For Odile Schalit, Service Is at the Heart of Abortion Care

In 2018, Odile Schalit became the first hire at the Brigid Alliance: a non-profit organization that eases the logistical burdens of receiving abortion care, like transportation, child care, and finances. Four years later, Schalit holds the position of executive director of the service-driven provider, which has helped over 2,500 people access and pay for abortion care (two-thirds of whom are people of color, who face major disparities in receiving abortion care).

Sadly, the abortion landscape looks decidedly different now than it did when the Brigid Alliance first started operations. On June 24, the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, which kicked abortion rights back to states to decide and has left an estimated 21 million people (and counting) without legal access to abortion procedures.

With 22 states now enforcing restrictive or very restrictive abortion policies, Schalit tells Well+Good that her approach to leading the Brigid Alliance will follow the creed she has carried throughout her career: the idea of meeting people where they are, wherever they are. “I’m taking stock of the fact that I, as the provider, am not the expert. I have the resources, the care, and the inclination to make sure that the person I’m speaking with who does not have those resources knows what’s available to them, and is given as much generosity and care as possible,” says Schalit.

Schalit’s life calling has been grounded in the idea of service long before she started receiving a paycheck. “I’ve been interested in pregnancy and pregnant people and and reproductive health since I was a little person,” she says.  “For a while, I had this thought that I would become an OB/GYN, and then in college I became increasingly interested in women’s health in psychology and child development.”

Schalit then had a brief stint in the film industry, where she spent a couple of years casting and styling, before she got back into reproductive health. “The thread [of my career] there was interesting. This was not so much a departure, but a really vital moment for me to realize that the thing I loved about my work in film, the thing that I loved about studying psychology, and the thing that I would eventually come to love about becoming a birth doula and an abortion doula and working to become a social worker, was meeting folks where they’re at.”

This self-philosophy necessitates constant evolution—and that’s why Schalit has been thinking critically about how Brigid Alliance fits into the abortion care landscape since her very first day. “My role has been shifting since day one and really growing in significance and in complexity with the increasing complexity of the work that we do and the volume of people who are now needing our services,” says Schalit, who oversees the Brigid Alliance’s operations, strategy, and communications. She started by developing services based on her personal experience as a social worker at an abortion clinic (and her training in reproductive and sexual health programming). “I knew that transportation, housing, childcare, and local knowledge would, at minimum, be necessary for a service like Brigid,” she says.

“Practical support—this notion of taking care of all of the surrounding factors of how someone travels to their care—is something that’s been woven into abortion access organizations for a long time.” —Odile Schalit, executive director of the Brigid Alliance

After Schalit narrowed down the offerings she knew would be most helpful to those seeking abortions, she started reaching out to abortion funds and volunteer networks to learn as much as she could. “Practical support—this notion of taking care of all of the surrounding factors of how someone travels to their care—is something that’s been woven into abortion access organizations for a long time. But at the time Brigid launched, there we only a few [organizations] that were solely focused on travel and practical support,” says Schalit.

Schalit initially worked with organizations like Fund Texas Choice and Northwest Abortion Access Fund to create an “itinerary model” that took on the financial and logistical burdens of traveling for an abortion. This model involves connecting individuals with coordinators who work with them throughout their entire abortion care journey: booking and paying for procedures and the travel required to receive it, handling child care if needed, and providing support along the way. (Currently, the average Brigid Alliance itinerary costs about $1,250 and helps people travel an average of 1,000 miles to receive the care they need.)

Her experience collaborating with other abortion care networks helped her figure out what needs were already being met through existing services—and where there were critical gaps that the Brigid Alliance could help fill. One of the major things that differentiates the Brigid Alliance from other abortion access organizations, she says, is the conscious decision to focus on people seeking care for later-stage pregnancies. “We knew that there were more resources that existed to help people travel for abortion care earlier in pregnancy. There were far fewer [resources] for people needing to seek abortion care later in pregnancy, and that’s because those providers are harder to access. It’s more expensive. It’s more complicated. It’s longer travel. It’s more appointment days,” Schalit says.

Although Roe v. Wade is in the past, Schalit says the organization’s services themselves have remained largely the same. What’s changing is the demand. “Our services were actually, in that sense, designed for the moment that we’re in now, in which people cannot access abortion care in their own states and have to travel hundreds, if not a thousands, miles on average to get to their nearest abortion provider,” she explains. This service has been relevant for years, as states with Republication-dominated legislatures have slowly chipped away at abortion rights by enacting strict (and medically unnecessary) regulations designed to close clinics and reduce access. But now, with millions more people suddenly without legal abortion access in their states, Schalit says the need is bigger than ever. “We’re now having to navigate how to scale and grow our team and our capacity as quickly and deliberately as possible without harming our organization,” Schalit says.

Right now, this means taking plenty of calls with lawyers, coordinating with other abortion-focused non-profits to make the experience of scheduling and receiving an abortion as frictionless as possible, and acting as a coordinator herself whenever she can. “As a social worker, I’m always drawn to service. Since the Dobbs decision [the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade], I started doing client work again because we’ve just been so overwhelmed,” Schalit says.

However, even as the day-to-day work becomes increasingly complex, Schalit finds herself focusing on the future of reproductive care—and how the Brigid Alliance will continue to serve. “In the early days of Brigid, I used to give speeches where at the end of the speech, I would say something like, ‘And we will be here until we are no longer necessary.’ Now flash forward four years, I’m ending my speeches saying, ‘We will be here for the next several decades and on,'” says Schalit. “I have to assume [that] we’re going to be here a year from now, two years from now, and five years from now.”