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Abortion-rights groups see donations soar as Alabama law draws attention from activists, 2020 candidates

MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 15: An airplane displaying a banner reading "Abortion Is OK" circles the Alabama State Capitol on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama. Today Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a near-total ban on abortion into state law. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

BIRMINGHAM, AL — Donations to abortion-rights groups surged this week as presidential candidates, activists and even a group of Portland, Oregon, basketball fans reacted to Alabama enacting the nation’s strictest abortion law.

In four days, the National Network of Abortion Funds raised $504,000 from more than 18,000 people to help fund abortions, according to executive director Yamani Hernandez. That’s nearly double the 9,500 donations the group receives annually, she said.

“I feel like people have our backs,” said Hernandez, whose organization supports 76 other funds in 41 states that help low-income women pay for abortions.

Contributions to one of those funds in Alabama, The Yellowhammer Fund, easily surpassed $350,000 as of Friday morning — far exceeding the group’s roughly $80,000 annual budget, its executive director Amanda Reyes told CNN. The group helps underwrite abortions at the state’s three independent clinics and provides financial help to women who travel out of state for abortions.

The total raised could be higher, Reyes said, because “it’s been impossible” for her to track the donations “pouring in from so many sources.”

“It’s been a response I don’t think I could have ever anticipated,” she said. “And honestly, I don’t think it’s a response maybe that the lawmakers who supported this really anticipated. I don’t think they knew that their misogyny probably would end up paying for a lot of abortions now and in the future.”

Alabama firestorm

The Alabama abortion law, passed by the state’s Senate on Tuesday and signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, is the nation’s most restrictive. It imposes a ban on nearly all abortions and carries stiff penalties for violators, including up to 99 years in prison for a doctor caught performing an abortion in the state.

The new law likely will be entangled in court battles for years.

But Alabama’s action, along with laws in Georgia and other states banning abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, have thrust the abortion debate into the center of the 2020 presidential campaign.

On Friday, Missouri began the latest state to pass a strict limit on abortions, when the state’s House on Friday voted to send its “heartbeat” abortion bill to the Republican Gov. Mike Parson. He is expected to sign the bill, which would ban abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy.

Earlier this week, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of 23 Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, traveled to Georgia’s state Capitol, to denounce the new abortion restrictions as “a nationwide assault on women’s constitutional rights.”

Gillibrand said she would seek to codify in federal law the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade that legalized abortions.

Several presidential candidates, including Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, also urged their supporters to donate to Yellowhammer and other groups supporting access to abortions.

Ian Sams, Harris’ spokesman, told CNN on Friday that the campaign had raised about $200,000 for the abortion rights groups, including Yellowhammer.

Yellowhammer’s Reyes said thousands of its donations appeared to have come from a fundraiser organized by a fan of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Hannah Carmody, a Portland resident who works as a digital strategist at an academic medical center, launched the fundraiser on Wednesday, the day before the Blazers faced off against Golden State Warriors in the second game of the NBA’s Western Conference finals.

Fans were encouraged to donate $1 for each point scored against the Warriors. Some gave even more, she said. Members of the band, Portugal. The Man, pledged $10 a point.

“Many people may support reproductive freedom but might not know how to help,” Carmody said in an email to CNN.

Yellowhammer, which began operating about a year and half ago, typically gets 35 calls a week from women seeking financial help for abortions but has only been able to assist a handful — four to 6 — each week, Reyes said.

The cash influx means Yellowhammer is “going to fund as many abortions as we possibly can this year,” she said.

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