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Grassroots abortion-rights groups are preparing for a post-Roe V. Wade world

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What does access to abortion look like if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court? That's a question many people have been asking since a draft opinion was leaked last week suggesting that the court is, in fact, preparing to do away with Roe. The answer will vary from state to state and region by region, with about half the country poised to defend access to an abortion while about half the states are moving to block it and/or punish those who either perform them or have an abortion or both. The punishments being debated could be financial, as in subjecting people to lawsuits, or criminal, as in making abortion a felony in some places, as it was pre-Roe.

But given that those who oppose abortion rights have been organizing and strategizing around this moment for some time, we thought we'd take a look at the other side and ask how abortion rights organizations are handling this moment and preparing for a post-Roe world, especially at the grassroots level. For that, we called Aimee Arrambide. She is the executive director of Avow. That's a Texas-based organization that's been working to secure unrestricted abortion care and reproductive rights. And Aimee Arrambide is with us now. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

AIMEE ARRAMBIDE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So I just want to just start with how you got started. Avow used to be an affiliate of NARAL. That's a national pro-choice organization that many people might know. But you broke away from NARAL in January of 2021 to pursue, in your words, a more bold and unapologetic agenda. Could you just tell us as briefly as you can a bit more about that decision? What were some of the key points of disagreement?

ARRAMBIDE: Sure. For years before our disaffiliation, we were already operating as a standalone organization, but we didn't meet eye-to-eye on strategy and messaging. And let me say, just to be clear, that I don't think this is a problem that's exclusive to NARAL. This is also the case for many national organizations that focus on abortion. But about NARAL specifically, we did not feel like their messaging was changing culture, and it was appeasing the status quo and an older electorate.

For example, young people understand that the fight for abortion access is about bodily autonomy, and that includes solidarity with LGBTQIA communities. And for the better part of a decade, we've been using language that has been gender inclusive because we know trans and nonbinary people have abortions, too, and they're also impacted by the restrictions and bans. I think most national organizations engaged in the processes of advocacy are kind of more concerned with the electoral wins, are focused very little on abortion advocacy and engaging supporters outside of the election cycle. And I think this is one of the many reasons why state-based organizations have been kind of left to their own devices when doing advocacy around abortion.

MARTIN: So talk a little bit more about how you have been proceeding. And as I think everybody knows, I mean, your organization, as we said, is based in Texas. That's a state that already has a law that severely limits abortion access, gives private citizens the right to sue anybody who aids in providing somebody with access to the procedure. So I'm interested in, like, how were you operating before that law went into effect? And how are you operating now?

ARRAMBIDE: I mean, SB 8 is only the most recent of a myriad list of abortion bans that have been implemented in Texas. And not only has the attack of abortion rights been happening at the state level and in Texas specifically, but it's been happening across the country for decades. So what we do at Avow is we work year-round in abortion advocacy, and our programmatic work revolves around helping people who support access to abortion. We help them become good messengers of the issue so they can feel empowered to speak about it. I think you probably already know that despite the fact that the majority of Texans and Americans support access to abortion care, the stigma surrounding abortion, even just saying the word abortion, permeates all levels and has been a huge obstacle for affecting the change we need.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to understand how you see the current moment. On the one hand, that there are many polls that show a majority of Americans do favor access to abortion under varying circumstances, but the overall principle, most Americans support. On the other hand, as we see that many states are moving to adopt extremely restrictive measures, and the draft, that leaked draft opinion that we have all seen, has an extremely negative view of people who have - defend abortion access, of people who get abortions. It's very uncompromising. It doesn't - there is not a lot of nuance or compromise in it. And so I guess what I'm wondering is, like, does that mean that people who take that position have captured the argument, if not public opinion writ large, that they've captured the means of advancing that argument? I guess what I'm wondering is, where is the failure here, in your opinion?

