Amid the hundreds of pending requests for assistance from or to volunteer with the abortion access fund she co-founded, Makayla Montoya Frazier knows there could be a trap lurking behind every phone call or text.
“There are definitely people who are trying to catch us right now,” said Montoya Frazier of the Buckle Bunnies Fund, which helps Texans access and pay for abortions. That includes paying for transportation to a state where abortion is still legal, sharing information about abortion pills and guiding women through their self-managed medication abortions.
Some are contacting Buckle Bunnies posing as either someone who needs an abortion or as a potential volunteer in attempts to gather evidence for criminal charges or a civil case against the fund, Montoya Frazier and/or other volunteers, she said.
How does she know?
“It’s pretty obvious” given the answers — or non-answers — she gets when she asks certain questions, she said. “People, like, either can’t answer them or they just won’t.”
Montoya Frazier declined to say what kinds of questions she asks that are impostor giveaways. “Because the services that we provide are so wraparound [and intimate], it’s usually pretty easy to weed out who’s real and who’s not real.”
She’s well aware of the risks that come with the work Buckle Bunnies does. Because of them, most Texas nonprofit abortion access funds have stopped distributing money and clinics in the state have stopped providing abortions.
But not the Buckle Bunnies.
“If we’re scared of lawsuits, then nobody gets care,” Montoya Frazier said.
Layers of criminal, civil consequences
Abortion access advocates face an unprecedented, murky legal landscape crafted by Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists. There are several layers of laws — new and old — that restrict abortion in Texas and prescribe high punishments for providers.
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last month, the Texas Supreme Court allowed the state to enforce its 1925 abortion ban, which exposes anyone who helps someone get an abortion to fines and lawsuits. So far, there haven’t been any reports of criminal charges brought under the 1925 law.
Texas’ “trigger law,” which will ban nearly all abortions starting on Aug. 25 in the wake of Roe V. Wade being overturned, will add criminal charges for doctors who could face life in prison and fines up to $100,000 for an illegal abortion.
It does not criminalize people who receive abortions, and it allows narrow exceptions to save the life of the mother or to prevent “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and other DAs across the state have said they won’t pursue prosecutions under the 1925 law or the coming trigger law.
Securing medication for abortions via telehealth or mail was already illegal in Texas when new penalties went into effect in December 2021 that added jail time and a fine of up to $10,000 for anyone who prescribes the pills by those means.
Senate Bill 8 from the 2021 legislative session will also remain in effect. That law, titled the Texas Heartbeat Act, allows anyone to sue someone accused of providing an abortion or assisting in any way after six weeks of pregnancy — before most women know they are pregnant.
“Any person who was complicit in these illegal abortions — including [provider] Whole Woman’s Health employees, volunteers, and donors, and anyone who aided or abetted these illegal abortions in any manner, apart from the formerly pregnant woman upon whom the illegal abortion was performed — is equally liable under the Texas Heartbeat Act and equally guilty of murder,” wrote attorney Jonathan Mitchell, the former solicitor general of Texas and architect of Senate Bill 8, in a recent court filing.
SB 8 is being challenged in court by abortion access funds, a process that will likely take years to wind through the appeals process.
The risk of abortion funds and clinics being prosecuted by “politically motivated” district attorneys is “very real,” said Elizabeth Myers, an attorney who represents several abortion access funds, including Lilith Fund, which like Buckle Bunnies serves all of Texas.
Until each law is reviewed by a court — either through a court declaration or a criminal prosecution — the legal landscape of abortion is in limbo, she said.
“The problem with the [criminal prosecution] option is that it requires that you subject yourself to the immediate harm of the criminal justice system,” Myers said. “And that’s a lot to ask.”
That threat of immediate harm has caused most abortion providers and assistance funds to halt their work.
“I don’t think there’s a point where we’ve lost all hope,” Lilith Fund board member Vanessa Martinez told the San Antonio Report. “We’re looking at ways that we can continue to help Texans in need. We know that it can’t include abortion access at this point in time, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try to find ways to assist.”
The Lilith Fund’s hotline remains active three days a week.
“It’s still open for people to get First Amendment-protected information on where else they can go for resources,” said Erika Galindo, organizing program manager for Lilith Fund in San Antonio. “We’re hoping to slowly — as we’re figuring it out — unveil some of the next steps of what this might look like, but we do know that we’re walking a very fine line.”
The fund has launched the Texas Abortion Hype Squad, a program that trains volunteers to spread the word about how people can access abortion.
“It’s our duty to protect each other by giving each other accurate information,” Galindo said.
Abortion access funds are not going away, Myers said. “They’ve just pivoted their operations a bit until they get clarity that they can return to everything that they were doing before.”
Until then, they’ll have to deal with legal threats. SB 8 author Mitchell has already filed numerous petitions in an attempt to get testimony and other evidence about abortion procedures or assistance that may have been illegal.
Those petitions are “a continuation of the fear campaign that started several years ago,” Myers said, and they’re not being done by Mitchell.
Buckle Bunnies Fund has received such a petition from former Big Spring Mayor Shannon Thomason, Montoya Frazier said. Under Thomason in 2020, Big Spring essentially outlawed abortion within city limits.
Montoya Frazier said she’s also received two cease-and-desist letters this year that demand Buckle Bunnies halt operations. She said these “intimidation tactics” are designed to get Buckle Bunnies to stop its work.
Because the fund’s founders have chosen to continue, they’re at greater risk than funds that have stopped.
Montoya Frazier acknowledges the increased emotional toll this work now takes, work that still brings her a deep sense of satisfaction.
“It’s so stressful. I just want to do my job,” she said. “I have to take all these other tiny steps, which means I’m taking time [away from] helping people.”