In the two weeks since the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that would end federal protections to abortion access leaked, Makayla Montoya Frazier’s phone has been blowing up nonstop.
Montoya Frazier, 22, is one of the founders of the Buckle Bunnies Fund, a loose confederation of “young queer folks” helping women access and pay for abortions, including the Plan C abortion pills, which in Texas are illegal to prescribe after six weeks and to obtain through the mail.
Though not a registered nonprofit, the group also helps people access emergency and regular forms of contraception and can pay for transportation and other costs associated with getting an abortion.
Their work accelerated when Texas’s law banning abortions after six weeks and making it a criminal offense to help a woman obtain an abortion went into effect in September; since the Supreme Court draft leak, even more people have contacted the group seeking help, to donate or to volunteer.
While much of the work is getting people to appointments out of state, Montoya Frazier often acts as an “abortion doula,” guiding patients through their self-managed medication abortions. Lately, she said, she provides these services for as many as seven people a week.
“We do pretty much everything you think a regular birth doula would do, but the only thing that makes it different is the pregnancy outcome,” she said. “So [that includes] child care, making sure our people eat and have proper pain management, proper hygienic supplies and really just someone to talk to, and not just about their abortion.”
Montoya Frazier said the number of calls asking whether abortion is still legal has risen since the draft ruling was leaked.
“Abortion is still legal right now,” she said, and even after the Supreme Court makes its ruling, “we’re not going to stop.”
Montoya Frazier, a former stripper and community organizer who served as co-chair of the San Antonio chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said Buckle Bunnies is now her full-time job. She said volunteers come and go, but she is one of about six core members of the fund. Others live in Corpus Christi, Dallas, Austin and Houston.
“We’re spread out so if people do need a physical human being, they can access one,” she said.
She estimates that the group has assisted more than 1,500 people across Texas since 2020 and has spent more than $350,000 doing so.
Montoya Frazier expects calls for assistance and donations to keep rising, as the Supreme Court’s final decision on Roe v. Wade is expected in late June or early July. Texas has a so-called trigger law that will result in a complete abortion ban statewide 30 days after an overturn of Roe, even in cases of rape or incest.
Yet only 15% of Texans support an all-out ban, according to a recent University of Texas at Austin poll, which also found that nearly 40% agreed that abortions should be available as a matter of personal choice.
Medication abortion now most common
Most abortions in the state were by medication in 2020 and 2021, according to preliminary data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHS). That mirrors nationwide data. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which does research and policy analysis on abortion in the United States, 54% of all abortions in the U.S. in 2020 were medication abortions.
HHS data does not include abortions as the result of medication sent to Texans by mail or obtained in Mexico. Abortion access advocates say that has become more common since a 2021 Texas law made it a felony to provide abortion medication after six weeks of pregnancy — even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of medication abortion for pregnancies up to 10 weeks.
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 telehealth or through the mail.
Montoya Frazier will spend days and nights with people undergoing a medication abortion — typically two pills taken over 24 to 48 hours — caring for them throughout the sometimes painful process.
“We try to make it like a slumber party and if they want to get their mind off of what they’re going through, they can,” she said. “We watch movies, hang out and eat pizza. If they want to talk about any tough feelings, the floor is theirs. We provide whatever level of care they are comfortable with.”
The potential for getting caught in the legal crossfire — jailed or fined — comes with the territory, Montoya Frazier said. “That’s always been a concern.”
She expressed confidence in lawyers who provide their services pro bono to defend abortion funds, including Buckle Bunnies, from legal threats.
‘At the same level as people we serve’
Buckle Bunnies are one of more than a dozen nonprofits and other groups actively working in Texas that say they will continue to fund abortions and emergency contraception.
“We aren’t going anywhere,” Amanda B. Williams, executive director of the statewide nonprofit Lilith Fund, stated in a news release on Thursday. Using money from donations, Lilith Fund has increased the average amount it gives to clients, from $348 in 2020 to $587 since Texas’ near ban went into effect. “We’ll do everything in our power to ensure they get the health care they need,” wrote Williams, “no matter what comes next.”
Buckle Bunnies’ target clientele skews younger and more marginalized than those who may be served by more traditional abortion access funds, Montoya Frazier said. Most volunteers and clients have experience in the sex industry and many are also LGBTQ, she said, both traditionally underserved communities when it comes to any kind of health care access.
