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Anita Rao 0:02
It's been two years since the Supreme Court revoked the federal right to an abortion. And the landscape of abortion access since then, has been changing constantly. Although I've tried to keep up, I know that if I needed to get an abortion today, I'd have to start with a Google search. Probably: "How to get an abortion near me." Here in North Carolina, the answer to that would change based on how many weeks pregnant I was. How much it would cost and how far I'd have to go would also be a process to figure out. What I've been thinking about as we mark the anniversary of this turning point in abortion history is, what of all of this is new, and what has remained the same? Despite the many new barriers to abortion access, people are still getting abortions. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions provided last year was the highest in more than a decade. But one thing that is new and very notable is just how many people have to travel great distances to get care. This is Embodied. I'm Anita Rao.

Nearly one in five people seeking abortion care travelled to other states to get it. This travel happens by car, bus and plane, and it's facilitated by an ecosystem of support services. We're gonna hear more about the travel support services a little later. But now I want to introduce you to one of those people who last year found herself needing to travel for her abortion procedure: Taylor Shelton. Hey, Taylor, welcome to Embodied.

Taylor Shelton 1:48
Hi, thank you for having me.

Anita Rao 1:51
So before August 2023, South Carolina, where you live, was a place where folks around the Southeast could pretty reliably get access to abortion care. That changed when the state started enforcing a ban on abortion after six weeks of gestation. And it was the month after that ban went into effect that you found out that you were four weeks pregnant. So take me back to that initial moment of finding out and what you were feeling.

Taylor Shelton 2:21
Yeah, I mean, I was shocked. I found out at four weeks. I had an IUD in place and really had no inclination that I'd be pregnant. My period is regular, and I track it. So when I was two days late, I felt there was something up, I went and bought a pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant. And yeah, it was hard for me to believe at the time. It also was right after I'd seen my gynecologist for a yearly checkup and to see how if I was in need of a another IUD, and she had told me that I had several more years. So at that time, I had had it for seven years, and had never really had an issue with it, or a pregnancy scare. And yeah.

Anita Rao 3:21
So you were in shock. But you did pretty quickly jump into action you called Planned Parenthood in South Carolina, and you found out that you weren't going to be able to get an appointment with them before the six weeks had passed, because they were too booked up their clinics were to fall. So once you knew you were going to need to travel out of state, what were some of the barriers that you account that you encountered logistically or emotionally? Yeah,

Taylor Shelton 3:47
I would say just the fact that I was under six weeks and still couldn't get the help in South Carolina was definitely a major barrier for me, you know, even going to my gynecologist at five weeks, and she, you know, couldn't give me resources or even perform the abortion itself. And so when I found out I couldn't go in South Carolina to get the procedure done, North Carolina was my best bet. And I decided on a pregnancy center that I did not realize at the time was a crisis pregnancy center. I had a schedule, I had an appointment scheduled with Planned Parenthood in North Carolina, but it was kind of way later in the week. And in my head, I was thinking I wanted to get this dealt with as soon as possible. And this pregnancy center could get me in that Monday. As in I found out Thursday that I was pregnant and then they could get me in that Monday and then hopefully I could have gotten the abortion, you know, three days after because in North Carolina, you have the 72 hour, I guess, grace period before you can actually get the abortion after the ultrasound. And so this pregnancy center was there to give me the ultrasound, the referral, if you will. And, um, drove to Charlotte that Monday. And it's about a four hour drive for me. And I got there and it was quite uncomfortable.

Anita Rao 5:30
Tell me more about that and and maybe explain what these crisis pregnancy centers are.

