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Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
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Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
By Delaney Rauscher Adams, Staff Columnist • July 12, 2024
Opinion | Women pop stars and the pressure to evolve
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 10, 2024

Cruising around Pittsburgh: Autonomous Body Shop van promotes reproductive health

A+van+sits+outside+the+Cathedral+of+Learning+advertising+free+condoms+and+Plan+B.
Adrienne Cahillane | Staff Writer
A van sits outside the Cathedral of Learning advertising free condoms and Plan B.

Armed with a bright orange van, contraceptives and a passion for sex education, Alecia Ott brought her Autonomous Body Shop to Pitt’s campus.

“I’ve worked in reproductive health care and sex ed for about 17 years in various capacities,” Ott said. “I was an escort outside of clinics, escorting people past the people yelling at them, at the abortion clinic. I was a sex ed teacher. I’ve worked at a couple of abortion clinics and other things.”

On Sept. 28, the van, which was stocked with free condoms, emergency contraceptives and other informational resources, parked on the corner of Fifth and Bigelow. Ott started this project in July of this year and debuted the van at an event in August. 

Larissa Velasquez, a sophomore athletic training major, saw the van on her way to class and thought it looked “inviting.”

“I was walking down Fifth with my friend on the way to bio class and I saw the van with everything out and on display,” Velasquez said. “We literally tripped over ourselves looking at this van. It was so cool to look at. And then I think later that night, I got the Instagram page recommended to me on Instagram, so I followed.” 

One of the van’s main goals is to spread information about abortion access.

“Abortion is so common, so there isn’t any reason why there should be so many hoops for people to jump through,” Ott said, “Especially you know, people living in red states, where there’s, not even an option for an abortion. One of the goals of the van is to make people aware that there are ways to access that medication and learn more about their options”

The idea that abortion access is a community responsibility is what fuels Ott in her endeavors.

“I think that [the van] is an important way to combat misinformation, fear and panic,” Ott said. “And you know, really relying on each other and not the state to support each other and provide the care that we need is something that is important to me.” 

Sonya Berlinger, a sophomore environmental studies major, appreciated how the resources in the Autonomous Body Shop are free. 

“I think it should be free to everyone,” Berlinger said. “With the van, you have access closer to home rather than realizing you have to go to the store and not having to worry about how expensive they are. Also, when someone is giving [resources] out for free, they can tell you about them and educate you.” 

Ott’s work has an intimate nature, but she aims to remove the discomfort around talking about sex education.

“Each conversation that happens with the van is in some way breaking down stigma,” Ott said. “Whether that’s about abortion or like sex, healthcare is important whether you can get pregnant or not. We’re all connected to each other.”

Ott said she was inspired after attending a conference and leading a workshop with a friend. 

“I did a workshop with a friend of mine about how medical professionals and lay people can work together to increase abortion access,” Ott said. “I guess I just left that conference feeling really energized and inspired, and it lit a fire under my ass to get more organized with the work that I do.”

Velasquez noted that the colorful, inviting van made her feel more comfortable when she walked up to it.

“It’s really important, because as college students we know we have resources, but it’s almost scary to go out and get them,” Velasquez said. “Resources like the van are really crucial to college students, I think, to be able to protect ourselves.” 

Ott said she hopes that people continue to benefit from her van and its resources as it develops. 

“I don’t want this project to fall into being characterized as just a punk thing or a young people thing,” Ott said. “I talked about this with the students at Pitt when they all came over. I’m like, take this whether you need it or not, you probably have a friend that might need that, and take a sticker so that people can see that you’re a safe person to talk to about these things.” 

In the upcoming months, Ott plans to renovate the van, travel to a conference and attend a van meet up with other van owners in Pittsburgh. There are other vans on college campuses that provide access to reproductive health resources, but this is the first one Pitt’s campus has seen. 

“I’m trying to use this month as a little bit of downtime to apply for a couple of grants, finish my website, fix like the inside structure of the van to make storage space,” Ott said “It’s kind of like figuring out the mission, the goals, all that kind of stuff. The next thing I have besides the conference is a Halloween van meetup happening here in Pittsburgh.”

Ott would like to return to campus, especially because of the widely positive feedback she received from the community. 

“I had an amazing time at Pitt,” Ott said. “Honestly, everybody was so friendly, nice and appreciative and I met some professors who offered to help with the van. The whole goal of the van is to go to places and meet people where they’re at like, where people gather, play or meet.” 

If people leave the van with one feeling, Ott hopes that they know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

“I think that people walk away from the van feeling less alone in a lot of different ways,” Ott said. “It’s a moving, very public display, again, that shows they’re not alone in their views and their thoughts.”

About the Contributor
Adrienne Cahillane, Senior Staff Writer