ARRAMBIDE: I think that the failure is that, first of all, we acted, as a movement, that Roe was settled law and that over 49 years of precedent was enough to secure abortion rights. But what we've witnessed and what we've largely ignored as a movement is that at the state and local level, it's been chipped away over the past few decades. We witnessed it firsthand at the state level, and progressives at the national level have not paid attention to that. They have not taken the time to solidify the right to abortion and address the inequity in accessing abortion care. And they've had 49 years to do it.

And I think it all stems from a few things. One is that progressives generally have an abortion messaging problem. That includes Democrats. That includes national abortion organizations. We rarely use the word abortion. And because of that, we've allowed the anti-abortion movement to use the word. They've been able to frame the narrative. They've been able to get their messaging out there. They've been able to get to the point where they enact laws that at first sound ridiculous and completely against public health and eventually pass. We witnessed this firsthand in Texas.

And, for example, President Joe Biden, who, you know, did some campaigning on abortion rights, despite the current landscape and the landscape that has been pretty evident over the past couple of years, has only said the word abortion once or twice. And that's despite the current landscape, where we're faced to lose abortion access completely, or at least in 26 states.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, as we said, this is a - I think that both sides would agree that this is a pivotal moment in our nation's politics, certainly connected to this issue, but it certainly influences other issues. What do you do now? I mean, given that you are in a state that has advanced one of these extremely restrictive measures, what do you do now? Do you focus on candidates? Do you focus on trying to get care to people who still need and want abortion care in your state, despite these measures? What do you do?

ARRAMBIDE: Sure. So we lift up the work of abortion funds in our state. They've been getting financial and logistical support to people needing to access abortion care for over a few decades. But most recently, you know, several have sprouted up in light of all of the bans. And so we lift up them and the work that they're doing through a website called needabortion.org. So for any Texans trying to access the care and don't know where to start, we have lists of clinics that are still providing care. We have lists of abortion funds who will provide financial support for people trying to access care. There are also several websites at the national level - ineedana or abortionfinder - that do very similar things.

And then the other thing I think we can do is we can use the word abortion and talk about it within our communities, about why we support abortion. You know, I'm sure you've already heard that everybody loves someone that's had an abortion, that 1 in 4 people that have the capacity to get pregnant will have an abortion in their lifetime. These are the people you love and know in your communities, in your families, in your friendships. And, like, you need to talk about why you support it. That's how we effect change.

One of the things we're doing at Avow is we've started this political program where we've invested in one of the districts in Texas. And we're having deep canvassing conversations where we go into people's houses, and we don't just ask them to vote for a pro-choice candidate. We talk to them about abortion. We figure out where they started off, in their opinion, about abortion from 1 to 10. Some of them start at a 1. And then by the end of the 20-minute conversation, they're at an eight because while they don't necessarily personally believe in abortion access, they believe that everyone who wants or needs an abortion and has decided to get one should be able to do so without obstacles, without interference, without government, like, dictating what they can and can't do. So these are the things that we're doing at Avow, and we're trying to, you know, lift that up across the states.

MARTIN: Are you discouraged?

ARRAMBIDE: I'm not discouraged. I mean, I'm not going to say that I'm in the best place right now after the recent news and after the past year of dealing with an anti-abortion ban, but I'm not discouraged because there are young people who are unapologetic in their support. Many of them are our canvassers working in the Dallas area. This past summer, after SB 8 passed, a 12-year-old reached out to me and wanted to host her own rally to demonstrate that the youth are not going to be quiet, that the youth are unapologetically in support of abortion and are not going to stand for it. And so no, I'm not discouraged. I'm tired, and I wish we weren't doing this again, but I'm not discouraged. I'm hopeful.

MARTIN: That was Aimee Arrambide. She is the executive director of Avow. That's a Texas-based organization that has been working to secure unrestricted abortion care and reproductive rights. Aimee Arrambide, thank you so much for talking with us.

ARRAMBIDE: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.