As she watched 25 white Republican men pass a bill to outlaw nearly all abortions in Alabama, Amanda Reyes couldn’t stop thinking about money.
Or rather, the lack of it.
After pouring months of hard work into a joint fundraiser, Reyes’ group, the Alabama-based Yellowhammer Fund, and the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, had raised less than a third of their goal of $150,000.
But now, donations to abortion rights and reproductive justice groups are surging, after the passage of sweeping abortion restrictions in the South. Last week, Georgia’s governor signed into law a bill to ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. On Wednesday night, the Alabama governor went even further: She signed a bill into law to ban all abortions, except in cases where a pregnancy poses a “serious health risk” to the mother, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
An hour after the Alabama legislature first passed its bill, on Tuesday night, Reyes checked her phone. To her shock, she realized that about $15,000 had been deposited in the Yellowhammer Fund’s PayPal account.
“These are donations for 50 dollars, for five dollars, for 15 dollars, for 20 dollars,” she recalled thinking. “Where is this coming from? Where are people getting all of our stuff? And [I] just looked on social media and saw just this huge outpouring of support.”
“We have seen spikes after the 2016 election and the Kavanaugh hearings, but not this much of a spike."
These organizations, usually locally run, are now in the national spotlight. Women’s news outlets like InStyle, Glamour, and Jezebel recommended readers donate. High-profile celebrities and politicians like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Sen. Kamala Harris blasted their followers with donation requests. (Harris ending up helping raise more than $160,000 for abortion rights groups, the Huffington Post reported.)
Much of the money is from small-dollar donors. Since the Alabama ban passed, the National Network of Abortion Funds has raised more than $262,000, thanks to more than 12,000 individual donations.
The average donation is just $22.
“We have seen spikes after the 2016 election and the Kavanaugh hearings, but not this much of a spike,” Yamani Hernandez, the network’s executive director, wrote in an email. During the entirety of fiscal year 2017, when Donald Trump was elected, the network received just over 9,500 donations.
“We plan to regrant it to local funds to fund abortion and associated costs directly, because we know that local expertise, strategy, and logistics matter most right now,” Hernandez added.
Abortion funds do more than just pay for the procedure. They can help cover a patient’s travel, lodging, and food: When one caller to the Yellowhammer hotline couldn’t afford a $35 Lyft to a nearby abortion clinic, the fund covered her ride. And they often try to improve people’s everyday reproductive health: The Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, in Jackson, Mississippi, often hands out birth control, condoms, and Plan B.
It’s a lot. And for these organizations, every dollar can make a difference.
“Our organizations have already been under capacity. We’ve already worked from a strained place,” added Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. On Wednesday alone, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Sistersong raised at least $2,000, Simpson said. “Not saying that they don’t need money, but there’s a big difference in giving to an ACLU than giving to a Sistersong.”
Reyes said that she has no idea exactly how much money Yellowhammer, the only abortion fund based in Alabama, has raised since the bans passed; her organization has been too busy with media requests and reassuring people that abortion is still legal in Alabama (and in every other U.S. state). But last year, Yellowhammer paid for 313 abortions, and their average pledge to each was $180. This year, Reyes had hoped to fund 500 abortions.
“We are definitely going to double that,” Reyes said. “That is what I can say to you. We are going to fund at least 1,000 abortions.”
Usually, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, an abortion fund in Atlanta, raises just about $1,000 a month. But this month, between May 5 and May 13 — the week Georgia passed its ban, but before Alabama’s became law — the group received $18,000 in donations. All of that money will likely go right back into abortion care, Deputy Director Quita Tinsley told VICE News.
“It’ll be able to cover the funding gap,” Tinsley said, referring to the gulf between what callers need and the amount of money the fund usually has on hand. “But I think the scope of the work that needs to be done for the South is really large.”
Southern legislators have passed several abortion restrictions in recent years, but none has generated the national furor of the Alabama abortion ban, despite reproductive justice advocates’ attempts to ring the alarm. Between 2010 and 2018, states enacted 424 abortion restrictions, more than a third of all the restrictions put in place since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“We get over one hurdle, and people go, ‘Oh, that’s a thing that happened; I guess we’re good now,’” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, who runs the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. “We’ve been doing these fights every year. People get mad and yell at us and get all rage-y and rage-tweet-y when something passes. They should see all the stuff that we get killed. They should see all the bills that don’t pass.”
In the last week, the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund has received about $14,000. But Roberts knows that the donations may soon dry up, as the nation’s outrage fades, and she’s still trying to decide what to do with the money they’ve raised so far. She’s not convinced that it should all go directly towards funding abortions.
“There’s more to think about than just that, right?” she said. “Like building a sustainable organization that’s gonna be able to be here for the next fight, and the next fight, and the next fight, and the next caller, and the next caller, and the next caller.”
Marie Solis contributed reporting.
Cover image: Women hold signs to protest HB 481 at the state Capitol, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)