How Philanthropy is Responding to the Fall of Roe — and What Abortion Rights Organizers Need Now

Here’s how the philanthropic sector is responding to the decision, and what organizations working in the abortion rights space still need. This piece was originally published by Inside Philanthropy on 6/28/2022.

In a decision that has shaken the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court last week struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that guaranteed under the Constitution the right to have an abortion. In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson, the decision was split along ideological lines, with conservatives ruling in favor of upholding a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion following the court’s decision. Thirteen of those states had trigger bans in place, meaning they had laws that would make abortion illegal immediately or shortly after the court’s ruling. Five states had pre-Roe laws that banned abortion, which can now be enforced. Several other states, including Texas and Mississippi, have laws imposing stringent limits on abortions.

The ruling comes as no surprise, as last month, a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision made it clear the direction the court was heading. But the toppling of a guaranteed human right after nearly 50 years of protection has been devastating; recent polling indicated more than two-thirds of Americans thought Roe should be upheld. Many corporate and political leaders denounced the ruling and thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest.

Institutional philanthropy has also responded, with funders both expressing their sorrow while also pledging to continue to support abortion and reproductive health. Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said in a statement, “Even after months of preparation, after years of warning signs and decades of anti-choice lobbying, this is a historically painful moment.… Today and during the months and years ahead, we at the Ford Foundation remain in steadfast support of the many advocates, experts and organizers who are advancing reproductive justice across the nation, across states and cyberspace, even as the attacks on abortion intensify in frequency and severity.”

In the weeks since the court’s decision leaked, and immediately after the official ruling came down, organizations working to protect abortion rights and access reported a huge surge in giving toward the cause, often from new donors. Longtime institutional funders pledged their continued support, with some shifting strategy, increasing giving, or organizing other donors. But grantees and funders both called for more and steadier support, including long-term funding and support for legal and policy advocacy, while pointing out the need for a broader approach to the fight for reproductive justice. 

Here’s how the philanthropic sector is responding to the decision, and what organizations working in the abortion rights space still need. 

Sustained support

Abortion providers and organizations working to advance abortion rights saw an immediate increase in funding following both the leaked draft and the official ruling. For example, the Abortion Care Network, which is the national association for independent abortion care providers, received more than $500,000 in donations since the draft leaked. 

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its advocacy arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, also saw an increase in funding, both after the draft leaked and after the court’s official ruling. According to Jethro Miller, chief development officer at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, this increase in funding came in the form of a combination of existing donors who made additional gifts or increased the amount of their monthly gifts, as well as new donors who chose to give to Planned Parenthood organizations. 

Over the weekend, Kelley Robinson, vice president of advocacy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and executive director at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said that in the 24 hours that followed the court’s decision, PP Federation of America and PP Action Fund saw a 40-fold total increase in donations compared to a typical day, with more than half coming from new donors. 

But despite this increase in immediate support, organizers have said that one of the things they need most is sustained, long-term funding. The giving following Dobbs follows a well-established pattern in crisis philanthropy — whether following a disaster that’s natural or one that’s handed down by a reactionary government — in which recipients on the ground see an immediate surge in donations but struggle to maintain the kind of durable funding they need to tackle the root of the problem. 

“We’ve been inspired by the generosity of our donors, but we have heard from partners — particularly abortion funds — that this movement cannot be sustained by the boom-and-bust cycle that follows breaking news on abortion restrictions,” said Miller. 

A recent survey by the Groundswell Fund, which works to support women-of-color-led organizing and reproductive justice in the U.S., found that 64% of organizations said their work would be more powerful if they had increased resources.

When it comes to institutional philanthropy, IP’s Dawn Wolfe reported last year that abortion rights advocates felt the sector had fallen short in a number of ways over the years, including a pool of funders that is too small, with many in the sector not understanding what a central and intersectional issue abortion is. They also reported limited support for abortion access, local and state work, and critical judicial battles. “There’s a lot of work that philanthropy needs to do to be a better partner in this work around reproductive freedom,” Nan Kirkpatrick, the development director for Jane’s Due Process, told IP at the time. 

Still, there’s a handful of major funders dedicated to the cause and committed to giving long-term support. The Ford Foundation, for example, has provided multi-year, general operating grants to organizations working on reproductive rights and justice at the state, national and regional levels, and will continue to do so. As a foundation, Ford has shifted in recent years from favoring restricted project grants toward mostly general operating support, and expanded multi-year funding.

According to Christine Clark, Hewlett Foundation program officer for U.S. reproductive equity, Hewlett has adjusted its grantmaking strategies, particularly by moving funding to those who are and will be most impacted by policies restricting abortions. In March, the Hewlett Foundation’s board approved a 30% increase in its annual budget for U.S. reproductive equity work, bringing the total annual funding to almost $20 million. Hewlett is also providing continued support to organizations that work on the legal and policy advocacy side. 

The Collaborative for Gender and Reproductive and Equity (CGRE) has also been providing multi-year, general operating support, which, according to a spokesperson for CGRE has “allowed grantee partners to plan for this moment — and beyond.” CGRE also provides support for state power-building, judiciary work, and a collaborative effort to respond to and counter attacks by those who oppose gender, reproductive and racial equity. 

Following the leaked draft, the Groundswell Fund laid out a three-point plan to support abortion access: field support, funder organizing, and new world-building, meaning supporting community care efforts led by grantee partners. This work will be done alongside its 501(c)(4) arm, the Groundswell Action Fund. 

“Our grantee partners have the vision and clarity,” a representative for the Groundswell Fund said in an emailed response. “It is philanthropy’s responsibility to fund them to scale so it can be a reality… The need is urgent — philanthropy must invest in long-term infrastructure and full-spectrum, de-siloed care at local and state levels.” 

