After Roe, the network of people who help others get abortions see themselves as 'the underground'

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Waiting in a long post office line with the latest shipment of “abortion aftercare kits,” Kimra Luna got a text. A woman who’d taken abortion pills three weeks earlier was worried about bleeding — and disclosing the cause to a doctor.

“Bleeding doesn’t mean you need to go in,” 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 nation. Those laws make the work a constant battle, 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 states who are seeking abortions.

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

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

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

But Luna and others consider their work mutual aid essential to the community.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just acted scared and didn’t do the things that I do,” said the single parent of three boys, who uses the pronoun they. “I know I’m put here to do this.”

Luna helps run Idaho Abortion Rights, launched in 2022 with extra bail money that was raised after they got arrested at a protest. A longtime activist, they strongly believe abortion pills should be accessible and once brought some to the state Capitol steps to prove residents could still get them online. Recently, they got a face tattoo of a mailbox with abortion pills falling out of it.

Luna is a full-spectrum doula, aiding in births as well as abortions. Most abortion work is remote, providing support, advice, answers to questions and referrals to resources like 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.

That also includes caring for people after abortions. One April morning, Luna assembled aftercare kits on the couch, pink-and-purple braids falling in front of their face as they filled packets with supplies like sanitary pads, Advil, over-the-counter stomach medicines and red raspberry leaf tea.

In places where abortion is legal, navigators at clinics provide some of the same sorts of logistical help. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has three navigators for its 21 clinics, one of them virtual, in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. They handle 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 try to steer people away from ending their pregnancies and toward centers they say also provide support like pregnancy-related information, parenting classes and baby supplies.

For someone “not sure how she is going to move forward and trying to figure out what resources are available for her if she wants to carry the pregnancy to term, there is support” at about 3,000 locations nationwide, said Tobias, of the Right to Life Committee. “That is definitely the better way to go.”

Some people facing unplanned pregnancies find answers online, like DakotaRei Belladonna Frausto, a 19-year-old student at San Antonio College in Texas. They sought an abortion a couple of years ago and came across a Facebook group, and eventually decided to start their own private Facebook group where people can share abortion resources and experiences.

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

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

Martindale recalled how a girlfriend was able to get an abortion when they were teens. He and his wife, Jen, now devote much of their free time to Idaho Abortion Rights; they keep thousands of packages of emergency contraception on hand to donate.

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

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

Worker Taylor Castillo immediately opened a box: “Pregnancy tests? Oh good,” she said. “Those have been flying!”

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

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

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.