The extreme anti-abortion bill signed into law in Alabama on Wednesday sent shock waves far across state lines, crystallizing the growing challenge to Roe v. Wade and triggering record donations to groups bent on making sure women can safely end unwanted pregnancies.
Late Tuesday, Alabama lawmakers voted in a ban on almost all abortions in the state, even in cases of rape or incest. Gov. Kay Ivey signed it Wednesday, making it the strictest law in the nation—and a potential threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision making abortion legal across the U.S.
Although conservative state legislatures have been chipping away at abortion access for nearly a decade, what happened in Alabama—on the heels of a severe new law in Georgia—was so draconian it served as a kind of emergency flare.
“I’ve been getting calls from news networks all over the world that are watching Alabama right now,” said Jenna King, an organizer with Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates. “I think it’s important to understand that what we’re doing is so inherently unthinkable that the world is just trying to understand it.”
“We’re getting calls from BBC and Al Jazeera to cover this,” Barbara Anne Luttrell, the communications director for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told The Daily Beast. “It’s usual and it feels a bit bizarre, but it’s really sad that’s it’s not for something that’s improving the lives of people in these states.”
Experts have long warned that laws like those in Alabama and Georgia are designed to bring a challenge to Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority. But Alabama’s ban really drove the point home.
“The Fight Over Abortion Is Now Total War” headlines blared. Hillary Clinton called the bill an “appalling attack on women's lives.” At least 12 Democratic presidential contenders condemned it, and #MeToo figures like Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan urged their followers to act. Even Chris Evans, the actor best known for his portrayal of Captain America, chimed in, tweeting, “If you’re not worried about roe v wade, you’re not paying attention.”
For many, the impulse to do something meant opening their wallets.
Mia Raven, the director of the P.O.W.E.R. House, which offers childcare, housing, and escorts for patients at a clinic in Montgomery, said she was distracted all day by cell phone chimes alerting her that someone new had donated.
“It started last night basically and just kept going,” she said. “This is probably the most we’ve gotten in one day, ever.”
In fact, both P.O.W.E.R. House and the Yellowhammer Fund—an organization that helps pay for abortions and transportation—told The Daily Beast they’d broken fundraising records in the last 24 hours. One activist alone collected more than $28,000 in donations for Yellowhammer in three hours.
The National Network of Abortion Funds received nearly 3,500 donations totaling more than $106,000 in the last two days, executive director Yamani Hernandez told the Daily Beast. The donations account for 20 percent of their total number for the last year.
The National Abortion Federation, which live-tweeted the Senate debate over the ban, said someone donated $100 in the name of the bill’s sponsor. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood—both of which plan to sue to block the ban—would not comment on how much money they’d raised, but said they saw an influx of support this week.
Yellowhammer Fund President Amanda Reyes said her organization planned to use the money to fund abortions in Alabama and—if it becomes impossible to get one in the state—in the surrounding areas. The organization has already transported women who passed Alabama’s 15-week cut-off for abortions into neighboring states.
“We’re well-practiced in getting people out of state to get abortion care already,“ Reyes told The Daily Beast. “We can make abortion free and available on demand to people despite our state legislatures, despite our federal legislature, and despite our lawmakers, because we have the money and the resources to make that possible for people.”
“That is what people in the U.S. and across the world are saying: That abortion should be accessible, regardless of whether or not it’s legal,” she added.
But there were downsides to the increased attention as well. Just like in Georgia after the six-week ban passed, clinics in Alabama faced a deluge of calls from patients wondering if they could still come in for their appointments Wednesday. Dramatic headlines about a “near-total abortion ban” had some patients worried that the procedure was already illegal.
“I’ve been encouraging people to shout from the rooftops that abortion is still legal in Alabama and it will be until the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade,” King said Wednesday.
But there is concern over how long Roe v. Wade will last under the new Supreme Court majority. In a press call with Planned Parenthood leaders, reporters wondered whether suing over the ban was counterproductive. If bringing a challenge to Roe v. Wade before the high court was the GOP’s intention, wouldn’t mounting a lawsuit play straight into their hands?
“We have no choice,” Planned Parenthood CEO Leana Wen replied.
Despite the national panic, advocates in Alabama seemed remarkably unfazed. Reyes said her fund would continue its work as usual. Raven, the director of P.O.W.E.R. House, said she was confident the law wouldn’t pass muster in the courts.
“I think people are expecting me to be crying,” she said. “This is another day in Alabama. This is a thing that happens every year. We always have to sue the state and we always win.”
And even if they didn’t win, she added, “we are not going anywhere.”