By Lenore Davis, co-founder of The Brigid Alliance
A single mother in New England was diagnosed with breast cancer at 25-weeks into her pregnancy. she could get the cancer treatment she needed, she would have to get an abortion. But the nearest clinic where doctors performed the late term procedure was 600 miles away and she didn’t have the money to travel there.
Fortunately, she was referred to The Brigid Alliance a nonprofit abortion travel service I co-founded, which stepped in to plan and pay for her transportation, food and lodging. We have helped 172 women like her since we launched just six months ago. Many live below the poverty line. Some are minors; some wanted the pregnancies that now threaten their health. Some travel with supportive companions, while others are alone.
The idea of helping women travel sprang from the post-mortem of the 2016 presidential election. My sister-in-law, Carol, and I were discussing how gutted and bereft we felt. We didn’t recognize our country. As unsafe as we felt, we worried about the people who must have felt even more threatened. Reproductive rights and abortion access always were important to us and we knew a bad situation was about to get a whole lot worse.
What was going to happen to the poor women in “abortion deserts” where clinics are few and far between and access to contraceptives, sex education and abortion is scarce?
An online search led us to Fund Texas Choice (FTC), a travel service for abortion in a state with some of the worst abortion and family planning restrictions. We loved this pragmatic, boots-on-the-ground approach to helping real people in real time. So, we connected with other like-minded women and researched how we could replicate or adapt the FTC model. We began with my home state of New York where women often had to travel for their care and clinic social workers were overburdened scrounging for resources to help patients get to appointments.
We formed a non-profit and hired an experienced social worker to design and deploy a service plan. We called our new organization The Brigid Alliance after the legend of St Brigid who helped a friend end an unwanted pregnancy. Raising money from friends and family, private events and online, we began helping women around the state travel to clinics in New York City where they could access a broader range of care.
As word of The Brigid Alliance spread, we began receiving requests to fund patient travel to specialty clinics in Washington, D. C. and Bethesda, Maryland, where pregnant women with later term issues - fetuses with fatal abnormalities, non-viable pregnancies, cancer diagnoses - can get abortions after 26 weeks of pregnancy. These cases were far more complex and costlier to coordinate travel and on-the-ground support. But we have never said no. Other funds are willing to help to the degree that they can, but it isn’t enough. We collaborate with them and together we are helping more individuals and supporting clinics.
And as restrictions on women’s reproductive health continue to grow, we will need an even stronger national network of support to stem the tide. Thankfully, New York State just passed the Reproductive Health Act, decriminalizing abortion and opening the door to making abortion care after first trimester available state-wide. We need others to follow.