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Abortion support group aims to strengthen partnerships to meet heightened need

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The fight over SB 8 and abortion rights more broadly continues at the Supreme Court. Last week, the justices issued a ruling that lets abortion providers challenge the restrictive Texas abortion law. Meanwhile, however, the Texas law remains in effect, and that's made it nearly impossible to get an abortion in that state. So what are women who want to end a pregnancy doing? We're going to put that question to a practical support provider. These are individuals or groups that help people seeking abortions with everything from transportation - often out of state - to lodging to child care to funding for the procedure itself. Odile Schalit is executive director of the Brigid Alliance, an organization that supports people who want abortion care. Odile, thank you for talking with us about this.

ODILE SCHALIT: Thanks for having me.

PFEIFFER: Before we talk about how this new Texas law has changed your work, would you tell us how your job has been affected by the pandemic?

SCHALIT: Absolutely, and thank you for that question, as that is something that is certainly continuing to unfold. So on a basic operational level for Brigid, we are a nationwide organization that, as you described, helps people who must travel long distances to access abortion care, especially later in pregnancy. So when the pandemic hit, the first effect was, ultimately, to our team and that we had to go from what was our small office in Brooklyn where it was just the three of us to working remotely. And this, thankfully, because the work that we do nationwide is connecting with our clients by phone, was, operationally, a pretty seamless shift. What changed was that we, like our clients, were all now facing this isolation that was so intense, and anyone listening to this can, of course, relate to it except to experience that kind of isolation when you are at a unique moment of needing to not be isolated, when you need to be able to get to care, to be with people who can care for you and your body and help affirm your decisions. It heightens that moment on an emotional level and certainly the quality of experience around whether or not you believe that you're going to be able to actually get to your care.

PFEIFFER: Odile, what have you been hearing from your organizational partners in Texas since SB 8 went into effect in September?

PFEIFFER: Yeah. I think the feeling and the reports that are coming from our partner organizations there now is that this need is unending, that it is complex, that it's going to require that those with the skills to be able to build comprehensive travel plans and navigate some pretty daunting legal barriers that, if you imagine the state of Texas and the different communities that it includes, becomes a pretty significant issue when you think about access to abortion care. And so I think that, you know, we need look no further than to the complexities that organizations in Texas and anyone helping Texans to travel out of the state are having to face, which is that you have to be able to embrace that travel does not just mean a bus ride. It doesn't just mean a flight. It means finding lawyers to support someone with navigating whatever legal barriers may be in their way. It may mean contacting organizations like Jane's Due Process to help minors and young people to be able to travel. It means so much more than just this concept of walking out your door and getting to your abortion and coming home.

PFEIFFER: So if Roe is overturned, states would have the right to make their own abortion laws. So if they want to outlaw abortion or severely restrict it, they can. And there are many people, of course, who think that every abortion is a tragedy, and they would like it to become much less common. They would like it restricted. What is your perspective on that?

SCHALIT: I think the main thing that I want to say is that abortion is health care, and it is life affirming. What we're talking about when we're talking about Brigid helping people travel to get to their abortion care isn't just the facilitating of someone's access to their medical care. We're talking about easing the burden of the economic impact of having to do that. We're talking about providing someone with the love and support and generosity that is the minimum of what they deserve as they journey through their reproductive lives. We're talking about making it possible for people to own their bodies and their own lives and their families and their communities because abortion and reproductive health care is vital to the quality of someone's life and how well they are able to thrive. And organizations like Brigid exist because people, women, people of color have not been able to take care of their own lives the way that they should be able to. And the impact to them and to their communities has been so vast and extraordinary, and we have to begin to reverse that.

PFEIFFER: If Roe is overturned, that is likely to enormously increase demand for your organization's services. Do you feel ready for that?

SCHALIT: Yes and no. We will be ready. We have developed a really beautiful team that is growing. As I mentioned, when the pandemic began, we had three staff, including myself. Now we have nine staff members. We've grown considerably. We will need to grow more to meet the demand to come. But the yes to your question - I'm so immensely proud of our coordinators and my fellow directors, who I believe are very clear on what is to come and what will be within our grasp and what won't be because we will have to be very real about that.

PFEIFFER: Meaning you might not be able to help all the women who want help?

SCHALIT: No. And that's why this will have to be collaborative.

PFEIFFER: When you say not within your grasp, what do you think you may not be able to do?

SCHALIT: We won't be able to do it alone. We will need to collaborate with organizations that have - that operate more underground, that have a discretion that we do not, and they will, in turn, need us so that people who may live in the most remote and hostile regions of this country will hopefully believe that there is a chance that they could get to their care and be met with a community that supports their decision.

PFEIFFER: That's Odile Schalit, executive director of the Brigid Alliance, which provides practical support to women and their families who are seeking abortions. Odile, thank you very much.

SCHALIT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE XX SONG, "ANGELS (KYGO EDIT)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.