The Role of an Abortion Doula

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A doula is generally understood as someone trained to assist a woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born.

But what about a woman getting an abortion? She just might need a doula too.

Although the word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek and means "a woman who serves," a doula can be a person of any gender who supports a person through the birthing and/or postpartum experience.

A doula can also support a woman going through the process of adoption.

However, an abortion doula is a rather new phenomenon, but one that has slowly taken hold in the last decade or so.

Alex Ronan described her role as an abortion doula as to “provide women with emotional and physical support, offer comfort or distraction, answer their questions, and, most of all, just be with them during their first or second trimester abortions.” As Ronan describes her role in assisting a woman receiving an abortion, the role of a birth doula and an abortion doula are clearly very similar

Gaylon Alcaraz, a national reproductive justice activist and the former executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, worked first as a birth doula and now works as an abortion doula. She admits that getting hospitals used to the idea of an abortion doula took some time because “unlike in the delivery room, where relatives and friends can accompany the new mother, hospitals typically don't allow anyone to be in the room with the woman or girl who's undergoing an abortion.”

Folks like Alcaraz are trying to change this circumstance by insisting that women have the option to an abortion doula who will support them through the process and advocate for their care. Alcarez insists “I just want this type of support to be normalized. I wanted to be there to hold the woman's hand if she needed it.

If my daughter needed this, she should be able to have it.”

Another abortion doula describes her typical workday, emphasizing the ways in which she works to place the women at ease: “Being awake during an abortion is very doable but is sometimes painful. During the procedure I may help her breathe through uncomfortable moments, explain what’s happening, squeeze her hand, stroke her forehead, and distract her with conversation about her favorite TV show or her weekend plans. Afterwards I help her get settled in the recovery room. I may give her a hot pack to place on her abdomen to help with cramps and put cool cloths on her forehead and back of her neck if she’s overheated. Some of my clients want to talk a lot in the recovery room, others are quieter. If my client is settled and seems to be feeling okay, I often sit quietly in a chair close by, ready to engage if and when she chooses.”

The notion of abortion doulas is spreading: “There are now ten abortion doula organizations around the country, most of them in Southern states, where safety concerns are greater and the prevailing anti-abortion political and religious views put added pressure on women seeking abortion.”

One doula organization that provides full spectrum doula services, including abortion doula work is The Doula Project.

The Doula Project New York is a “organization that provides free compassionate care and emotional, physical, and informational support to people across the spectrum of pregnancy” that “works to create a society in which all pregnant people have access to the care and support they need during their pregnancies and the ability to make healthy decisions for themselves, whether they face birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal anomaly, or abortion.”

Ultimately, whether doulas support women during the birthing process or when they decide to terminate a pregnancy, the emphasis on non-judgmental support that prioritizes the pregnant woman’s needs is a revolutionary act of care.