Need an abortion in Appalachia? ‘Holler’ at this West Va. group

Holler Health Justice launched in 2018 to fund abortions in West Virginia and Appalachia. Since, its mission has expanded to include providing free emergency contraception and harm reduction services. 

In 2020, the organization provided $111,415 in abortion funding and other support. The group dispersed more than 6,000 units of emergency contraception and helped nearly 400 people obtain abortions. 

West Virginia only has one abortion clinic, meaning that more than 90% of West Virginians live in a county with no access to an abortion clinic. In November 2018, voters ratified a constitutional amendment that stated, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires funding of abortion.” Until then, West Virginia was one of only 17 states that allowed Medicaid funding for all or most medically necessary abortions. 

After that vote, Caitlin Lejarzar Gaffin, co-director of Holler Health Justice, pooled resources and volunteers to raise just under $5,000 for abortions. A year later, the organization was spending more than $100,000. 

“It was much more than we ever thought we could do,” she said. “And it was more than we thought there might be a need for, too. We quickly realized in 2019, that there was a drastic need.” 

The gap left by the removal of Medicaid funding was significant. In 2017 — the last full year of Medicaid-funded abortions in West Virginia — state Medicaid funded 1,560 abortions at a cost of $326,103, Gaffin said. 

Soon Holler Health realized that other needs to overcoming abortion access barriers included travel, childcare, lodging and more. 

When co-director Peshka Calloway joined the organization in early 2019, Holler Health expanded its services to include helping people obtain the legal identification required to vote. Other work, such as voter registration and education that required face-to-face interaction, stalled when the pandemic hit but is now resuming. 

Holler Health Justice combines the experiences and passions of its leaders. In addition to practical services and abortion funding, Gaffin and Calloway tell their stories to help people feel less alone. 

“When I had my abortions, I didn’t know anyone else who had had them,” Gaffin said. “I felt alone until I started talking about my abortions, and I found family members who had [abortions] and friends who had [abortions.] That empowered me to continue sharing my story.” 

She began research into abortion funds around the country and started getting involved. One of the most enlightening and uplifting findings, she said, was that most of the organizations were started by people in their communities — not national non-profits. 

Calloway found Holler Health Justice after the organization assisted someone she knew with an abortion. It wasn’t long after that she joined the team as well. 

At the time of Calloway’s first abortion, she did not have reliable transportation. Thankfully, she had a supportive family who helped her get to a clinic, but that need spurred her passion for helping others. 

“Understanding that if I had to go back to that situation and Medicaid didn’t cover it, I wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on for me and my son,” Calloway said. “I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills.” 

Holler Health Justice is fully funded by local supporters and donations. For those who are unable to donate, Gaffin said word-of-mouth support goes just as far.  

As abortion access continues to be a flashpoint for controversy in the South and Appalachia, Holler Health Justice’s team recommends finding the local abortion fund in your area to support and talk about. 

“Whatever happens with Roe v. Wade, we will still be here,” Calloway said. “You can’t stop us.”

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