How to Support Women's Reproductive Health and Freedom

Here are some great volunteer opportunities around the country, for both those who wanna get on the front lines and also those who'd prefer to work from bed.

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This is excerpted from the "Reproductive Choice" episode of Lena's Podcast, Women of the Hour. Click here to listen to the full episode. Click here to subscribe to WOTH on iTunes.

When it comes to volunteering, the hardest part will be picking where and how you spend your time. Let's start with the big players. First is Planned Parenthood, which has 650 health centers around the country, and an Action Fund that defends reproductive rights. Basically, they're doing all the good, all the time.

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NNAF is the National Network of Abortion Funds, meaning they help women around the country who need an abortion but can't afford one. NARAL Pro-Choice is one of the most powerful advocacy groups in the US. NOW is the country's largest feminist organization.

You'll go to a lot of these websites, click on something that says "act," only to be brought to a page with a big button that reads "donate." Don't take this to mean that they don't want your time or your talent, it's just that donating is how a lot of people choose to engage. You'll probably also see online campaigns and petitions highlighted. But there's more to do than participate in a tweetstorm.

You could, for example, become a clinic escort. You do a brief training and then get to wear a neon vest and escort women past screaming anti-choice protesters with gruesome signs. Offering a kind word and comfort to a woman about to have a procedure that's easier if she's relaxed is huge. If you're interested, it's much easier to become a clinic escort with NOW than with Planned Parenthood, so try them first.

If you're interested, it's much easier to become a clinic escort with NOW than with Planned Parenthood, so try them first.

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If you're someone who loves to talk but hates to get out of bed, you could get trained for post-abortion counseling. Exhale does trainings in San Francisco. Backline does them twice a year in Bloomington, Indiana.

Also, destigmatizing abortion is incredibly important. The National Abortion Federation collects narratives on their site, from both individuals who've had abortions and those who simply identify as pro-choice. Write and talk and generally spread the word about why you think it's so important for women to maintain control over their reproductive health. When you see amazing organizations like Planned Parenthood getting smeared, jump in the conversation and share what they've done for you.

A lot of pro-choice organizations will ask you to become a member, aka support them with an annual or monthly donation. But shoot them an email and let them know what else you can offer. For example, I noticed your social media accounts haven't been active since 2013, can I help with that? or Are you planning to participate in any protests soon? I can draw really well and I'd be happy to come in and make a bunch of signs. This works particularly well with smaller, local organizations.

Abortion Care Network has a running list of independent abortion providers. If there's one in your area, reach out directly to see if they need volunteer child care, escorts, or help with fund-raising. When you're looking for somewhere to volunteer, watch out for crisis pregnancy centers. These "mimic clinics" masquerade as real health centers, but instead of providing women with options they try to force them to carry a pregnancy to term. Gross.

If you're still in high school, you could organize to speak to the school board to petition for comprehensive sex ed or free condoms. You could get together with friends to host a bake sale to raise money or put together a zine for teens in your area that answers questions like "Can I get Plan-B over the counter?" and "Do I need parental consent for an abortion?"

If you're still in high school, you could organize to speak to the school board to petition for comprehensive sex ed or free condoms.

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When you start looking around for volunteer opportunities or even internships, it may seem like all the good stuff is in DC or New York. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has field offices in Florida, Texas, and Virginia. Sister Song, a women of color reproductive justice initiative, is based in the South. This is a long one, but bear with me; the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center is in South Dakota and hosts incredible internships. I also really like the organization All Above All, which focuses on lifting abortion bans. Right now, its website is highlighting action opportunities in Minnesota, Oregon, and West Virginia.

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But if you do live in one of those pro-choice oases, find a way to support women who travel there for abortions. Haven Coalition is an amazing organization in New York where you offer up your spare bedroom or couch plus a meal or two for a woman in for an abortion. Not having to pay for a hotel room can be the difference between being able to afford an abortion and not getting one at all.

If you can give an evening once a month, great. Planned Parenthood hosts monthly volunteer nights. You can also become what the National Abortion Foundation calls a five minute activist. Check out its website for tons of ideas and sign up for its Act for Choice alert emails. And if after all this you're still not sure what to do, see if there's a Reproductive Health Happy Hour in your city. These monthly meet ups — over cocktails! — are for pro-choicers and those working in the field of reproductive rights. You'll meet like-minded people with a host of ideas for how you can get involved on a local level.

You can also become what the National Abortion Foundation calls a five minute activist.

A few years ago, I got trained to be an abortion doula, a role where you provide comfort and support to women before, during, and immediately after their abortions. On my first day I almost passed out twice and then slunk home humiliated. I berated myself for thinking that watching a lot of Grey's Anatomy had prepared me to wear scrubs and do something important. Unfortunately, I was still signed up for more shifts, so I had to go back. And that next time, armed with a mantra about failure and a big breakfast, I did it. And then I did it again and again and again.

Working as an abortion doula was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my entire life. Plug: there are now programs in ten cities! With any of these volunteer opportunities, if you think you can't do it, y'know if you're scared anti-choice protesters will get under your skin, or you'll be positively useless, give yourself a chance to succeed. You may surprise yourself by how much good you can do even when you're afraid.

Alex Ronan is a writer living in Berlin.

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