Mom joins volunteer pilots to fly people across state lines for abortions: 'I needed to act'

A group of volunteer pilots is flying people across state lines so they can access the health care they need after more than a dozen states enacted near-total abortion bans and as eight states have restricted gender-affirming care.

Kim, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her identity, says she felt physically ill the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

"I had this visceral reaction," Kim, who lives in Tennessee, tells "I needed to do something — I needed to act — but what am I going to do? I work in finance. I'm not an activist. I had no idea how I could help, but I knew I needed to talk to my husband."

Kim says her husband was completely supportive, adding that he told her: 'Whatever we decide to do, however we can help, I'm there, too.'"

Together, Kim and her husband searched the internet for ways to get involved and found Elevated Access, an organization of volunteer pilots that helps transport people out of state to obtain medical care.

"The guidelines said that you had to have 200 flight hours. I looked at my logbook and I had 200.8 hours," Kim says. "We signed up immediately."

'They’re the ones that are taking the big risk'

Kim says she decided to volunteer, in part, because she had an abortion nine years ago.

"At the time, I was a single mom with a middle schooler and a high schooler and had just started my new career," Kim says. "I was just starting over."

During her procedure, Kim says a nurse held her hand and told her: "I’ve been exactly where you are right now, two times, and everything’s going to be fine."

"That was so comforting," she says.

The only thing Kim says was "bothering her" during her abortion was the thought that "today’s the day (protestors) are going to blow this building up."

Kim's fear wasn't unfounded: Since 1977, anti-abortion activists have killed 11 abortion workers and attempted to kill 26 more, according to the National Abortion Federation, a group of providers that tracks anti-abortion violence. In that same time period, there have also been 42 abortion clinic bombings and 194 arsons.

In 2021, a man shot at the front door of a Planned Parenthood in Knoxville, Tennessee. Less than a year later, the same man burned the building down.

"Then I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I’m worried about me ... these people who work here have to come here every day,'" Kim says. "They’re the ones that are taking the big risk. I just felt so much gratitude toward the people who were there."

When she spoke to her husband about how they could help people in the wake of the Dobbs decision, she shared her abortion story with him for the very first time.

"Nine years later, I know I definitely made the right choice for me, so I don't agonize over it," Kim says. "I don't lay awake at night. I know I made the right choice for my life, for my kids and for myself."

‘I just want to help them get to where they need to be’

After Roe v. Wade was overturned and several states enacted trigger laws, banning abortion in nearly all instances, Kim thought back to how she felt during her unplanned pregnancy.

"When you're carrying an unplanned pregnancy, it feels like you're being held hostage," Kim says. "That feeling of being held hostage all came back to me that day in my backyard."

Elevated Access launched in April 2022. Kim flew the second mission for the organization — a long, complicated relay of flights requiring two pilots, both of whom were women.

To date, Kim's second mission is the only all-female flown mission Elevated Access has completed.

It was also the longest solo flight Kim had ever taken. Previously, she had only flown with her husband and children on family vacations.

"My headspace (before and during flights) is usually that I just want to take care of that person," Kim says. "I just want to help them get to where they need to be."

Most of the passengers Kim flies have never flown on a small plane before. Others, Kim says, have never flown at all.

"I had a passenger that had never been on any airplane before," she says. "I thought it was incredibly brave of her to be, like, 'OK, I'm going to do this.' For that to be her first flight ever."

The passengers never discuss what type of health care they're receiving with the pilots, in order to protect the pilots from any possible legal action in states where even aiding someone's access to abortion or gender-affirming care is illegal.

Instead, Kim says she provides her passengers with ample snacks ("I've had passengers that just sat and ate the entire time," she says with a laugh) and makes small talk, often about the aircraft, what to expect during the flight or about their families.

"There's this stereotype that's portrayed of who is getting an abortion — that's not the case," Kim says. "It's a broad spectrum — it's a slice of every demographic."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six out of every 10 women who have an abortion have at least one child at home.

"The last mission I flew, that person was a mom," Kim adds. "I have flown people who have talked to me about their kids.”

Kim says it's just now starting to hit her that she is providing the same support and comfort to others as the nurse who held her hand during her abortion gave to her.

"It makes me feel great, to think that I'm in that role for them," she says.

Adding that "it's weird to be part of something that feels so good to be a part of, but that you wish — more than anything — wasn't necessary.

"I wish that I would get that call tomorrow, that Elevated Access is done because nobody needs to fly to a different state to access health care," Kim adds. "But I think that it's something that's going to continue to be necessary, and I will keep doing it as long as it's needed."

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