“We’re at the same level as the people that we serve,” she said. “We’re poor people who use drugs or [are] sex workers. We’re queer. … We really want people to be able to relate to us in that way. It’s really important to us because, I mean, that’s — that’s how people trust you and feel comfortable coming to you.”
She said Buckle Bunnies also works to get the message out to teenagers that emergency contraception, known as Plan B, is available without their parents’ permission.
While most of the group’s outreach and awareness occurs online and through word of mouth, Buckle Bunnies also tables at events and businesses to provide abortion information, pregnancy tests, emergency contraception and Narcan, a life-saving overdose remedy.
The Buckle Bunnies’ approach is far more irreverent than many abortion access organizations. The group’s name refers to women devoted to rodeo cowboys (who win and wear large belt buckles as trophies), and their logo is a smiling bunny wearing a cowboy hat, holding a speculum and wearing a T-shirt that says “Aborto!”
“We wanted to make things more fun, more lighthearted,” she said, “because so much of this stuff is so serious, and we get caught up in being so serious and so intense.”
Adapting to a changing battleground
For decades, Texas law has heavily regulated abortion clinics, limiting third-trimester abortion with few exceptions and requiring only licensed physicians perform abortions. In some states, non-physician health care workers — such as nurses or midwives — can perform the procedure.
Over the past several years, those restrictions have expanded to limit where clinics can be located and how they’re built, to prevent comprehensive health insurance plans from covering abortions and to prevent government entities from partnering with clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers.
“People have been adapting for years because Texas has been so sh**ty for so long,” said Montoya Frazier. But, she added, “people are still getting abortions that are compliant with SB 8, which is really cool to see.”
There are only three clinics in San Antonio that currently provide abortions under Senate Bill 8, Texas’ new abortion law. Planned Parenthood, which operates two of those, temporarily paused abortion services after the law first went into effect but has since restarted the procedure.
In the three months after the law took effect, the number of abortions in Texas dropped by 46% compared with the same period in 2020, according to HHS.
The most typical patient profile is Hispanic women in their 20s or 30s who are less than 10 weeks pregnant. Black residents, however, have the highest rates of abortion among the childbearing age group: 18 out of every 1,000 Black women had an abortion in 2019, according to HHS data, double the rate of Hispanic Texans.
An all-out ban would only further burden low-income people, who already can’t afford to take time off work and travel out of state for an abortion, Montoya Frazier said. “I can’t imagine how deep and dark it can be.”
It may get even more difficult to obtain an abortion out of state. Some Texas GOP leaders have said they will focus on criminalizing out-of-state abortions for Texas residents.
Speaking at a protest against the Supreme Court’s draft decision this month, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales reiterated that he will not prosecute someone for having or facilitating an abortion — even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Gonzales and four other Texas district attorneys issued a joint statement last month that praised Starr County officials for dropping charges of murder against a woman who had an abortion. Their defiance signals a “new battleground” for abortion rights, according to reporting by the Texas Tribune.
‘Dignity isn’t leaving the state’
Buckle Bunnies goes beyond more traditional forms of assistance. Because the fund isn’t a registered nonprofit, “we have a lot of flexibility on what we can do,” Montoya Frazier said.
So far, Buckle Bunnies are unpaid volunteers working from their homes, but she hopes to find office space and start paying staff this year.
The fund pays for child care, groceries, hotel or other accommodations to safely recover, gas to get someone to an appointment or to drive them to an appointment in a state with less restrictive abortion laws such as Louisiana, New Mexico and Colorado.
Montoya Frazier said she and her colleagues get “very personally involved” in some people’s lives, while other clients “just need us to send a voucher to the clinic … and that’s it. We try to adapt to every person’s situation as best as we can.”
Abortion, for her, is personal and political; she has had three, the latter two after birth control failed. She said she may one day want a child, but she’s currently happy with her fiancé and the “zoo” she tends at home: three dogs, three cats and a colony of feral cats she feeds.
For now, Montoya Frazier has her hands full trying to fill in the gap of unmet health care needs in her community.
“We just want people to have access to care that they see fit,” she said, “because dignity isn’t leaving the state to get health care.”