Taylor Shelton 5:36
Yeah, so - and I had no idea what these crisis pregnancy centers were to begin with, before the experience - and so, before I had made the appointment with them, I made sure to let the scheduling woman know that I was four weeks pregnant, that I wanted an abortion and that I had an IUD in place. But then when I got there and was in the counseling room, the woman claimed that she didn't know this information. And so the first part was that I wanted an abortion. And the moment she found out, that was the case, she said that they could no longer help me, and immediately started to kind of forced me into thinking about keeping the pregnancy and maybe going for adoption. And then she found out that I had an IUD in place, and immediately it was, "Your baby is in danger, you need to go to the hospital right away." Which it was - there was no speak of me, my health being in danger, it was the baby, the embryo, I say baby in quotes, and I was having pain at the time, I thought it was pain from say early pregnancy, because I didn't really know what I was supposed to be feeling. And I decided to go to my gynecologist in Charleston the next day, and they performed the ultrasound and pulled my IUD out. And when the IUD came out, it was bent. And so it was my cervix was trying to force it out of me because it was detecting it as a foreign object due to my pregnancy. If I had left that in longer, it could have caused issues with my cervix or even infertility in the future.

Anita Rao 7:36
So I want yeah, I want to pause you there and kind of track where we are in your, in your story at this point. So you were kind of about a week into into figuring out that you were pregnant, you had gone on this eight-hour round trip to Charlotte to this pregnancy center, then you traveled to your gynecologist who's about an hour and a half away from you in South Carolina to get the IUD removed. And at this point, you still you still haven't gotten the abortion that you were seeking at the beginning of this process. So you did eventually then get connected with a Planned Parenthood clinic in North Carolina. And at that time, and still now, there is a law in North Carolina that requires a mandatory 72-hour waiting period between getting counseling for a procedure and receiving the procedure. So you had two different appointments in two different parts of the state, you had another set of round trip driving and in a lot of the media representation of abortion travel, the story kind of stops there, with you have the abortion and you're done at the clinic. But there is obviously so much more to this experience. What were the lingering ramifications of having to do all of this travel?

Taylor Shelton 8:51
Er, well, I mean, the resources in general, like you're saying, is a big part of it, just - and I'm unbelievably privileged to have had the time and the money to do this. So like I wasn't working at the time, I was in between jobs. So I said I had a lot of time on my hands. I had a means of transportation. I had the money for both the travel and the abortion itself. And one that I'm grateful for is the support of both my parents and my partner. And so that was a big one for me because I felt like although it was only two weeks, it felt to me like a lifetime, in a way. It felt like way longer than what it was. And so having their support during that was really helpful. And the whole thing was, you know, it was really hard. And I felt that I was kind of one, misled, two, I didn't have any resources really available to me. And three, I felt that our health care system had, I felt like they had denied me access to care, and that I wasn't a priority. And so a lot of it was like a mental and emotional strain from both dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, but also the negligence by our healthcare system. And it didn't just end when I got the procedure. I'm so grateful that I that I did have an abortion and I don't feel any remorse, really, because it was exactly what I needed. And I feel like I'm still moving through it, because I have such a bone to pick with our government and our healthcare system for how they treated me or kind of lack thereof. So, yeah, it's a really hard experience.

Anita Rao 11:10
The logistical and emotional ordeal that Taylor went through to travel for an abortion procedure is not uncommon. In fact, more than 100,000 people traveled across state lines for an abortion in 2023. There are, however, some practical support organizations in place to help these folks find and find their travel, and we're about to find out how they make all of that work. That's just after this break.

This is Embodied, I'm Anita Rao. Accessing abortion care is not just about making and paying for an appointment. For folks living in rural areas or states with abortion restrictions, travel is another huge barrier. By the time you add up transportation, meals, lodging and childcare, costs can spill into the thousands of dollars. That's where the work of organizations like the Brigid Alliance come in. The Brigid Alliance is a nonprofit that provides support to those traveling long distances for abortion care. Serra Sippel, the interim executive director of the organization, is with me now. Welcome, Serra.

Serra Sippel 12:25
Hi Anita. Thanks for having me.

Anita Rao 12:28
So the Brigid Alliance has been around since 2018 and for the past six years has been working to provide a wide array of support to people traveling for abortions. And you don't just send a check to reimburse people, you are really working on all these specific ways to support clients. So what are some of these ways that you've evolved to meet needs of clients throughout the various steps of travel?

