The New Orleans Abortion Fund was started by co-founders Amy Irvin and Jessie Nieblas over a cup of coffee in the spring of 2012. Both were new arrivals to New Orleans with previous experience with abortion funds in other cities. Additionally, Amy had experienced the burdensome regulations that often deny individuals access to abortion care as a recent patient at Women’s Health Care Center. Upon meeting that spring afternoon they decided to start a fund with the help of the National Network of Abortion Funds and spent the summer at local coffee shops with other supporters to write the articles of incorporation, recruit volunteers and develop a fundraising plan. The first fundraiser was a garage sale held at Amy’s St. Charles Avenue apartment that raised $200; her boyfriend became the first major donor with a pledge of $500, the cost of a medical abortion.
Tulane University students, representing emerging student groups such as Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ), Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ), Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) and Social Work Students United for Reproductive Freedom (SWURF), were integral to the early work of the Fund. Co-founder Jessie Nieblas was a graduate student in the Tulane University Masters of Public Health program. As part of her studies, she was doing an internship at the Newcomb College Institute, where Assistant Director Laura Wolford worked and offered to host our first house party. Other student leaders, such as Jessica Kincman, Bethany Van Kampen, Tamara Dukich, Jennifer Chin, and Lamia Abi Samra either served as board members or were on the first intake committee, taking calls to the hotline and coordinating pledges with the Fund’s partner clinic Women’s Health Care Center, where Amy had been a patient. In April 2013 the Fund made its first pledge and has since assisted more than 700 clients in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.
From its inception, the New Orleans Abortion Fund recognized the importance of community engagement and advocacy. In September 2013 the Fund held its first public event to honor Sylvia Cochran for four decades of work in New Orleans as a clinic administrator and raise awareness about the Hyde Amendment, federal legislation that primarily impacts low-income individuals on Medicaid. Later that year, the Fund and its student allies successfully protested “emergency rules” issued by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) that threatened to close all five abortion clinics in the state. Anticipating anti-choice legislation in the 2014 legislative session, particularly an admitting privileges bill similar to Texas legislation, the Fund joined with student and community partners to form the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (LCRF), which now comprises 17 organizations.
With small grants from the National Network of Abortion Funds for advocacy, the Fund offers a pro-choice perspective during the Louisiana Legislative Session, consistently testifying in committee hearings, doing media interviews and engaging our supporters and community about anti-choice legislation. As the only abortion fund in the state, the New Orleans Abortion Fund is uniquely positioned to raise the voices and lived experiences of the marginalized people and families it serves in all its advocacy, communications, and outreach.
The New Orleans Abortion Fund has steadily grown in its staffing and program capacity with generous support from the Packard Foundation. This includes the development of a clinic escort committee, initially started in the summer of 2014 when Operation Save America descended onto New Orleans to harass clinic patients. With the help of Feminist Majority Foundation, NOAF trained clinic escorts and legal observers to protect clinics. In 2014, the Fund hired an intake coordinator to hold monthly intake committee meetings, train intake members, and coordinate pledges with our partner clinics. In January 2016, the Fund hired its first executive director and a clinic escort coordinator in June. Of course, the majority of the Fund’s work continues to be done by volunteer members who generously give of their time, support and money to fulfill the organization’s mission.
The Fund would like to acknowledge founding board members Amy Irvin, Jessie Nieblas, and Jessica Kincman, as well as past and current board members Bethany VanKampen, Sylvia Cochran and Jackie Krugler. The work of the intake committee could not have been accomplished without intake coordinators Lamia AbiSamra, Marlo Barrera and Catherine “Cat” Patteson. Finally, long-time supporter Winter Randall joins the Fund as its first clinic escort coordinator. Amy Irvin serves as the executive director.