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US abortion rights advocates, opponents brace for court decision

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A flag reading "Don't Tread On My Uterus" is displayed outside the US Supreme Court./AFP
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Jun 13, 2022 - 01:27 PM

WASHINGTON — Odile Schalit is preparing for “the worst.”

Schalit is the executive director of The Brigid Alliance, an organization that helps women in the United States who are forced to travel long distances to obtain an abortion.

And with the Supreme Court poised to potentially restrict abortion access, her group’s services may soon be more essential than ever.

A draft opinion leaked in May would have the conservative majority on the nine-member court overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision allowing nationwide access to abortion.

The final ruling on the highly contested issue is expected by June 30.

In the meantime, both defenders and opponents of abortion are engaged in preparations for what is being called the “post-Roe world.”

“I’ve stopped assuming that the worst won’t happen,” Schalit told AFP.

The Brigid Alliance organizes and finances trips for women seeking abortions after the first trimester.

That often involves travel from states with strict abortion laws to other states.

“We’re adding more staff. We’re doing outreach,” Schalit said. “We’re reaching out and trying to grow our donor base.

“We’re really doubling down on all of those efforts.”

The Brigid Alliance currently employs 10 people full-time and assists some 125 women a month. It hopes to boost that number to 200 a month by adding six more employees.

Even then, Schalit said, and despite an increase in donations, “we will not be able to meet the need of every single person needing our services.”

‘Trigger’ laws 

Twenty-two of the 50 US states, mostly in the conservative South of the country, are prepared to ban abortion if the Supreme Court goes ahead and overturns Roe v. Wade.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, nine states, including Arizona and Michigan, have pre-1973 laws banning abortion on the books that they could immediately revive.

Others have so-called “trigger” laws that would go into force virtually automatically if the Supreme Court goes ahead and restricts abortion rights.

Iowa, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina are among the states that have passed laws restricting abortion after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.

While currently blocked by the courts, those laws could take effect if the Supreme Court changes the legal landscape.

Democratic-ruled states, where abortion would remain legal, are preparing, meanwhile, for an influx of women seeking abortions.

Connecticut and Delaware, for example, have expanded the categories of professionals who are authorized to carry out abortions to include nurses and midwives.

Lawmakers in California have allocated $152 million to assist access to abortion and the governor of New York has pledged $35 million.

Planned Parenthood, which performs more than one-third of the 850,000 annual abortions in the United States, is reinforcing its network in places such as Colorado and Illinois, which border states where the procedure may be banned.

Ordinary citizens are also mobilizing — and have been for a while.

Since May 2019, the online discussion platform Reddit has hosted a group called the “Aunties” which offers assistance and anonymity to women seeking an abortion.

Since last month, the number of users has exploded from just 45 to more than 75,000.

A retired woman in her 60s in Tennessee was among those offering to help on Reddit, saying she could drive abortion-seekers to neighboring states.

“It’s amazing,” Schalit said. “More hands is phenomenal.”

At the same time, she said she would prefer that volunteers “consider instead connecting with pre-existing organizations like ours, to build out what already exists.”

Abortion opponents have opened their own “crisis pregnancy centers” during the past few years where they seek to persuade women seeking abortions not to go through with the procedure.

Abortion pills, which account for about half of the abortions in the United States, are another battleground.

Easily available through the internet from sites abroad, the pills can be used without significant risk up until 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Several conservative US states, including Kentucky and South Dakota, have sought to cut off access to the pills by banning their delivery through the mail.

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