New York Magazine
7. BEWARE THE AUNTIES EVEN THE MOST WELLINTENTIONED VOLUNTEERS CAN SPELL TROUBLE.
the auntie network sub-Reddit, a digital space offering information and resources to those in need of abortion care, first appeared online on May 16, 2019, barely 24 hours after the Alabama state senate approved a near-total ban on abortions, making them punishable by up to 99 years in prison (the law, blocked by a federal judge, isn’t in effect, but Alabama is one of 26 states likely to outlaw abortion in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision). The headers on posts usually read something like, “Need Help! I’m Desperate!”
Some posts are vague asks— general requests for advice on where to turn—and some are heartbreakingly specific, detailing the poster’s location, how far along their pregnancy is, and how confused they are about abortion’s legality in their state as well as a plea for help.
For as many people as are seeking help, there are many thousands of self-described “aunties” and “uncles” offering
rides, child care, and even their homes to people forced to travel for abortion care. There are rules: The sub-Reddit forbids abortion seekers from “outright asking for money,” instead suggesting they be specific about what they need. The moderators also discourage supporters from sending cash directly to posters, but buying things like plane tickets or hotel rooms for abortion seekers is allowed. DMs are always open.
There are no rules, however, to ensure that people are who they say they are on the Auntie Network or that they are qualified to give advice—especially in a world where criminalizing abortion seekers is becoming more common. Of particular concern is the potential for soliciting a supporter into breaking the law by sending abortion pills through the mail. While it’s not currently illegal to self-manage an abortion in most states, it is illegal in every state to purchase the pills and give them to someone else, something members of this sub-Reddit have requested and offered.
This is partly why many abortion advocates express concerns over the Auntie Network. “These efforts are often well intentioned, but they are not grounded in what abortion-funds callers need or the expertise that already exists,” says NNAF’s Ghosh. If you’re looking for more vetted advice on Reddit, the
Abortion sub-Reddit is moderated by people with experience and know-how in obtaining abortion access and aims to provide accurate information and support to people seeking abortion services. It has a separate digital resource with the same aim. Ariella Messing is the director of operations of the Online Abortion
Resource Squad, a volunteer-run organization that oversees the Abortion sub-Reddit, which currently has more than 26,000 members. That makes it smaller than the Auntie Network (which has 74,000 members), but the discussion is still lively and the sidebar is full of reputable information, including links to U.S. abortion clinics, financial assistance, and ways to procure medication abortion.
“You have to meet people where they’re at, physically and in terms of their knowledge,” Messing says as to why her organization took over the sub-Reddit. “If not, it’s just in the ether, and it’s not doing any good.”