The Slatest

How Alabama’s Main Abortion Fund Will Use All Those New Donations

Protesters carry pro-choice signs; some are wearing red Handmaid's Tale dresses. In the foreground, a protester shouts into a megaphone.
Pro-choice activists protest in front of the Alabama State House as the Alabama State Senate votes on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States on May 14. Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the nation’s strictest abortion ban. The bill includes no exceptions for rape or incest and up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions. Abortions are only permitted for cases in which the woman’s health is at risk or in which the fetus has a fatal condition.

The law won’t go into effect for six months, and even then, it’s destined to become tangled up in appeals as the ACLU of Alabama brings a lawsuit. The bill, designed as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, could eventually end up before the Supreme Court.

As opponents of the bill—in the state and throughout the country—saw their protests go unheard, many looked to support the Yellowhammer Fund, the state’s main abortion fund, as a means of continuing their fight. The fund was launched at the beginning of 2018 and works to defray the cost of abortions, which can run into the thousands of dollars, for the many low-income women who visit one of Alabama’s three Planned Parenthood clinics currently providing abortions. The funds raised by the group are primarily used to pay for the cost of the procedure itself, but it sometimes helps with housing and transportation for those who have to travel to a clinic. While Alabamians benefit the most, women from neighboring states also sometimes find it easier to travel to an Alabama clinic, given the paucity of resources in the region—Mississippi has just one clinic, and Louisiana has three. (Georgia has a larger number, but it also recently passed its own severe abortion ban.)

Slate spoke Wednesday afternoon with Amanda Reyes, the president of the fund, about the past 24 hours and the group’s plans for the surge in donations. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Slate: How has today been for you?  

Reyes: Kind of wild. Our coalition partners at URGE have been fantastic. They chartered a plane to fly through Montgomery, over the statehouse and the governor’s mansion, with a banner that says, “Abortion is OK.” That’s pretty amazing to see, since the goal of this piece of legislation is to make a statement that could have the very intended consequence of making abortion unavailable.

Donations have really been coming in—more in the last few hours [than at any point since we started] doing this work. The solidarity we’re getting from people across the nation is fantastic.

What do the donations go toward?

One of our first goals is to make sure folks who are having later abortions—really close to the [gestational] time limit [under current state law]—are able to afford their abortion care. We’re going to have to reevaluate the budget now, and hopefully we’ll be able to start helping folks who are in their first trimester seeking earlier abortions as well.

People in Alabama and those who come here who have second-trimester procedures, most are doing so because they either had a fetal anomaly, fetal demise, or something going really wrong with their own health. Or they have faced so many barriers to abortion access that they have gotten into the second trimester [because of delays].

So we’re grateful to be there to say you can stop hustling to get this money. A lot of folks aren’t paying rent, water, electricity, food. They’re taking out really high-interest, high-risk title loans and pawning things that may not get them a lot of money but that have a lot of sentimental value. We can help these people.

How much are you spending on each case?

For folks who are 12 and 13 weeks into the pregnancy, our average is about $125. The average pledge for after 15 weeks is about $150 to $180 or more.

The model we work on is, we have a budget for the week, and we have a flex budget for if we get a caller in an extreme situation who needs more than the average amount. We work with callers to try to work with other funds, like the National Abortion Federation. If between our own resources and fundraising we do with them, they’re still not able to make the difference, we’ll increase our pledge so they can go ahead and get the care they need.

What’s that look like for overall aid in the state?

Our fundraising last year allowed for 313 abortions in 2018. This year, from Jan. 1 through the end of April, we had enough for 92 folks. Our initial goal was to raise enough funds for 500 abortions, which is less than 10 percent of abortions performed in Alabama in 2017. We wanted to almost double the amount we did, and I think we might go past that and even triple that now.

How do you imagine things will change now that Alabama has passed this bill?

We have always had plans. People think abortion advocates are hysterical because we say we’re getting closer to [undoing] Roe v. Wade, but we are. What has happened in Alabama is showing how close we are.

If the ban goes into effect or if Roe v. Wade is overturned, we’re going to help transfer people to where they can get care and pay for where they can get legal care, which is what we do now. [There are] networks we have in place for ourselves and our people … to get people the help they need.