"Heavy" is the word Christel Allen used to describe what it's like to become the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, in the middle of a pandemic and an international antiracism movement.
"It's a really tough time for so many people, and I do think that prior to this moment in time, we do and continue to get questions about, well, isn't this covered ground?" Allen said. "I think this just highlights how vulnerable so many of our systems actually are."
NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, a nonprofit that fights for abortion rights and reproductive access, announced in late June that Allen will be the organization's new executive director, following a four-month search. She previously served as the organization's political director since 2018. Raised in Salem, Allen has worked in Oregon politics for over a decade.
Allen will take the place of Andra Carrick, who has served as executive director for the first half of 2019 after Grayson Dempsey stepped down in January.
Allen is the first woman of color to direct the organization since its inception in 1977. She said she hopes to lead the organization to a place of reproductive justice, a term created by a group of Black women in 1994.
"Reproductive justice is so, so key to liberation," Allen says.
Reproductive justice is "the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities," according to the Sister Song, which bills itself as a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. That includes the confidence that people can raise their children free from police violence or the impacts of climate change.
"If we can't feel safe in our own skins and our own bodies, how can we actually advocate for reproductive rights?" Allen said.
Allen said she wants to begin by reversing policies that have not been as inclusive as they could have been by looking internally at the organization's employee handbook and board practices.
Allen will begin her tenure just days after the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles. The law was almost identical to a Texas law that the court had found unconstitutional in 2016. While Allen said she felt relieved by the decision, she stressed that it does the "bare minimum" to protect abortion access.
"What we did not see in the ruling (written) by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts is any sort of additional precedent or protections regarding future laws that may be on the docket, or currently are on the docket, that could continue to have an impact," Allen said.
While Oregon has no legal restrictions on abortion access, Allen says that doesn't mean there aren't barriers to access — Allen cited the Trump Administration's public charge rule, under which people who immigrated to the United States can be denied visas or green cards for using public benefits like Medicaid.
"We all still need to play an active role in looking out for the rights of everyone," Allen said.
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