Politics & Policy

Avail: Helping Women Choose Life

(Anna Jurkovska/Dreamstime)
An offer of support and a listening ear in midtown Manhattan.

America, New York City needs your help.

New Yorkers may not be known for asking for help, but a Fort Worth native who has made Manhattan her home is not bashful about asking.

Tanya Bishai is vice president for advancement at Avail, a safe haven for women in midtown Manhattan. Avail — formerly known as the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center — wants to be the first place women in New York City think of for pregnancy testing and verification.

Why the first? Because “We’re all about serving the people, right where they are,” Bishai tells me in a soft-toned room just a few blocks from Grand Central Station.

“Women need to know they have a choice.” They don’t have to go to an abortion clinic to verify their pregnancy, she says, and she adds, “We’re free. And we give women what they want and what they need.”

Fundamentally, if a woman Googles “pregnancy testing” and comes up with Avail, she has found a place that will give her “time” and “space” to think through her decision. If she is asked some strategic questions, Bishai explains, her “values” are likely to rise to the surface. Avail works to be “the safest place for making decisions,” as its staff provide a listening ear and “holistic” support. Avail wants a woman to be able to carry her baby to term if that is her decision.

Women’s empowerment is very much in the air here.

Bishai talks about the overwhelming pressure women have told her they are under. It can be financial. It can be family. It can be emotional abuse. Women need to hear more than one of two sides of a heated abortion debate. “Women have a lot of pressures and a lot of things to consider that go across socio-economic situations,” Bishai emphasizes. And they need somewhere safe to go for support and information. This is what Avail seeks to be.

Avail NYC has been around for almost two decades, but it has seen an increase in demand over the last two years. It is itching for a growth spurt. As Susanne Metaxas, president and CEO of Avail, put it at the organization’s annual fundraiser this spring, Avail was founded “in response to the overwhelming number of abortions that occur each year in New York City. At 37 percent, New York City’s abortion rate is almost twice the national average — a staggering reality.” The goal at Avail is “to support, educate, and equip women to make the best choice for themselves and their unborn children: life. Our hope is to reduce the number of abortions in New York City, one life at a time.”

With full disclosure, a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on, Avail is an alternative anyone should be able to get behind.

With no pressure, but with full disclosure, a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on, Avail is an alternative anyone should be able to get behind, whatever your politics when it comes to abortion.

Avail, which has a dedicated medical suite on site through a partnership with a medical facility, doesn’t gloss over the “pressure cooker” women face with an unplanned pregnancy. Avail’s counselors are “highly skilled” (some have or are working on higher degrees in counseling), and it has a network of volunteers with extensive training in “reflective listening” to provide emotional, spiritual, and social support throughout a pregnancy and the first year of a child’s life.

Avail encourages women to bring their partner along with them if they are comfortable doing so. Male “client advocates” are available to talk with men facing the challenges of an unintended pregnancy.

Bishai makes her plea as Avail is in the process of moving into a bigger space in the Times Square area (it is now closer to Grand Central). Its clients come from throughout the New York metropolitan area. The dream of Bishai and her colleagues is to have a presence in each of the city’s five boroughs.

New York City has areas — like the Bronx — where there have been more abortions some years than live births. New York has even been dubbed the abortion capital of the United States. In the series of undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, which give us a window into Planned Parenthood’s harvesting of babies’ body parts, New York is seen as a boomtown for abortions and thus for this grisly traffic in infants’ organs.

Everyone from Hillary Clinton — who received Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award a few years ago — on down is disturbed by what is revealed on these videos. And each video seems to be worse than the one before it — in the most recent, the seventh, a technician describes an aborted child whose heart was still beating, and whose face had to be cut open with scissors to procure the desired brain. Fatigue can set in. What can any individual do about it? One thing we can do is support alternatives. As it becomes clear that Planned Parenthood is not the sum total of women’s health care — and that it is far from an ideal place for a woman who is scared and feeling alone — the likes of Avail rise to the surface.

Asked to comment on the Planned Parenthood videos, Bishai says, “We can’t treat women like this. We can’t treat life like this.” Her heart is heavy as she reflects on the “callousness” of some of the conversations that have been revealed, even allowing for the best of intentions.

“Women are at their most vulnerable” when they are facing an unintended pregnancy and ask for help, Bishai tells me. Avail is also a “safe place” for women to get “hope and healing” after the “trauma” of an abortion. Many women have “deep regret and remorse” after an abortion, Bishai explains, and she wants them to know they are not alone.

“Where would I want to get my pregnancy test?”

“Where do I want to get my pregnancy care?”

“Where would I send my daughter?”

“Where would I send my friend?”

Bishai hopes that people might be asking questions like these as they read these days’ headlines. Most women who come to Avail found it through a Google search, but a few recently have come in through word of mouth, including a recommendation during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Avail “is a very practical way to help,” says Madison Peace, an advancement and communications associate at Avail. She speaks with the authenticity of someone who was a longtime volunteer before she joined Avail’s staff.

“Please help us reach more women in New York City,” Bishai says.

This may be a fundraising plea, practically speaking, but, as she says, it is more of a call to arms.

Women are facing “heavy, complicated” situations. Let’s quit burdening them with miserable political debates. Let’s simply help them.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. 


Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial publication. 


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