It’s a cold Thursday in the District of Columbia (DC), and Emily and I are meeting in her home office. It’s a modest space with no natural light but plenty of storage and wall space for all of Emily’s DCAF magnets and posters. Emily is a fun, intelligent, and extremely thoughtful human being. Her generosity surpasses that of most people I know. It is because of that generosity that she spends all her free time being an advocate for the DC Abortion Fund also known as DCAF. I sat with Emily to learn more about her role with DCAF and why she feels it plays such an important role for women in DC.
MM: For those that don’t know, can you tell them a little about what DCAF is?
Emily: Sure, DCAF is an all-volunteer nonprofit that helps support pregnant people in the DC area, as well as those traveling to the area who can’t afford the cost of an abortion.
When was DCAF established and why?
In the late 90s, a volunteer with a rape crisis center was working with a survivor who could not afford the cost of an abortion. The volunteer got together a group of other women and helped fund the abortion. They used the leftover resources to support more women in need which led to the creation of DCAF.
How has it changed from when it was first established?
Good question. I think, essentially, it started off as a few calls here and there, but by 2005, the call volume had increased exponentially. DCAF couldn’t keep up with the demand for services and thus needed to recruit more volunteers. It established itself as a 501(c) 3 through the National Network of Abortion Funds. DCAF has now obtained its own nonprofit status and does its own fundraising.
As someone who sits on the board, what do you feel your most challenging duties are?
Raising awareness and advocating for abortion rights for all people. It’s a constant battle and it’s always so unsettling to me to realize that other people tell you what you can and cannot do with your bodies.
How do you deal with some of the backlash and what kind of backlash do you receive?
DCAF has been subjected to threatening emails, people marching into our fundraisers, and threatening mail. This isn’t new for us and we have always dealt with anti-choice protesters that want to do harm.
Where does money come from to support the organization?
We get most of our money from individual donors. Grant funding is only 10% of our yearly budget.
What is the average cost for an abortion?
Well, that depends on what stage of your pregnancy you’re in. Typically, an abortion at 13 weeks can cost anything from $450 to $600. However, depending on where you are in your pregnancy, it can cost a lot more. Last fiscal year, our average pledge was $153. That funding, in conjunction with other assistance from funds such as NAF, other local funds, and the amount the individual is able to raise usually means they will have enough. However, in special cases, we do have fundraisers or special appeals.
…We all play a role in helping one another.
Where do you get most of your clients from?
The DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) area or people coming to the area.
Why did you end up choosing DCAF to volunteer with?
I wanted to be a part of something local and I strongly believe that we all play an important role in helping one another.
As a board member, do you get paid for what you do? I’m assuming this can take up several hours a week of your time.
No, I do not. It does, but, for me, it’s not about the time, but the cause.
What sets DCAF apart from other organizations?
Well, we’re local and we have more local donors. Surrounding states have governmental limited coverage when it comes to covering the costs of abortions. Moreover, there are only three or four late term doctors in the United States that will perform an abortion. Maryland has one of those doctors that we work with along with other organizations.
For those that are critical of the work you do, what would you say to them?
I would say that abortion is healthcare. Not agreeing with it is OK, but you don’t get to make that choice for someone else.
What have you learned from being on the board?
We often treat cities that we live in as very wealthy areas, but there are many intense pockets of need we don’t see that need our help.
To wrap up, what would you say is your biggest takeaway from this experience?
DCAF does not just provide funding for abortions. We also provide information sharing. Often, people don’t know if their insurance will cover the costs or what other avenues they can take. We learn a lot by sharing information and that’s one of the biggest takeaways for me.
Where can people learn more and donate to DCAF?
On our website – http://dcabortionfund.org/