NPR’s Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Odile Schalit, executive director of abortion support services group The Brigid Alliance, about how her work has changed since SB 8’s adoption.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
The fight over SB 8 and abortion rights continues more broadly in the Supreme Court. Last week, judges issued a ruling that allows abortion providers to challenge Texas’ restrictive abortion law. During this time, however, Texas law remains in effect, making it nearly impossible to get an abortion in that state. So what do women who want to end a pregnancy do? We’re going to ask this question to a hands-on support provider. These are individuals or groups who help people get abortions with everything from transportation—often out of state—to accommodations, childcare, and funding for the procedure itself. same. Odile Schalit is executive director of the Brigid Alliance, an organization that supports people who want to have an abortion. Odile, thank you for telling us about it.
ODILE SCHALIT: Thank you for inviting me.
PFEIFFER: Before talking about how this new Texas law has changed your job, could you tell us how your job has been affected by the pandemic?
SCHALIT: Absolutely, and thank you for the question, because it’s something that certainly continues to unfold. So at the basic operational level for Brigid, we’re a national organization that, as you’ve described, helps people who have to travel long distances to access abortion care, especially later in pregnancy. So when the pandemic hit, the first effect was finally on our team and we had to leave what was our small office in Brooklyn where there were only three of us to work remotely. And that, fortunately, because the work we do nationally is communicating with our customers over the phone, was, operationally, a pretty seamless change. What has changed is that we, like our clients, were all now dealing with this isolation that was so intense, and anyone listening to this can, of course, relate to it, except to experience that type of isolation when you are at a unique moment when you need not to be isolated, when you need to be able to take care of yourself, to be with people who can take care of you and your body and help you to assert your decisions. It heightens that moment emotionally and certainly the quality of the experience as to whether or not you believe you’re going to be able to get healed.
PFEIFFER: Odile, what have you heard from your organizational partners in Texas since SB 8 went into effect in September?
PFEIFFER: Yes. I think the feeling and the reports that are coming from our partner organizations there right now is that this need is endless, that it’s complex, that it’s going to take those who have the skills to be in able to make comprehensive travel plans and navigate some pretty daunting legal hurdles which, if you imagine the state of Texas and the various communities it comprises, become quite a big issue when you think about access to abortion care. And so I think, you know, we need look no further than the complexities that organizations in Texas and anyone helping Texans travel out of state have to deal with, that is, saying you have to be able to take this trip means not just a bus ride. It doesn’t just mean theft. It means finding lawyers to help someone through any legal hurdles that may be in their way. This 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 the concept of getting out of your house, going to your abortion, and coming home.
PFEIFFER: So if Roe is overthrown, states would have the right to make their own abortion laws. So if they want to ban abortion or severely restrict it, they can. And there are a lot of people, of course, who think every abortion is a tragedy, and they wish it were a lot less common. They would like it to be limited. What is your view on that?
SCHALIT: I think the main thing I’m saying is that abortion is health care, and it’s life-affirming. What we’re talking about when we talk about Brigid helping people get around to their abortion care isn’t just making it easier for someone to access their medical care. We’re talking about easing the burden of the economic impact of having to do this. We are talking about providing someone with the love, support and generosity that is the minimum they deserve throughout their reproductive life. We are talking about empowering people to own their bodies, their own lives, their families and their communities, because abortion and reproductive health care are essential to a person’s quality of life and ability to thrive. And organizations like Brigid exist because people, women, people of color haven’t been able to take care of their own lives the way they should. And the impact on them and on their communities has been so vast and extraordinary, and we need to start reversing that trend.
PFEIFFER: If Roe is overthrown, it will probably increase the demand for your organization’s services enormously. Do you feel ready for this?
SCHALIT: Yes and no. We will be ready. We have developed a very nice team that is growing. As I mentioned, when the pandemic started, we had three employees, including myself. Now we have nine staff members. We have grown considerably. We will need to expand further to meet future demand. But the yes to your question – I am extremely proud of our coordinators and my fellow directors, who I believe are very clear about what is coming and what will be within reach and what will not be because we will have to be very real about it.
PFEIFFER: Does that mean that you may not be able to help all the women who need it?
SCHALIT: No. And that is why it will have to be collaborative.
PFEIFFER: When you say out of reach, what do you think you can’t do?
SCHALIT: We cannot do it alone. We will have to work with organizations that have – that operate more clandestinely, that have discretionary power that we do not have, and they, in turn, will need us so that people who can live in the most remote areas and the most hostile in this country may hope there is a chance that they can obtain their care and be met with a community that supports their decision.
PFEIFFER: It’s Odile Schalit, executive director of the Brigid Alliance, which provides practical support to women and their families who wish to have an abortion. Odile, thank you very much.
SCHALIT: Thank you.
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