“We have to support each other, (let) people know that they’re 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 to get an abortion. Then, she messaged several young women she once babysat in Georgia, where Bolivar grew up, and extended the offer, should they ever need it.
“I just feel like we have to stick with each other,” Bolivar said. “This affects everyone.”
Eddie Phanichkul, who lives in Milwaukee, posted that he would help cover transportation expenses for anyone who needed to travel to a neighboring state to get an abortion. His inspiration, in part, was thinking about the rights taken away from his baby daughter.
They were among the hundreds of people who, angered by the ruling, posted similar messages with offers such as financial assistance or lodging for Americans who would need to travel across state lines to get an abortion. Some used coded phrases, while others, like Phanichkul and Bolivar, were more direct.
But while many of the offers may come with good intentions, abortion rights activists and legal experts warn that in post-Roe America – and in an age of unprecedented digital surveillance – those online communications may come with complicated safety and legal risks for both parties as a patchwork of drastically different abortion laws begin to take shape and go into effect.
Some posters may be looking to scam vulnerable individuals while in other cases the communications may create digital trails that might be used for potential prosecutions, legal experts told CNN.
“There are people out there who are sincere and would welcome a stranger into their home,” said Khiara M. Bridges, a professor of law at UC Berkeley School of Law. “But I do think that it poses some questions about opening themselves up to liability.”
The National Network of Abortion Funds told CNN it saw both demand and donations skyrocket since the court’s ruling and urged individuals seeking abortions to reach out to an established abortion fund or local clinic.
“When someone is facing barriers to care, it’s often complex. Often, it’s more than one compounding barrier and abortion funds really hold that specific expertise in helping callers overcome obstacles, including funding, travel, lodging, child care, language barriers,” said NNAF managing director Debasri Ghosh.
“It’s amazing that there is such an outpouring of support,” Ghosh added. “We want to make sure that that energy is directed in a way that really helps people access care, with attention to their safety and privacy.”
Why they’re offering to help
Phanichkul said he was stunned by the ruling. Shortly after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, a 19th-century law banning abortion went into effect in Wisconsin after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature declined to repeal it earlier that week.
In neighboring Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order designed to shield women seeking abortions there from being subject to 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 post offering to help pay for or set up transportation to Minnesota or Illinois for anyone in Wisconsin who needed to get the procedure. “If somebody is really struggling, I’m more than willing to help find resources, help pay for it, help drive them,” he told CNN.
Bolivar, who works as a software engineer in Brooklyn, said she also thought about the many people around her who are impacted: the young women from her home state who were now headed off to college and her college best friend, who years ago needed the procedure. Bolivar said she wanted those close to her – and anyone who found her post – to know she was there to help in her own, small way.
“It was very frustrating,” she said. “(The emotions) just kind of really range still from like really, really angry and just extremely pissed off to just sad and trying to figure out what I can do to help.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier in June signed a slate of bills aimed at protecting out-of-state patients and abortion providers from legal action in other states, with five of the six bills passed taking effect immediately. Meanwhile, Georgia has a restrictive law that will likely take effect soon, which bans abortions when a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, at about six weeks into a pregnancy – before many people know they’re pregnant.
Sydnee Corriders, a therapist and racial equity consultant in Brooklyn, said she was grieving after the ruling and wanted to act as a resource for those around her who may need help finding organizations to contact or needed other kinds of help.
“As long as I’m able, I will pay for/contribute to anyone without access to abortions, getting the care they need,” she wrote on Twitter, while offering to help people find therapy options as well.
“I’m not wealthy or rich by any means, but being able to have a steady income … I wanted to show up as a community member and acknowledge my privilege and be able to put some funds forward for those in my community and beyond who might be in need,” she said.
An ‘unprecedented’ legal landscape
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, there are many questions about whether there are legal consequences for residents who seek the procedure across state lines – and those who help.
The fraught legal landscape was touched on by the three dissenting judges in the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, who wrote the ruling “invites a host of questions about interstate conflicts,” 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 soon likely be “interjurisdictional abortion wars.”
The National Right to Life Committee, the oldest and largest anti-abortion group in the country, is already pushing for states to restrict those “conspiring to cause, or aiding or abetting, illegal abortions,” the “trafficking” of abortion-inducing drugs and “abortion trafficking” of a minor.
“It’s just going to kind of depend on which anti-abortion state decide to do this first, which providers, or helpers or patients they target, what the state law says, what the abortion-supportive state law says and how they fight it out,” said Greer Donley, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. “These are going to be extremely complicated questions.”
“I’m not exactly sure if there’s ever been an example in history, or at least modern history, where the states have been so divided and have such intense interest in opposing directions,” Donley added. “It’s certainly unprecedented, in modern history.”
What experts say you should consider
It’s not just legal concerns that experts and advocates worry about – especially for the ones who would be seeking to travel for the procedure. Law professor Rachel Rebouché, the interim dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law, said she worries some of the online offers of help may be attempts to spread misinformation or take advantage of vulnerable individuals.
Others worry about the privacy implication of information posted online.
“We all know that our data is not safe on social media, that there are very few privacy protections when you engage with social media apps,” Bridges said. “It would be surprising to me if that data isn’t being surveilled.”
Digital rights experts have warned that people’s search histories, location data and other digital information could be used by law enforcement agencies 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 become part of investigations and court proceedings in states where helping to provide access to abortions is criminalized.
It’s why abortion rights advocates urge anyone seeking an abortion to look to established organizations for assistance, said Ghosh of NNAF.
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 reach out to established organizations to see what services are needed, Ghosh said.
“We encourage folks to get deeply connected with local abortion funds, ask them what they need in this moment, whether it’s volunteers, providing rides or whether it’s financial support,” Ghosh said.
“I deeply believe there’s a place for everyone in this movement but we have to be strategic and responsive to the needs of the folks who are doing this work on the ground.”