Last year, between May and June, the National Network of Abortion Funds raised just over $100,000. This year, in that same period, they've raised $1.8 million.
And they're not alone: Abortion funds across the South have reported that, in the wake of recent high-profile, near-total bans on abortion, they’ve received an unprecedented amount of donations. Now, weeks later, money is still pouring in.
“People are finally seeing that this is a real, real threat,” said Michele Landeau, board president of a Missouri organization, the Gateway Women’s Access Fund. So far, this fiscal year, Landeau said they’ve raised enough money to pay for 1,500 abortions — which is as many abortions as they’ve funded in the past three years combined.
“I’m just happy they’re showing up now,” she added. “I wish they would have shown up a long time ago, but, you know, you take what you can get.”
Southern abortion funds started seeing record numbers of donations in May, after Georgia passed a bill to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy (before many people even know they’re pregnant). When Alabama passed a law to ban almost all abortions in the state — with no exceptions for rape or incest — just a week later, in another open attempt to challenge Roe v. Wade, pleas to give to funds lit up social media for days.
Missouri then passed its own abortion ban, to outlaw the procedure as early as eight weeks into a pregnancy. Now, the state’s last remaining clinic providing abortions is caught up in a battle to keep its license to perform the procedure, and that fight has spurred people to keep donating to the Gateway Women’s Access Fund, Landeau said.
“If we can’t support the actual clinic in Missouri, then again we were the organization I think that a lot of people lifted up,” Landeau, who is a volunteer, told VICE News earlier this week, before the clinic won an extension that will keep its doors open through August. Donations, she said, have remained steady for weeks.
If the Missouri clinic does stop providing abortions, Landeau said they’ll give the money to out-of-state clinics to pay for Missouri’s women procedures. Most of the fund’s clients already travel out of state anyway.
Locally run and tasked with guiding clients through a complex, costly state web of abortion regulations, abortion funds have long been underfunded. In 2017, when 150,000 people called organizations that belong to the National Network of Abortion Funds, they were able to help 27,000. Of the 76 member organizations, only 29 have paid staff — a number the National Network of Abortion Funds now hopes to grow.
Shortly after the Alabama abortion ban passed, Laurie Bertram Roberts told VICE News that her fund, the Jackson-based Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, had received about $14,000 in donations. Now, she’s got $65,000 — and thinks more is on the way.
“Everytime I turn around, people will be like, ‘We’re doing a fundraiser! We’re doing this for Yellowhammer and Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund,’” she said, naming the only Alabama-based abortion fund. Mississippi has also had its own six-week ban on the books, since March, but it is not in effect. “No one need check with us before they fundraise us. Please, no. No need to call us first. Just send a check, that’s cool.”
Roberts has big plans for that money. She wants to buy thousands of dollars of condoms and dental dams. She wants to train more doulas. She wants to give out diapers and period supplies. Renovations on the building that houses the fund will be finished by August, instead of in another year, as Roberts had originally thought.
And the donations have sometimes arrived in surprising ways, from surprising places. About a week ago, the LA-based Ripped Bodice, the nation’s only all-romance bookstore, shipped Roberts 20 copies of every book on the Jackson School District summer reading list, Roberts said. She wanted neighborhood kids to be able to borrow them and get their summer reading done.
“We have working toilets now, which feels very rich,” Roberts said. “We don’t only fund abortions, and we’re very open about that. Our clients need all kinds of things. Most of the people who call us for abortion funding are already parents.”
The National Network of Abortion Funds is no longer enjoying the same surge of donations it saw right after the Georgia and Alabama bans. Still, it’s seeing a higher number of donations than in past years. And in total, it’s gotten more than 30,000 donations.
The organization, which set up an ActBlue account to process donations explicitly for states with new abortion bans, plans to use the money to pay for more abortions, add programming budgets, and support organizing to “fight the financial, logistical, cultural and political barriers ahead,” as a spokesperson put it. Similarly, Bertram Roberts is trying to turn her new donors into long-term ones, with recurring donations.
“People just hop from crisis to crisis to crisis, and we just need to find another sustainable model for fighting these issues,” she said. “Otherwise we’re just never going to be able to fight them in any coordinated or real way. Otherwise we’re just firefighters, putting out fires. And that’s no way to fight this.”
Cover: Protesters for women's rights march to the Alabama Capitol to protest a bill to ban abortion that passed last week , Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)