Serra Sippel 12:53
For many Americans, really, the costs and logistical challenges to getting to an abortion provider are really the primary barriers to access. And we know it's only getting harder. And that's where the Brigid Alliance comes in. We have a team of coordinators, and they provide individualized, all-inclusive travel and logistical support for people who are forced to cross state lines to access their abortion care. We act as dependable, consistent allies throughout our clients' journeys. So we are taking care of all aspects of their itineraries, including local and long distance transportation, meals, lodging, child care and anything else that might make the experience more comfortable for our client. And through this support and collaboration, we are working with a network of partners, and we're really bridging what's a widening gap between an abortion seeker and their health care provider.

Anita Rao 13:57
Can you give us maybe an example of like a specific way that this kind of care looks? You mentioned kind of travel and lodging, but what are the things that come up that are a little bit less obvious when someone is making such a long trip?

Serra Sippel 14:11
Well one can be - you can imagine during, you know, hurricane season or in the wintertime, so inclement weather. So somebody is traveling by air to their appointment and they get a flight is canceled. So there, our clients are on the phone with our coordinators really helping trying to reschedule the flight, the getting hotel accommodations changed and sometimes their appointment for their procedure has to get rebooked. And so what does that mean? Does the person need to go back home and go, or do they stay an extra night in the hotel? So it's really hands on that, what I like to call what our coordinators do is virtual accompaniment, because once we get a referral from a provider for one of their patients that needs financial assistance to travel to their appointment, that client is assigned a coordinator. And they are working from that moment, getting them to their appointment no matter what it takes, and then getting them back home. Another example is for somebody who wasn't going to fly and had never been on a plane, was not going to fly. So they were going to drive. And we covered the cost of replacing all four tires on their automobile so that they could drive. And it's important to note that, you know, many of our clients haven't really been out of their state, they haven't been on an airplane. So even, we'll have our coordinators will be giving them a tutorial on what to expect when you arrive at the airport, how you get through security, knowing that you have to show up in advance, you know, an hour or two in advance of your flight. So really, we meet our clients where they are in providing whatever care and support they need to get to their provider.

Anita Rao 16:06
I'd love to talk about the particular population that you all focus on. According to CDC data from a few years ago, the vast majority of abortions were performed at nine weeks gestation or less. You all focus on clients who need abortions later in pregnancy, after 15 weeks. Why do you focus on this population?

Serra Sippel 16:26
So Brigid really focuses on clients who are at 15 weeks or later in their pregnancy, and for whom it's generally more expensive. The procedure is more expensive, it's harder to find a provider near home. And so the cost is more expensive to travel and the travel is more complex, you're going to be - might be two to three days where you have to be staying overnight. And so you can imagine you have a family, most of our clients have children. So they're having to manage childcare over multiple days, they might need a companion to join them. And we'll support that. So we're really addressing and, and helping and supporting those who are really facing the most barriers in accessing care from their health care provider.

Anita Rao 17:16
I want to talk a little bit about the scale of travel that we are talking about here when we say travel across state lines. In between October 2022 and September 2023, the Brigid Alliance supported clients whose average distance traveled was 1300 miles round trip. So just for scale, that's like driving between Miami and New York City if it's a one way drive, or a round trip from Miami to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. So what are the folks who have to travel the farthest have in common?

Serra Sippel 17:49
I think the most common one is just not having a provider near them who can provide the care they need, and the later in pregnancy, that is going to limit the options in terms of providers who will be able to provide the care. And as more people need to travel and travel farther, we're seeing clinics scheduling appointments well into the future to meet that demand. So not only are clinics in restricted states being forced to shut down, clinics in states where access is protected are overburdened and the, and the airline industry in crisis. So that limits already scarce options for travel. So in some cases, appointments are being scheduled four to five weeks or further out. And so I think that's what the common denominator is, that all of these barriers that are delaying their access to care, and so that does require them to travel further distances.

Anita Rao 18:50
So the South is the region in which the most states have enacted bans and other severe restrictions. And earlier this year, abortion access in the Southeast became even more limited when a ban went into effect in Florida limiting most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. So talk to me more about the Southeast and the particular travel challenges of your clients there.