Like the Ford Foundation, the Groundswell Fund is providing multi-year, general operating grants to organizations working in this space. The fund is currently in the middle of a five-year strategic plan to move $100 million to grassroots organizations by the end of 2025. Its backers include Borealis Philanthropy, the Collaborative for Gender and Reproductive Equity, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Women’s Rights Program at the Open Society Foundation, and the Yellow Chair Foundation.

In addition to long-term funding, several organizations noted that they now need additional resources for legal fees and to provide increased security for clinics. Additionally, although independent clinics provide three out of every five abortions in the U.S., they do not receive the same amount of financial support as national organizations, according to the Abortion Care Network. 

Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation (NAF), said they anticipate that potentially hundreds of thousands of patients will “be forced to travel to access abortion care.” Fowler added that according to NAF’s research, about two-thirds of abortion seekers are unlikely to be able to travel to obtain abortion care without additional funding and support. 

Legal and policy advocacy

In addition to both immediate and long-term support, philanthropy can help make a difference by funding legal and policy advocacy groups. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost 300 laws restricting abortion have been passed since 2010. Between 2011 and 2015, an average of 57 new restrictions were enacted per year. 

“The decision was years in the making — the inevitable result of a decades-long campaign to put politics and ideology ahead of women’s health and wellbeing and the rule of law,” said Jocelyn C. Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

The decision to strike down Roe puts abortion rights in the hands of states, but as Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, right-wing lawmakers have made it clear they want to go further. “The Supreme Court has given the green light to extremist state lawmakers who will waste no time springing into action to put in place total bans on abortion. And they won’t stop there — the anti-choice movement and its political allies have already made it clear that they want to enact a nationwide ban on abortion,” Timmaraju said.

Voter engagement is another important part of the equation. Although voters have no say when it comes to judicial appointments, they do, in theory, have the power to decide who is elected into office. Since the court opinion’s draft leaked, and in the days that have followed the ruling, Democrats have come under fire for not passing legislation that would have codified Roe into national law. For their part, Democratic leaders have pointed to an inadequate number of Congressional seats to do so, urging Americans to vote in the upcoming midterms. 

To that end, in partnership with NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund — the organization’s 501(c)(4) arm — has committed to spending $150 million on a get-out-the-vote campaign to mobilize voters in 2022. 

Several funders, including the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, fund legal and policy advocacy groups. The Groundswell Action Fund is also working to build political power at the ballot box, as well as long-term state- and local-based intersectional organizing.

The Ford Foundation stated that it is drawing inspiration from the recent reproductive justice victories in Ireland and Latin America, including those in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay.

“Now more than ever, we need funders to provide robust support to abortion funds, organizations supporting those who will be criminalized in the face of abortion bans, and longer term efforts to build power in states, including state judiciary reform,” said a representative for CGRE. “We in the philanthropic community can’t slow down or waver in our obligation to protect vulnerable populations; we need to be as committed to advancing equity as our opponents are to curtailing it.”

A broader approach to reproductive justice”

A coalition of funders and stakeholders, including the Groundswell Fund, Ms. Foundation for Women, and Women’s Funding Network, recently published an open letter asking philanthropy to sign a pledge to protect abortion access and reproductive justice. 

Last week, the coalition published an op-ed in Inside Philanthropy outlining several actions philanthropists can take to support abortion rights. These include giving to local abortion funds and providers, listening to movement leadership, planning for the future, collaborating across strategies and issues, and investing in existing movement infrastructure for the long term. 

Following the court’s ruling, the Groundswell Fund said in a statement, “At this moment, philanthropy cannot be complacent or operate as if this is business as usual. Our models cannot prioritize incremental change… May we all be courageous in the face of fear and uncertainty, and take this opportunity to abundantly resource our movements like we want them to win.”

Organizers have noted that philanthropy’s work must go beyond funding abortion and must take “a broader approach to reproductive justice,” according to the Women’s Funding Network. This entails funding abortion access, birth justice, climate and economic justice, as well as freedom from state violence. 

While Justice Samuel Alito affirmed that the Dobbs decision pertained only to abortion, in a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that cases that established the right to contraception, the right to same-sex marriage and legal rights for LBGTQ people should be reconsidered, calling the decisions in these cases “demonstrably erroneous.”

“Today’s decision severely limits access to abortion care, but tomorrow, it could be access to birth control or some other form of care,” said Frye of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Women’s health should not be treated like a political football, and the consequences of these decisions are not a game.”

These attacks on civil rights are taking place in a time when voting rights are also being restricted. The Brennan Center found that since the beginning of 2021, 18 states have passed a total of 34 laws restricting voting, which often disproportionately affect voters of color. A total of 393 bills that would restrict voting are being considered in the 2022 legislative session. Republican legislators are also focusing on election interference laws, which, according to Brennan, can either make partisan interference in elections possible or can threaten the election process. 

For philanthropists hoping to make a difference on abortion rights and access, funding organizations working on voting rights will also be crucial. “The backlash we are experiencing in regard to voter suppression and the attacks on bodily autonomy is a direct response to the power our communities have built. Now is the time to deepen power-building, base-building efforts, and advance an abolitionist framework,” said the Groundswell Fund in an emailed response shortly after the court’s draft leaked. 

Organizers and advocates have noted that rather than trying to go back to a world where Roe was still intact, it is instead the time to go beyond Roe

“For a long time, we’ve said in the movement that Roe is the floor and we’re looking at the ceiling.” said Debasri Ghosh, who serves as managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “The floor is about to drop out, and I think it is time to re-envision what our goals are in this movement and what is our North Star…. My vision is that we can really connect abortion access with a broader progressive agenda that centers humanity and autonomy for all folks to not just survive, but thrive.”

Philanthropy Advocacy