A slew of state-level laws limiting access to reproductive health care have prompted devastating headlines in recent weeks. It’s 2019, and yet the concept of reproductive freedom is under attack. At the same time, organizations large and small have stepped forward with a counter punch. Together, they form a network with a unified agenda: To make sure everyone—no matter location, socio-economic status, race, or gender identity—can take ownership of their own reproductive health.
Since August 2018, the New York-based staff at The Brigid Alliance has been working with organizations throughout the U.S. to provide travel support to anyone seeking abortions after the first trimester. Through a referral program, The Brigid Alliance provides transportation to those seeking treatment from providers who specialize in later abortion care in Washington, D.C.; Bethesda, Maryland; Boulder, Colorado; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Brigid Alliance shows solidarity and allegiance to its own mission, but the core of its strategy relies on collaboration with every reproductive health care organization in the United States. Odile Schalit, LMSW, serves as director of the nonprofit organization. I spoke with her on Friday to discuss the the gaps it seeks to fill in reproductive health care, and why abortion is—and always will be—a “necessary, life-saving, inextricable” human right.
What is The Brigid Alliance?
“The Brigid Alliance is a nonprofit organization that provides travel and logistical support to individuals who have to go long distances to access later abortion care. We provide this service to folks who, by and large, cannot afford most or all of the costs of travel, and who without this support would not be able to access their care.
“Our service involves booking and coordinating lodging, arranging transportation—like flights, bus tickets, train tickets, sending cash to cover gas, tolls and parking, arranging rideshares, sending gift certificates to cover rides or cabs. We provide meal stipends and childcare reimbursements as well. We also coordinate with a few fantastic on the ground volunteer-based organizations that exist across the country who provide overnight hosting, meal support, rides and escorts.”
Why transportation, lodging, and childcare? Why did the alliance decide to focus on these accommodations specifically?
“Simply, because these pieces have been identified as some of the major barriers to abortion access across the country. In addition to the overwhelming systemic barriers that disproportionately affect people of color, they are travel, childcare, and the cost of an abortion itself.
“There are many extraordinary organizations locally, regionally, and nationally that exist to provide funding for procedures. Our intention here was very much not to be redundant, and to really respect these other efforts. Out of conversations with these very organizations and clinics, we came to learn that travel was a barrier not yet resolved—especially for costly, complex, or long-distance travel. People were sleeping in cars, cashing in their savings, skipping their rent or meals to cover the travel expenses. Worse, many people were not traveling at all. We knew there was a need, and so we stepped in to fill that need.”
“People were sleeping in cars, cashing in their savings, skipping their rent or meals to cover the travel expenses. Worse, many people were not traveling at all.”
Where does The Brigid Alliance offer assistance and support?
“The original intention was to provide this travel support to folks who need to travel throughout or into the the state of New York. We then planned to provide this support, additionally, to folks who had to travel out of New York to clinics that provide abortion care through pregnancy in D.C., Maryland, Colorado, and New Mexico.
“Over the course of the first couple of months of our existence, however, the need that presented itself—both through referrals that we were getting and through the funds and the organizations that we were partnering with—was a redirection of our support to folks living in different regions and states across the country who needed to travel to one of those few cities that I mentioned.
“It’s an extraordinary network of organizations that exists; it’s kind of mind-boggling and I’m blown away every day by the efforts that go on to ensure access to care.”
“We still operate for and within New York, and in so doing have partnered with the New York Abortion Access Fund and Haven Coalition (a local volunteer organization in New York) to provide that care. But the majority of our support now is actually national and it’s been helping folks wherever they may live in the country to help them travel to those four clinics. To do that, we partner with other funding and practical support organizations that exist to provide that care. For instance, there’s the Midwest Access Coalition, which provides travel support to Midwesterners traveling within or out of the Midwest. We also work very closely with Fund Texas Choice, which is a Texas-based organization that provides travel support to Texans who are traveling within or out of Texas.
“What we try to do is situate ourselves where attention is lacking. It’s an extraordinary network of organizations that exists; it’s kind of mind-boggling and I’m blown away every day by the efforts that go on to ensure access to care. Travel is a huge, huge piece of that. Once funding has been secured (which is an incredible feat), without travel, someone can’t actually get to that care to get the procedure that has been funded.”
How many women has the alliance helped so far?
“Three hundred and sixty-four.”
What do you envision for the future of The Brigid Alliance?
“We’re a new organization. Our first priority is to continue to provide compassionate, logistical care within the scope that we have outlined. We also want to continue to build relationships with the funds, organizations, advocates, and clinics in this field. Working together is vital, so we are always looking for ways to innovate methods and strengthen our network.
“On a practical level, soon, we plan to reflect on our first year, and gather and incorporate feedback from our partners and our clients to understand how, when, where we were useful and build upon that.
“As haven states start to become more and more identified, we want to be working in tandem with them. We want to be aware and prepared to work with the larger strategies being considered.
“We’ve gone from eight people referred in August last year to about 60 a month.”
“In the meantime, our referrals are increasing every month. We gone from eight people referred in August last year to about 60 a month. So, part of our future is about making sure that the service we are providing is solid and competent and able to scale. That’s a major focus of mine, especially as a social worker, that we be innovative and compassionate.”
What’s the story behind the name Brigid?
“The name Brigid came from the story of Saint Brigid of Kildare. One of Ireland’s patron saints, Brigid was credited with many miracles, most notably an abortion for a fellow nun who had become pregnant. We named our organization for Brigid to tap into the historic legacy of abortion care.
“Abortion is a necessary, life-saving, inextricable part of reproductive health. It’s something that has always been needed, and will always be needed.”
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