When Victoria Spring woke up on Tuesday to the news that abortion rights might be overturned soon, she felt a weight in her stomach and hoped it was a bad dream. After processing the moment in her Queens apartment, she went into action, donating $500 to a national abortion nonprofit and signing up to do something she’d never heard of before: become a Reddit “Auntie.”
Reddit’s ‘Auntie Network’ prepares for a post-Roe world
Spring is not alone. In the hours since a leaked draft opinion signaled the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark law legalizing abortion nationwide, thousands of people have flocked to a Reddit community called the Auntie Network, a pseudo-underground gathering space aimed to facilitate abortions in an age of diminishing access. On the page, volunteers sign up to lodge, transport, assist and care for people needing abortions who are alone or in states where it’s difficult to get one.
A modern-day adaptation of underground abortion networks that helped people access care when the procedure was illegal, the Auntie Network stands alongside formal organizations like the Brigid Alliance and the National Network of Abortion Funds that coordinate travel and remove financial barriers to getting abortions. But as the prospect of terminating a pregnancy in America faces staunch restrictions in large swaths of the country, the Reddit group offers a glimpse into a post-Roe era when getting an abortion will require an influx of community-based aid to organize and assist.
“People are outraged and people are using social media to form these networks of activism,” Spring, 32, said. “In the absence of having institutional support … we are going to have to more and more rely on each other.”
The Reddit community, r/auntienetwork, started in May 2019, according to the group’s page. It was meant to be an organic space for people who needed help getting abortions to post and find assistance from others. In its first two years of existence, the group’s membership grew at a steady pace from a few hundred people to 18,000 members.
But shortly after Texas’s near-total ban on abortions went into effect in September, membership spiked by the thousands in days, ultimately reaching roughly 45,000 by the end of April. As of Wednesday morning, a little over a day since Politico posted the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe v. Wade, the group has swelled to over 58,000 members.
In the thread, users from all across America offer various services to people seeking abortion.
There’s the rural Colorado auntie who lives with “my dad” near a Planned Parenthood and offered people seeking abortion a “comfy twin bed and a supportive place to crash” among the mountains. The poster offered to cook meals, deliver or pickup packages, and noted the household is “420” friendly, a code for marijuana.
Then there’s the Cleveland-area auntie who will provide a ride from the airport to the nearby Planned Parenthood clinic and “take you to the rock and roll hall of fame and take lots of pictures so you don’t have to tell anyone the real reason you came here if you don’t want!”
The spike in activity has been a challenge for the group’s moderator, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive work. Since the news of the draft opinion broke, the moderator, who goes by the Reddit username LallybrochSassenach and spent roughly two decades as an abortion clinic escort, has been frantically moderating the Reddit thread and vetting new members, barely pausing to sleep, eat, or use the bathroom. “It was a crazy night,” she said.
As the group’s lone active moderator, she single-handedly reviews each post and comment to ensure the community doesn’t get overtaken by antiabortion activists and remains a safe place for people seeking reproductive care or offering assistance. (So far, she estimates between 5 to 10 percent of the thousands of posts and comments she’s reviewed have been hateful and needed to be removed.)
“I’ve met a lot of people who have been guilted about making this choice,” the moderator said. “Guilting anybody for any decision they make about their personal body is just not helpful.”
Andrea Miller, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said mutual aid organizations like Reddit’s Auntie Network show how “ready and eager” people are to help those needing abortion care, “especially in the face of this hostile Supreme Court.”
She added, however, that Reddit members signing up to volunteer should consider offering help to formal groups that have been around for years, such as the Brigid Alliance, which arranges and funds travel for those seeking abortions, or the National Network of Abortion Funds, which helps remove logistical and financial barriers for people seeking abortions. “We want people to get involved,” she said. “But [we] really encourage them, if they can, to get involved and connect with the growing network of grass-roots organizations that … are above ground.”
Miller added that formalized groups have deeper knowledge of local abortion laws than Reddit communities and can vet prospective volunteers more thoroughly.
“We have far too many examples … of ways in which those who are absolutely determined to prevent people from being able to make decisions about the reproductive lives and have abortions literally will stop at nothing,” she said.
To prevent scammers and bad faith volunteers, the Auntie Network requires users have a footprint on Reddit including “A SOLID 30 DAY recent post history before posting.” Still, the moderator acknowledged that with the spike in membership, new procedures might have to be developed. “It has always been 30-day post history and a judgment call,” she said. “Like any judge in any court, you do the best you can with the information you have at the time.”
And for Spring, who is 13 weeks pregnant, joining the Auntie Network carries extra weight. She’s tried multiple times to get pregnant, and suffered miscarriages. She imagined how scary it could be to put your life in a stranger’s hands when seeking an abortion, saying that, if someone reaches out to her seeking help, she will provide information about her identity and make sure her house is set up in a way to ensure the person she’s hosting feels safe.
Above all, she blames officials in power who she said are creating a world where this type of underground network is needed.
“It’s heartbreaking to me,” she said. “People are already in a desperate, terrifying situation and now they’re having to rely on the goodwill of strangers to get access to necessary health care.”