Serra Sippel 19:11
Yeah, so since Brigid started five, six years ago, the majority of our clients come from Texas, Georgia and Florida. Those are the three most populated states with abortion bans. So that's not surprising that that would be the majority of the clients that we're serving. And the cost of travel from those regions really varies. Before the Florida ban went into effect, we had many clients from the southern states could travel to Florida and also even to North Carolina for their abortion care, but now that's being eliminated. But as these bans and restrictions have gotten more and more severe, it has driven more of our clients from the southern states to Washington D.C., Maryland, New York and also as far as California and Colorado. So that's where the network of providers who we're working with, and also abortion funds, we are all working together to, when we have a client, we get a referral. But also, it's, how do people know that there are organizations like the Brigid Alliance that will provide this travel support? And that's a challenge that we have that we want people to know that if somebody is facing a pregnancy, and they need to access abortion services, they don't have resources to travel, the whole idea of traveling is not even on somebody's mind. And so it's really important that even with these bans, the groups that are in those states are still there to help people navigate and put them in touch with support services, so that that people are not stuck, that they know that they have options during these difficult times. And I think that's one of the biggest challenges for folks in the southern states is, how do they understand and know that there is a way, there is another option for them, and that is leaving the state with the support of organizations like the Brigid Alliance.

Anita Rao
So the average cost of a client's itinerary that you all support is about $2,300, which is a really high cost. I am curious about how you all are able to support clients in doing that. How has the financial landscape of your organization changed as these costs have have just increased?

Serra Sippel
So the Brigid Alliance, we are a practical support organization, which means we provide all the logistical financial travel support for somebody to travel to their abortion care provider. It does not include the cost of the procedure. So I just want to clarify that $2,300 average cost does not include the cost of the procedure. So it is even - and so I think that's just, can be kind of shocking, in a sense. And the cost has risen over the years just because inflation, airline costs go up, fuel goes up, the cost of food goes up. We should take a step back and post Dobbs, many of the organizations that provide abortion support, like Brigid, experienced a spike in donations. It was called the post Dobbs anger donations, and so we were able to grow and serve more clients, we were able to keep up with these rising costs from travel for our clients. That funding has diminished somewhat, we are still out there. Brigid Alliance, with our - we have built an infrastructure for fundraising, to help us really keep up with the demand and these high costs of travel. We are really committed, the three co-founders of the Brigid Alliance, really, when they started out and were talking with the folks in the abortion support field, like, "What does it take? What do people need?" And meeting clients where they are, and the organization is really committed to that, and that does take resources. So, so we continue with the fundraising efforts, because one, we don't want to have to turn anybody away. And we want to make sure that people have what they need to travel to their appointment and to travel back home safely and with dignity.

Anita Rao 23:58
I want to bring Taylor Shelton back in for the last part of this conversation. Last year, Taylor traveled from South Carolina to North Carolina three separate times to get her abortion. Taylor, where we left with you, you were reflecting on the emotional fallout of all of this and kind of where you are in your journey today. You have become part of a lawsuit suing the state of South Carolina about the scope of its abortion ban and with this, you have put yourself in the public spotlight. How are you preparing for what's next to come in this experience?

Taylor Shelton 24:34
Yeah, my decision to get on this lawsuit it was - it was tough. I mean, it was an easy decision as in, I could speak my story and I could put an experience to a person, and I think that that speaks volume for our lawsuit and for people listening. But our lawsuit continues. And I'm here to tell my story. And it's very hard for me to kind of relive the experience. But the more I do it, the more I stand firmly in my beliefs and in my decision. And I know I'm doing this not only for myself, but for the thousands of women who have been affected and continue to be affected by these bans and this poor treatment. And it really does break my heart, kind of, to know how much burden, how much mental and emotional strain these bans have caused. And it it definitely felt like a dehumanizing experience. And I felt like my personal beliefs were disrespected. And I know I'm not the only one who sees it this way, or who has experienced this, and I feel for those going through it, and I commend the one to have had to deal with what I'm dealing with.

Anita Rao 26:07
Based on your experience, is there any advice that you have for someone listening who might be pregnant and in the process of trying to figure out how they're going to travel for their abortion care?

