Pro-Choice Doulas

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Childbirth is a stressful process. That’s why a woman in labor often opts to have a doula by her side, nurturing her during intense bouts of pain and emotion. But what about a woman who decides to terminate a pregnancy? Three years ago, a diverse group of reproductive-rights activists imagined offering doula support for the “entire spectrum of pregnancy”—including abortion.

Currently working out of a public hospital in New York City, volunteers from The Doula Project accompany women and provide relaxation techniques during abortion procedures. “It seemed like a very intuitive idea,” says project cofounder Lauren Mitchell.

“[Abortion is] usually an uncomfortable procedure, it can be emotional, it encompasses a huge range—life, sex, death. It’s intense.”

A doula might hold a woman’s hand or rub her scalp to calm her; other times she might crack corny jokes or trade dating stories. The volunteers also have information about the procedure and can explain to a woman what is happening to her body. Mitchell, who works full time as a health educator at the hospital, says no one has opted out of the free service since it started.

Often, just “being there” for women is the important aspect, says Mary Mahoney, another cofounder and assistant director of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project. “We’re not there to poke them, or to stick things in them, or to judge them. We’re there as friends, and we’re there as advocates.”

At this point, the service is limited. It takes some doing to convince clinics to allow an extra person in the room during a private procedure, Mitchell explains. Still, the project (www.doula project.org) is working on expanding into two New York clinics and assembling a doula training kit in hopes the idea will continue to spread.

—Lisa Hix, excerpted from  Bust (Feb.-March 2010); www.bust.com