Doulas are often mistaken for midwives—who are trained to provide obstetrics and gynecology services in addition to emotional support, while doulas perform emotional, social, educational, and logistical support without medical services. Doulas educate about a host of topics from conception, pregnancy, delivery, miscarriage, and, in the case of reproductive justice, abortion. We break down what an abortion doula can do for you (even in states with severely restricted access to abortion).
What is an abortion doula?
Different abortion doula groups provide different services, says Max Carwile, the director of programs of Abortion Access Front. Typically, Carwile explains that an abortion doula is a non-medical professional who has been trained to offer non-judgmental, compassionate care and support to those having an abortion. This can mean in-person support in the clinic, before an appointment, after an appointment, or emotional support over the phone. It varies based on a group's capacity, individual clinics' policies, and the pregnant person's wishes.
In a clinic setting, a doula can provide one-on-one in-person support to people, says Molly Graebe, a New York-based comedian and practicing abortion doula of ten years. This looks like listening to their anxieties, holding space, and laughing together.
"It can be a hand to hold during the abortion or just sitting next to someone after the procedure. A doula is there to try and provide whatever is needed at the moment by each patient, which looks very different from person to person," says Graebe. They may also help with logistical support to a person before, during, or after an abortion.
How can a doula provide abortion support in a state with restrictions?
If you live in a state where abortion is still legal, an abortion doula can help you through the entire process. For example, the SPIRAL Collective in Minnesota is able to help you find a clinic or provider near you, meet with you beforehand to help you prepare for your appointment, go to the clinic with you, and support you in person, remotely, or at home. They also provide transportation assistance to and from the clinic (within 45 minutes of the clinic), and emotional, physical, and practical support before, during, and after your abortion or miscarriage (doulas often help people through both).
While an abortion doula will not be able to sit with you at a clinic to have an abortion in certain states, they can still play a role in supporting you. In East Tennessee, for example, the abortion doulas with Mountain Access Brigade can communicate via text or phone call in order to emotionally support you, talk through any fears you're having, help you navigate your options, assist with appointment logistics, and offer financial assistance and funding. Similarly, the Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective helps people in the Asheville and greater Western North Carolina area by providing logistical planning, pre-and post-abortion care packages, car rides, and phone or in-person support for emotional processing.
In states where abortion is illegal or completely inaccessible, there are still ways that abortion doulas can help. For instance, there are a number of "pregnancy crisis centers" around the country that are set up to trick you into thinking they provide abortion care, with the aim of convincing you to carry the pregnancy to term. Having trusted abortion doulas in restrictive states is incredibly important to help people find real options for counseling and abortion services elsewhere, so they don't fall prey to anti-abortion centers.
If you need to travel for an abortion, there are doulas who can help with that, too. For instance, the Colorado Doula Project provides practical support in the form of rides to and from the airport, rides to and from the clinic, groceries and meal support, personal care items, childcare, and any odds or ends that might be useful or necessary for an out-of-state traveler.
How to protect yourself online while seeking abortion support and care
An important aspect of care and support in abortion-restricted states is to make sure you're keeping yourself safe from surveillance and law enforcement, says Collen Clark, a lawyer and found of Schmidt & Clark, LLP.
"Be absolutely careful of online surveillance. The scope of digital surveillance in relation to abortion laws is yet to be fully realized. However, it's best to be careful of your internet history, online searches, and the health apps you use. The information that can be gathered from these can be used as evidence against you," says Clark. While it can feel overwhelming to know that you can't be so sure of your digital security, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
"When we talk about digital privacy, we're talking about not only your search histories but which apps store your data. It's hard to completely hide your tracks online, but the most important thing for people to know is to keep quiet. A good rule is to never talk about committing crimes on the internet or talk about helping others commit crimes on the internet," says Carwile.
Then, there is less of a risk that a situation will escalate to the point where website visit history, text messages, or app usage are being subpoenaed, Carwile explains. This is another area where it helps to reach out to your local abortion fund. They can help pregnant people research all of their options for abortion care and offer state-specific information on what to watch out for and how to be careful. "One extremely helpful resource is the advanced search feature of INeedAnA.com lists not only abortion clinics but also funds and practical support organizations across the country," says Carwile.
"In addition to all of these, I suggest looking into Electronic Frontier Foundation's Surveillance Self-Defense guide. This is an expert guide that teaches you how to protect yourself online," says Clark.
What to remember when you're looking for reproductive care and support
The fall of Roe vs. Wade continues to be devastating to reproductive health care. If you are pregnant and don't want to be, it can feel extremely overwhelming to find support, care, and access to abortion in this era. Remember, there are still so many people out there that can support you, help you, and connect you to what you need.
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