Taylor Shelton 26:19
I wish I could say that they don't need to travel, because I feel like that's ludicrous that we can't access the care we need in our home states. And that's why I'm on this lawsuit is to hopefully change that. But my advice is to do your research. And to find maybe someone who has dealt with it prior. I definitely wish I had stuck with Planned Parenthood instead of trying to go to that crisis pregnancy center. So I think the best advice is to watch out for crisis pregnancy centers and to find organizations that you can trust like the Brigid Alliance, who can give you resources. I also would say to go to your gynecologist when you find out and to really ask the right questions, because at the time, I really had no idea what questions to ask. I didn't realize, like, the situation that I was in. So it was really hard for me to get the resources. And even then, I'd say that it will continue to be that way, especially in the state of South Carolina. Because our law does not give an exact timeframe. And because of that our health care providers are unsure what their scope of practice looks like. So I think it's all a bit of a smoke and mirrors situation. And, you know, if it were good policy, then this wouldn't be the case.

Anita Rao 27:57
Well, Serra, I'd love to end with you kind of reflecting on where we are in this moment. We're marking the two-year anniversary of Dobbs, we've been talking about changes in demand and access. But your organization has been around since before the Dobbs decision. So how are you thinking about this moment in terms of that question I asked at the very beginning, kind of, what, what is new and what has remained the same as we look forward?

Serra Sippel 28:23
You know, before Dobbs, people still were not accessing their abortion care. I mean, there's a lot of talk about restoring Roe through a congressional act. Even if we bring Roe back, there are still too many people who do not have access to the abortion care that they need and deserve. So I think we're at a moment that is really highlighting that. I want to thank Taylor for sharing her story, for being a part of a public lawsuit. We need more people who are courageous like that to speak up, because also there are people who can't for many reasons speak out. I think at the Brigid Alliance, we are preparing for things to get worse before they get better when it comes to access to abortion care and the need for people to travel long distances. So we're going to be raising more money so that we can increase the number of clients served and continue to provide the quality support to the people we serve. And I think also the other piece of where we are and where we're going is needing to continuously navigate the patchwork of laws and regulations across states. It's really created this cruel and complicated environment for both abortion seekers and abortion providers and for those who are trying to support abortion seekers. And so for the Brigid Alliance, we keep you know, getting more and more - I already feel like we have this army of lawyers and pro bono attorneys who are there to really help our coordinators navigate these laws to help our clients navigate. And so I think there just needs to be more conversations. I'm so appreciative of this conversation today, because I think it does help inform the public about not only the reality of what these bans and restrictions, what they are creating in terms of not only access to care, but also what it means to people who are seeking abortions, their rights, their dignity, their self-respect. It's so cruel, what we are putting people through in order to get the care that they need and deserve. And so I think the more conversations we have about it and realize that Roe was not enough, and we need to look at abortion care as health care that everybody has a right to, and we need facts, we need science and we need support and compassion.

Anita Rao 31:11
Through Serra and Taylor's stories, it's clear just how complicated this landscape is. And while there is certainly some good reporting out there about all of this, a lot of the abortion travel storylines that many of us have the most access to are in TV and movies. And there's one movie subgenre in particular that's on the rise: the abortion road trip movie. We're gonna preview some of the biggest abortion road trip films of the past decade and learn how much they impact how we as viewers think about abortion. All of that is after this break.

This is Embodied. I'm Anita Rao. More and more people seeking abortion care have to travel to get it. These trips are now also a more frequent plotline in film.

Clip from "Unpregnant" 32:10
I should be able to just walk down the street and open a door and waltz right in and say, "Hello, my name is Veronica. Here's my $500." Nope. Instead, I literally had to drive 996 miles.

Clip from "Tripping" 32:30
So where are we going? About 500 Miles. 500 Miles. You know when I was your age, we stuck to things like playing pickup sticks around maybe collecting stamps if we were feeling edgy.

Clip from actress Barbie Ferreira 32:46
That is really where the conversation is with this story is like, why don't we have access to these things that are healthcare?

Clip from director Eliza Hittman 32:54
I was thinking about the journey that women take from rural areas into urban areas when they can't get access and I began to ask myself, "Why have I seen it represented on film before?"

