that move Abramowitz to speak out against the Biden-Harris administration—especially as Democrats use reproductive rights as a talking point for reelection. In February 2024, Abramowitz spoke at a protest outside of the San Jose, California, stop in Vice President Kamala Harris’s reproductive freedom tour.

“I said that reproductive freedom includes health and safety for families in Gaza,” Abramowitz said. “Children and families are being torn apart by weapons that are manufactured and paid for by the U.S. government, and we believe that obligates us to speak out very explicitly for a free Palestine, and more immediately for a ceasefire.”

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Nicole Froio

Nicole Froio is a writer and researcher currently based in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. She has a doctorate in Women’s Studies from the University of York. She writes about gender in pop culture, social movements, digital cultures and many other topics.

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