To the Editor:
After reading Megan Rose’s opinion piece “Philanthropy Should Focus on Building Stronger Families — Not Supporting Abortion Advocacy” (June 27), I feel compelled to defend the critical role that advocacy and philanthropy play in the fight for reproductive justice and abortion rights, especially in the weeks following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision.
Contrary to Rose’s view that donors should focus their resources only on direct services, I believe philanthropy must also help ensure that government fully represents and provides for all members of society. The privately funded and volunteer program she runs clearly offers important support to the families it reaches. But private philanthropy and volunteerism will never replace the significant resources and infrastructure required to meet the needs of all families in all communities. When the government fails to address these issues — whether housing, employment, or the array of other services families need to move out of poverty — philanthropy and advocates are there to raise awareness, invest in innovation and risk taking, and ensure, through support for advocacy, that government resources are distributed equitably.
While I commend Rose for her work with lower-income families and her efforts to increase philanthropic funding for family-support services, the piece mischaracterizes the role of advocacy and philanthropic organizations. It claims that funding advocacy for reproductive-health services such as abortion is wasted and implies that these resources should be reserved for women who choose to have a child. It does not consider that groups advocating for abortion access also work to support the totality of women’s lives, not just their reproductive health — and intentionally prioritize the experiences of people who have long been marginalized and ignored.
The piece also asserts that gender and reproductive-equity advocacy have little impact on people’s lives, and therefore donations should go elsewhere. This could not be further from the truth. Fully 70 percent of U.S. women of reproductive age make at least one medical visit every year to obtain sexual- and reproductive-health services, including abortion, contraception, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Nearly one in four women will have an abortion, many of whom are already mothers, live below the poverty level, and have not previously had an abortion.
The notion, as Rose states, that advocacy groups are “shouting from the sidelines” while making little progress, is exactly why grant-making groups such as the one I lead — the Collaborative for Gender and Reproductive Equity — are necessary. Philanthropic collaboratives ensure that resources go to those best positioned to make progress in their communities. Direct advocacy by those most affected by restrictive laws has resulted in better policies and greater access to safe and equitable care.
I agree with Rose that people need a broader range of programs to support their chosen families. That is why we fund advocacy to support abortion access and also efforts to establish paid leave, eliminate pay disparities, and ensure people have access to affordable child care — all of which are critical to eliminating gender inequity and giving people the opportunity to live full lives and, if they choose, raise children.
Finally, any discussion about the effect of attacks on abortion rights must also include a discussion about equity, which was not addressed in the op-ed. Those hit hardest by the end of Roe will be people of color, people with low incomes, young people, and LGBTQ folks who already experience significant barriers to abortion care. It’s critical to recognize that the same people trying to limit abortion access are often those working to undermine programs and policies families need to thrive. Such policies are often used as wedge issues to advance an agenda hostile to racial, gender, and reproductive equity.
Targeted attacks on abortion are designed to restrict the individual autonomy and the political power of a growing, multiracial majority that has historically been excluded from our democracy and is often still left out.
More than ever, philanthropy must meet the urgent need to support reproductive-justice advocates, abortion clinics and providers, practical support groups and funds, and legal services. The long fight for reproductive freedom must be reinforced with investments at the state and local levels.
As Rose rightly asserts, social services are critical to supporting families and helping people live full lives. But we should not have to choose between helping families and supporting those who seek abortion care. Everyone deserves access to a full range of reproductive-health services in their communities and social-support programs when they need them. Abortion should be part of that mix. It is an essential component to creating strong families and an equitable society.
Collaborative for Gender and Reproductive Equity