Clip from "Tripping" 33:13
One super fun abortion road trip coming up. I think I'm going to puke.

Anita Rao 33:18
From feature length buddy comedies to Oscar-nominated dramatic shorts, these films trace the obstacle-filled journeys of people traveling long distances and crossing state lines for abortion care. Gretchen Sisson is a sociologist who studies abortion representation in TV and film. We first spoke on Embodied in 2020, and I am thrilled to welcome her back to talk about the abortion road trip movie. Hey Gretchen, welcome back to the show.

Gretchen Sisson 33:19
Hey, thanks for having me.

Anita Rao 33:26
So you have been researching abortion depictions in movies and TV for a little over a decade now. You look at popular media dating all the way back to 1916. But this subgenre of the abortion road trip movie is a more recent development. Can you talk about when you first started to see this emerge?

Gretchen Sisson 34:09
Yeah, so it was funny, because when I started doing this work back in 2012, and people kind of asked me, "Oh, what types of stories do you want to see more of?" And I would say, "I'm waiting for my abortion road trip." Because we always found that barriers to access, including the need to travel were very under-depicted in the stories that we were seeing in our popular culture. And it wasn't really until 2016 that we started to see a few, and then 2020 we started to see more and more stories about traveling for abortion care, but also other ways of trying to navigate barriers to access care. It's still probably underrepresented in the stories that we're seeing, but we are seeing at least some of it.

Anita Rao 34:52
I have been revisiting a lot of these movies starting with the 2015 Lily Tomlin movie "Grandma," "Unpregnant" and "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," and there are some things that I noticed show up in almost every single movie. There's always a scene where you see someone googling "how to get an abortion near me." There's always like a zoom in to a Google Map. What are some of the defining features to you of these abortion road trip movies?

Gretchen Sisson 35:19
Well I think you've really zeroed in on it right? There's the initial character surprise that they can't get the abortion where they live, that this is going to be a trip, that it's going to be farther than they think it should be. There's usually someone that they need to call in to support them on this journey, and then trying to figure out how to actually get care. And what I think is really interesting is that these stories that we're talking about are not really similar, not similar types of storytelling, not similar types of characters. I really love actually that "Unpregnant" and "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" came out so close to each other. And if you look at kind of the plot points for these films, right, young woman in a low access state or lower access state needs to travel across state lines with a close friend to figure out how to navigate care. You know, if you did an outline, or a point by point outline, they would be almost identical.

Anita Rao 36:15

Gretchen Sisson 36:15
But they are otherwise similar in no way, right? Because "Never Rarely" is sort of this dark, reflective piece that's set in the Northeast and looks at barriers to care there. And "Unpregnant" is this young adult buddy comedy road trip from Missouri to New Mexico and what that looks like, and they're very different in tone, in audience, in feel. And I think that it shows that you can have stories that are very similar to each other as sort of the plot development, but that are speaking to really different aspects of the abortion experience. There's always something that will add more to what that experience looks like for different types of characters and different types of people.

Anita Rao 36:58
Let's talk more about whose stories of abortion travel tend to be told. You mentioned the movies vary in tone. But the two you mentioned - "Unpregnant," "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" - they're both 17-year-old white women. Actually, so many of these films are 17-year-old white women in particular. So talk to me about that. Whose stories are we telling?

Gretchen Sisson 37:21
Yeah, well, young people are definitely overrepresented in the abortion stories that we tell generally, whether or not there is travel involved. And you know, most Americans who need abortion care are not teenagers, right? They're in their 20s or early 30s. It's not that different from the overall childbearing age in the United States. And so our onscreen portrayals definitely skew a little bit younger. I think that, as viewers, a lot of audiences are more comfortable with stories about young people. They're more understanding of why a young person would need to have access to an abortion. Abortion is obviously deeply stigmatized in our culture, but teen pregnancy and young parenthood is stigmatized to a really high degree too. And so some people who are uncomfortable with abortion might be more comfortable with a young person having an abortion, right. And so I think that we definitely see those stories disproportionately portrayed. And that has an impact on how we understand who needs abortion care, right. Most abortion patients in the United States are older, but they're also already parenting, right. And we don't see a lot of those types of stories as well. So when you situate it around young white girls and young women, that's a pretty sympathetic protagonist. And I don't want to say that that's unrealistic, right? There are tens of thousands of young white women in this country every year who need to access abortion care. But it does mean that we are becoming comfortable with a certain type of story that isn't reflective of what the majority of abortion patients look like in this country.

