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After Roe, the network of people helping others get abortions considers itself ‘the underground’

By LAURA UNGAR
AP Science Writer

NAMPA – Kimra Luna was waiting in a long line at the post office with the latest shipment of “abortion aftercare kits” and received a text message. A woman who had taken abortion pills three weeks earlier was concerned about bleeding and wanted to disclose the cause to a doctor.

“Bleeding doesn’t mean you have to go inside,” 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 country. Those laws make the job a constant struggle, 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 conditions. states that want abortion.

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

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

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

But Luna and others see their mutual aid as vital to the community.

“I couldn’t live with myself if I was afraid and didn’t do the things I do,” says the single parent of three boys, who uses the pronoun she. “I know I’m here to do this.”

Luna helps run Idaho Abortion Rights, launched in 2022 with additional bail money raised after they were arrested during a protest. They have been activists for years and are convinced that abortion pills should be accessible. They once brought some to the steps of the Capitol to prove that residents could still get them online. They recently got a facial tattoo of a mailbox from which abortion pills fell out.

Luna is a full-spectrum doula, who assists with both births and abortions. Most abortion work takes place remotely, providing support, advice, answers to questions and referrals to resources such as abortion funds.

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

This also includes care for people after an abortion. One morning in April, Luna put together aftercare kits on the couch, pink and purple braids falling over their faces as they filled packages with essentials like sanitary pads, Advil, over-the-counter stomach medications and red raspberry leaf tea.

In places where abortion is legal, clinic navigators provide similar logistical assistance. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has three navigators for its 21 clinics, one of which is virtual, in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. They field 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.

Abortion opponents are trying to steer people away from terminating their pregnancies and toward centers that they say also offer support such as pregnancy-related information, parenting classes and baby supplies.

For someone “who is unsure of how to proceed and who is trying to figure out what resources are available to her if she wants to carry the pregnancy to term, there is support” in about 3,000 locations nationwide, said Tobias of the Right to Life Committee. “That’s definitely the better way to go.”

Some people dealing with an unplanned pregnancy find answers online, like DakotaRei Belladonna Frausto, a 19-year-old student at San Antonio College in Texas. They were looking for an abortion a few years ago and came across a Facebook group, eventually deciding to start their own private Facebook group where people can share resources and experiences about abortion.

In April, about 20 people gathered at a community center in Boise to help Luna assemble boxes containing emergency contraception, condoms and information about access to abortions.

Stephanie Vaughan, 39, said she had an abortion at age 17, while having a baby might have kept her from going to college and getting a good job.

Martindale recalled how a friend was able to have an abortion as a teenager. He and his wife Jen now spend much of their free time working on abortion rights in Idaho; they keep thousands of packs of emergency contraception ready to donate.

“It’s a community responsibility,” said Jen Martindale, 48.

The next morning, the Martindales took reproductive health supplies to local stores that offered them for free. Their first stop was Purple Lotus, a clothing and accessories store.

Employee Taylor Castillo immediately opened a box: “Pregnancy tests? Oh good,” she said. “They flew!”

Castillo said she would like to help. When she suffered a miscarriage in 2021, her doctor prescribed the same pills used in abortion medications. She wonders what would happen if she needed them today.

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