Some Americans offer to help other people travel out of state to get an abortion. But in a post-Roe era, experts urge caution

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CNN

The heartfelt messages spread across social media hours after the Supreme Court’s seismic ruling overruling Roe v. Wade: If you need help getting an abortion in another state, I can help.

“We have to support each other, (let) people know that they are not alone,” said Stephany Bolivar, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. In a Facebook post, she offered to house anyone who needed to travel to New York for an abortion. Then she messaged several young women she once babysat in Georgia, where Bolivar grew up, and extended the offer, if they ever needed it.

“I just feel like we have to stick together,” Bolivar said. “It affects everyone.”

Eddie Phanichkul, who lives in Milwaukee, said he would help cover transportation costs for anyone who needs to travel to a neighboring state for an abortion. Her inspiration, in part, was to think about the rights being taken away from her baby girl.

They were among hundreds of people who, angered by the decision, posted similar messages with offers such as financial assistance or housing for Americans who would need to cross state lines to get abortions. Some used code phrases, while others, like Phanichkul and Bolivar, were more direct.

But while many offers may come with good intentions, abortion rights activists and legal experts warn that in post-Roe America — and in an era of unprecedented digital surveillance — such online communications can come with complex security and legal risks for both parties. a patchwork of radically different abortion laws is beginning to take shape and take effect.

Some posters may seek to defraud vulnerable people while in other cases, communications may create digital leads that could be used for possible lawsuits, legal experts tell CNN.

“There are people who are sincere and would welcome a stranger into their home,” said Khiara M. Bridges, a law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law. “But I think it raises questions about openness to accountability.”

The National Network of Abortion Funds told CNN it has seen demand and donations skyrocket since the court ruling and urged people seeking abortions to contact an established abortion fund or local clinic.

“When a person faces barriers to care, it’s often complex. Often there is more than one compounding obstacle and abortion funds do have that specific expertise in helping callers overcome obstacles, including funding, travel, accommodation, childcare, language barriers,” said Debasri Ghosh, chief executive of NNAF.

“It’s amazing that there is such an outpouring of support,” Ghosh added. “We want to make sure that this energy is directed in a way that really helps people access care, taking into account their safety and their privacy.”

Phanichkul said he was stunned by the decision. Shortly after the cancellation of Roe v. Wade, a 19th-century law banning abortion took effect in Wisconsin after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature refused to repeal it earlier in the week.

In neighboring Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order to protect women seeking abortions there from legal consequences in other states. And Illinois has a sweeping abortion access protection law that went into effect in 2019.

Feeling frustrated and blindsided, Phanichkul wrote a short article offering to help pay for or arrange transportation to Minnesota or Illinois for anyone from Wisconsin who needed surgery. “If anyone is really struggling, I’m more than willing to help find resources, pay for them, drive them,” he told CNN.

Bolivar, who works as a software engineer in Brooklyn, said she also thought of the many people around her who are affected: the young women from her home state who were now heading to college and her best friend from university, which was needed years ago. procedure. Bolivar said she wanted her loved ones — and anyone who finds her position — to know she was there to help in her own way.

“It was very frustrating,” she said. “(The emotions) always range from really, really angry and just extremely pissed off to just sad and trying to figure out what I can do to help.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a list of bills earlier in June to protect out-of-state abortion patients and providers from lawsuits in other states, five of six bills passed taking effect immediately. Meanwhile, Georgia has a restrictive law likely to go into effect soon that bans abortions when a ‘fetal heartbeat’ is detected, at about six weeks into the pregnancy – before many people know they are. are pregnant.

Sydnee Corriders, a therapist and racial equity consultant in Brooklyn, said she was grieving after the decision and wanted to act as a resource for those around her who might need help finding organizations to contact or who needed other kinds of help.

“While I can, I will pay/contribute to anyone without access to abortion, getting the care they need,” she wrote on Twitter, while offering to help people. to find therapeutic options as well.

“I am not wealthy or wealthy in any way but to be able to have a stable income…I wanted to present myself as a member of the community and recognize my privilege and be able to put funds forward for those in my community and beyond who might be in need,” she said.

But at a time when jurisdictions across America are so divided on the issue of abortion — and how aggressively to prosecute those seeking the procedure — simple offers of help like these can get complicated. For example, many questions arise about whether there are legal consequences for residents who request the procedure across state lines — and those who help.

The loaded legal landscape was addressed by the three dissenting justices in the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which wrote the ruling “prompts a host of questions about interstate conflict” including whether a state can bar women from traveling to another state for an abortion – and puts the Supreme Court at the center of what will likely soon be “interjurisdictional abortion wars.”

The National Committee for the Right to Life, the nation’s oldest and largest anti-abortion group, is already pushing for states to restrict those who “conspire to cause, or aid or abet illegal abortions,” the ” trafficking” in abortive drugs. and “abortion trafficking” of a minor.

“It will kind of depend on which anti-abortion state decides to do it first, which providers or helpers or patients they target, what the state law says, what the pro-abortion state law and how they fight it,” said Greer Donley, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “These are going to be extremely complicated questions.

“I’m not sure if there has ever been an example in history, or at least in modern history, where states have been so divided and have such intense interest in opposing directions,” added Donley. “It is certainly unprecedented, in modern history.”

It’s not just the legal concerns that are on the minds of experts and lawyers, especially for those who would seek to travel for the proceedings. Law professor Rachel Rebouché, acting dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law, said she was concerned that some of the online help offers were attempts to spread false information or take advantage of vulnerable people.

Others worry about the privacy implications of information posted online.

“We all know that our data is not safe on social media, that there are very few privacy protections when using social media apps,” Bridges said. “It would be surprising to me if this data is not monitored.”

Digital rights experts have warned that people’s search histories, location data and other digital information could be used by law enforcement investigating or prosecuting abortion-related cases. Civil rights attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook previously told CNN that a number of online behaviors — including search history, call and text logs, and emails — could be part of it. investigations and legal proceedings in states where assisted access to abortion is criminalized.

That’s why abortion rights advocates urge anyone seeking an abortion to turn to established organizations for help, said NNAF’s Ghosh.

The network has more than 80 member organizations that can connect people with financial and logistical resources for abortion access, including transportation, accommodation and childcare, according to its website.

And those who want to help others can contact established organizations to see what services are needed, Ghosh said.

“We encourage people to connect deeply with local abortion funds, to ask them what they need right now, whether it’s volunteers, rides or financial support,” he said. said Ghosh.

“I deeply believe that there is a place for everyone in this movement, but we have to be strategic and responsive to the needs of the people doing this work on the ground.”

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