Anita Rao 38:50
So in the movies that we have been referencing, these characters travel via buses, cars, hitchhike, sometimes even trying to hop trains. There's not a lot of plane travel, which we do know that real life abortion seekers often have to take for time efficiency. What do you think is significant about the modes of travel that are depicted in these movies?

Gretchen Sisson 39:10
Yeah, and I think that this is a function of a lot of these films were made before the Dobbs decision. And now that we have entire regions of the country, really the entire Southeast that has severe limits or total bans on abortion care, we're certainly going to need to see more and more patients that are traveling by plane to get there. You know, when it was just a function of going from Pennsylvania to New York or across one state line, then that was the more common type of travel. It's also cheaper, right? Most abortion patients are lower income. And so you definitely see that cost becoming a factor to different types of travel. During the pandemic, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of medication abortions as a proportion of all abortions is in the United States. And that really hasn't gone back down. And as you have more states with shield laws, which means that abortion providers in California and New York and Massachusetts are able to provide right now telehealth abortions across state lines, you're going to be seeing more patients who are able to access that type of care in their home states without traveling at all. So the Dobbs decision has really not just changed the contours of what travel is being used and what modes of transport are being used, but the ways that providers in higher access states are able to serve patients in lower access states at all.

Anita Rao 40:39
I want to dive more into "Unpregnant" in particular, the example that you were mentioning directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg. And this is kind of your very traditional buddy road trip, you have a montage of snacks, you have them kind of off roading, there's like a bit of a "Fast and Furious" car chasing, there's like a lot of really fun, lighthearted road trip moments alongside the backdrop of getting an abortion. What does or doesn't work for you about the road trip comedy as a vehicle for which you were exploring an abortion story?

Gretchen Sisson 41:13
Yeah, I mean, you know, listeners can probably tell I love "Unpregnant." I think it's an excellent representation. I think it's genuinely funny. And what I appreciate about it is not just that it's this road trip story that actually examines the barriers to care, but that it also is that it is a comedy. And when I started doing this research again, 10 years ago or so, you had a lot of content creators saying at the time, "Oh, abortion stories can't be funny, right? We can't include an abortion story arc on a sitcom or on a family show." And there were these ideas that if you had an abortion story, it was probably going to be sad, it was certainly going to be dramatic, right? You know, medical and legal dramas have always been the genre home for most of our abortion stories on on TV and in film. And it's not really until recently, certainly in the last six to eight years, that you are starting to see more comedies including abortion. And I think that that's important, because abortion really represents so much of the range of human experience, right? The need to make a hard decision. The need to make an easy decision and then figure out how you're going to implement on that decision. Who are you going to tell? What is that going to look like? How are you going to access this, and the frustration inherent in it and the need to find humor as a way of connecting. And actually, one of the abortion stories, one of the earlier comedic abortion stories was on "Bojack Horseman," which I won't get into the whole plotline, there's a lot of really like flippant, over-the-top humor that would probably be really alienating for a lot of viewers throughout the episode around abortion. And then you get to the end and the character who needs the abortion is in the waiting room at the abortion clinic. And she's annoyed at this really flippant discourse and humor that's been present throughout the rest of the episode. And she's talking to another character in the waiting room, and the character says, "Like, you get that it's a joke, right? Like having an abortion is scary because of the protesters and they make you look at the sonogram, and being able to laugh about it makes you feel like you're not alone in that." And what I really like about that particular moment is when she says abortion is scary, she's not talking about the abortion itself, right. She's talking about the protesters, she's talking about this mandated sonogram viewing that they had and still have in a lot of states, these barriers that have been imposed on abortion patients, that's what's scary, and humor as a point of connection. And so that's what I think "Unpregnant" does so well and other comedic abortion stories do so well, is provide a point of connection and saying, "This is a normal part of reproductive lives for a lot of American women. And it's something that we can talk about, it's something that we can joke about, it's something that we can share with each other in a really important way."

