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Pennsylvania’s largest abortion fund just got a new name. Known for more than 30 years as the Women’s Medical Fund, the statewide org is swapping out that original name for a new one: the Abortion Liberation Fund of Pennsylvania, or ALF-PA.
It’s an attempt at being more inclusive of people who need access to abortions — and also being more direct about the group’s mission.
“We worry that if somebody is trans or gender-nonconforming and they get pregnant, they won’t even know that there is financial support out there for them to get an abortion,” Elicia Gonzales, executive director of ALF-PA, told Billy Penn. “You might be forced to think that you have no choice other than to carry to term.”
ALF-PA was first founded under its original name in 1985, when Pennsylvania began prohibiting state Medicaid funds from covering an abortion — a procedure that can range in cost from $400 to $3,000. Through donations from individuals and organizations, the group funds abortions for people on Medicaid.
A Pennsylvanian who needs an abortion but can’t afford it can call ALF-PA’s help line, and call-takers will try to help connect them to resources. Last year, ALF-PA distributed more than $667,000 to fund abortions for 3,200 people living in 10 Pa. counties.
In the last few years, the group expanded to not only funding abortions, but also conducting community organizing work to try to make abortions more accessible.
It’s not just about LGBTQ people. The use of the word “liberation” is purposeful, Gonzales said. It’s showcasing the organization’s ultimate goal: Removing barriers to abortion — especially for Black and brown people and people living in poverty. The World Health Organization defines this as critical to attaining “the highest possible level of sexual and reproductive health.” Limiting access to abortions contributes to poor health outcomes like maternal and infant mortality.
Gonzales hopes the group’s new title helps clarify its mission. As the Women’s Medical Fund, the organization often got calls with random requests for medical care, she said, like a wheelchair for someone’s mother.
“We felt badly that they needed that, and we weren’t able to offer it,” Gonzales said. “It was because of our name. People didn’t know what we were.”
Using ‘women’s health care’ as a euphemism
LGBTQ patients often find discrimination and barriers in reaching reproductive care. With its name change, ALF-PA is now part of a broader movement aimed at making health care more accessible. Several Philly groups centered on reproductive care have already adopted gender-neutral language, and nationally, Planned Parenthood has been pushing for it since at least 2016.
“Non-inclusive language around sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, creates and maintains obstacles to care,” reads a 2021 Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts blog post. “The prevalence of ‘women’s health care’ as a euphemism for abortion can make it difficult for someone who isn’t a woman to talk to their insurance provider about abortion coverage. It can actively prevent trans and non-binary people from finding information about abortion, including where they can get care.”
An estimated 530 trans and gender-nonconforming people received abortions in the United States in 2017, according to a survey from The Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy org focused on sexual and reproductive health. The country saw more than 862,000 total abortions that same year.
ALF-PA had been discussing a name change before Gonzales came on board as executive director in 2017. Since then, it hired two gender-nonconforming staffers, and Gonzales continued to hear that trans people didn’t know whether they were eligible to access funds.
At the start of 2021, Gonzales started to seriously pursue the shift. After some deliberation and a vote including the groups staff, board and volunteers, it is finally coming to fruition.
“Even if it’s five people out of 1,000 people that call us who identify as trans or gender-nonconforming, on principal we want to be a space that’s inclusive for everybody,” Gonzales said. “We think that anything short of that is perpetuating harm.”