Anita Rao 44:07
The thing about road trips generally and the way they're depicted in these films is it is a - you're in an enclosed space with someone and you have a lot of time to like chat and connect, and it leads to this really kind of unique bond and this bonding between two women in particular is something that's happening at kind of at the core of a lot of these abortion road trip films. What's significant to you about having this relational piece highlighted in abortion road trip movies?

Gretchen Sisson 44:35
Yeah, I mean, I think that so many of the abortion stories we've seen throughout history on TV and some of the earlier films, abortion has been used as a connection between characters. I'm thinking of "Obvious Child" another abortion comedy, a kind of the, the abortion rom com that came out a couple years ago.

Anita Rao 44:53
Yeah, Jenny Slate.

Gretchen Sisson 44:54
Yes, where Jenny Slate's character is talking about her decision to have an abortion with her mom and finds out that her mom had an abortion, right, and it's this point of connection for them. And that's how you see being used. But it's also a way that you see character showing up for each other, right? So in "Unpregnant," Veronica turns to her friend Bailey, who's a friend who she's kind of been estranged from, right. And this road trip is a way of them connecting with each other. This is someone that she can trust, and someone that is going to be there to support her and make this possible for her in a way that without judgment, and what that looks like in "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," it's her cousin, right, who really is committed to helping make sure she can get the care that she needs. In "Grandma," of course, it's her grandmother played by Lily Tomlin, who kind of shows up and drives her around town trying to find ways of paying for this abortion. And so you have these real moments of connection. And that's why I think abortion stories aren't just about abortion, they're about the full experience of women's lives. A quarter of American women are going to be having an abortion at some point in their lives. But we don't talk about it. We don't share that, we don't allow that to be a grounds for connection so often in real life. And so these stories, these fictional stories, allow a greater level of comfort and connection so that people don't feel so alone.

Anita Rao 46:20
I'd love to end on hearing more about what these abortion plotlines do for how we think about abortion. We touched on this when we talked four years ago, you have published some research since then showing that abortion plotlines do change how much people know, how willing they may be to support someone. But that representation is not always correlated with lowering abortion stigma. Tell me a little bit about why you think that is and what you make of how much these films shape our perception.

Gretchen Sisson 46:53
Yeah, it's really hard to change people's minds about abortion access, but you can increase knowledge about abortion. And that is actually really important too. Because there's so much social mythology and misinformation about abortion out there and in our political conversations, in our cultural conversations, that increasing knowledge can do two things. One, it can take people who maybe, like, they'll say, "I'm pro choice but I'm, I'm uncomfortable with young people getting abortions, or I'm uncomfortable with, you know, abortions after a certain point in pregnancy." And when you show them stories like that, it can increase their comfort with all types of abortion care and understand what that looks like. You know, what is the problem with parental consent laws? Who do they harm? Right? And stories about young people needing to travel can impact what they know about that. Or if you have people who say, "I don't believe that abortion should be legal," but they see a story about a really safe medication abortion, then they can reevaluate where those beliefs are coming from. But at least they'll have some knowledge about abortion's safety, what it looks like, who it impacts and maybe that can give opportunities for a more fact-based conversation around abortion care and what it looks like.

Anita Rao 48:20
Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast, consider a contribution at now. A huge thank you to all of our guests this hour, and a special shout out to the films and directors we featured in the latter half of this conversation, including actor Barbie Ferreira from "Unpregnant," director Eliza Hittman of "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" and the short film "Tripping." Check out the full movie list as well as more info about Taylor and the Brigid Alliance in our show notes. This episode was produced by Kaia Findlay and edited by Amanda Magnus. Paige Miranda also produces for our show, Jenni Lawson is our technical director and Quilla wrote our theme music. If you have any thoughts after listening to this episode, we would love to hear them. You can leave us a voice note in our virtual mailbox SpeakPipe. You could also send us an email: Until next time, I'm Anita Rao, taking on the taboo with you.

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