The Rise of the Abortion Doula

As Abortions Become Harder to Obtain, Pro-Choice Activists Eschew Policy Debates for Flesh and Blood Activism

Given their string of legislative losses, there seems to be a shift of energy underway in the pro-choice movement, as activists back away from policy debates and instead turn their attention to practical matters, organizing to assist women in navigating the shifting legal landscape. In New York, they are offering hands to hold and backrubs, opening up their apartments to women from out of town, and helping them deal with insurance claims. “It is about finding the flesh and blood approach, rather than the theoretical one,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Rebecca Stanton, a professor at Columbia University, felt a little guilty when she and her husband purchased a roomy two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, she told The Observer over tea, in front of the impressive view from her Harlem apartment. “We had all this extra space and it seemed sort of silly,” she said. A friend directed her to Haven, an organization that finds volunteers willing to house low-income women and their partners who are traveling to the city for abortions. Haven was founded in 2001 when Catherine Megill, an abortion clinic social worker, discovered that a number of patients were forced, due to financial circumstance, to sleep on park benches or in their cars.

Ms. Stanton remembered one family she hosted, who’d driven up from Virginia in a dilapidated station wagon. The bumper sticker on their car made her draw a hand to her heart. “It said, ‘I am the proud parent of an honor roll student at [so and so] middle school,” she recalled. The honor roll student was the one seeking the abortion. She and both parents crashed in Ms. Stanton’s extra bedroom the evening before the procedure.

The girl’s parents had already extended the lines on their credit cards to initially make the trip. That afternoon, an ultrasound indicated she was further along, by four critical days, than previously thought, tacking another $400 onto the medical bill. As Ms. Stanton busied herself ordering Chinese food, the girl’s parents called bank managers. When that didn’t work, they called in favors.

“The girl was very quiet,” Ms. Stanton recalled. “I am not even sure if she knew she was having sex. She was overweight, and her family didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was 21 weeks along.”

Another volunteer, author and political activist Jane Weissman, opens up her spacious Greenwich Village apartment for Haven when she’s not traveling. Ms. Weissman said the roughest part of the experience is dropping the patient off at the clinic, sometimes walking her past protesters—each party knowing they will likely never see one another again. While most women Haven sees are getting second trimester abortions, Ms. Weissman said they often just want to go straight home after the second day, regardless of how they feel.

Approximately 4,000 women have been assisted by abortion doulas trained by The Doula Project, which was started by Ms. Mitchell and Mary Mahoney in 2007. The group partners with clinics and public hospitals to, as the website delicately puts it, “support people across the spectrum of pregnancy.”

“The mission of our project is to support people who would otherwise not have access to doula services,” Ms. Mitchell said. “So we see, for instance, people who are undocumented and can’t apply to Medicaid, or folks who are really lacking in resources.” They started the project after undergoing doula training in college. Ms. Mitchell says she went to a “hippie college, where it seemed everyone was training to be a doula.” The idea of an abortion doula, she said, was a way to stand out. Originally, the project caught some flack from the pro-choice community. As Marisa Meltzer wrote in a 2010 Slate piece, “Even as a pro-choice feminist, when I heard about abortion doulas my first thought was: Are women really so fragile that they need to hire a complete stranger to hold their hand at the doctor’s?”

“We were concerned about that when we first started, that the pro-choice movement wouldn’t exactly embrace us,” Ms. Mahoney said, “because we come from the reproductive justice movement, which is more holistic and looks at people’s feelings and individual experiences, not just policy.” Ms. Mitchell added that some abortion providers were skeptical at first, as well, but that they now they find that the doulas make their job easier.

Comments

  1. Steve Lafreniere says:

    “…state legislatures, buoyed by Republican election gains, did pass more
    than 80 laws restricting abortion in 2001, making it a watershed year
    the pro-life movement.” I have a nagging feeling that the date is a typo. Should it be 2010?

    1. Yes, that was a typo. It’s been corrected. Thank you for pointing it out.

  2. Jenna says:

    “Those pictures pro-life activists flash are real,” she said. “That is what a fetus looks like when its head is crushed.” 
    That is patently false. The purposefully shocking, horror-movie photos that some anti-choice activists rely on to make their point is simply not what abortion looks like. Some of those photos are simple forgeries, while others of those grisly images are pictures of stillborn babies, some with severe abnormalities, misrepresented as just your typical aborted fetus. A few of those images are actually of aborted fetuses, albeit very, very, very late-term ones, misleadingly blown up to many times life-size. But in the U.S., over 90% of abortions take place during the first trimester, according to the Guttmacher Institute. First-trimester abortions do not bear any resemblance to those manipulative photographs. Late-term abortions are far from the norm: in fact, they comprise fewer than 1% of all abortions. Generally, a late-term abortion takes place because a wanted pregnancy has taken a tragic turn — such as a fetus developing a severe abnormality that couldn’t be picked up earlier. 

    For the anti-choice right to make these pictures into “the” picture of abortion is, sadly, typical of the misleading tactics we’ve come to expect. For pro-choicers to accept that mischaracterization of abortion, however, is perhaps even sadder. 

    1. Elisa says:

      Most of those pictures are actually real Jenna. Murder is real. wether it happens at 2 hours after fertilization, 6 weeks after fertilization, 2 years after fertilization, or 70 years after fertilization. Murder is real and it kills someone.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Fertilization is not the same as giving birth.  The contribution of the sperm donor to the life-creation process is miniscule.  The woman’s body does all the work required to gestate the fetus and give birth to the child.  Claiming that fertilization creates a life is ridiculous – it defies biological reality.  

      2. Elisa says:

        HRyan
         If fertilization doesn’t create life, what does? 
        All that aside my point is life begins at fertilization. With out fertilization life coud not continue to exist….You are right fertilization is different from giving birth. youcan have fertilized eggs in a petri dish…but that doesn’t mean that it is not a life there in the dish…of course they will die if they aren’t moved to a hospitable environment. The only place I know of that fertilized human eggs can grow is in a uterus or in the rare cases that the egg implants outside of the uterus…..

      3. Anonymous says:

        Yes. A hospitable environment is required to create a human life. There is no new human life possible unless there’s a woman’s uterus available. Do you really think women should be forced to act as “hospitable environments” for several months of their lives? You bring up eggs which implant outside the uterus. This is known as an ectopic pregnancy and they are *not* rare – they occur in 1 of 40 to 1 of 100 pregnancies. An ectopic pregnancy will kill the woman if not removed. Are you saying we have to let that happen?

      4. theneva says:

        “If fertilization doesn’t create life, what does? ”

        Birth.

      5. Maryam says:

        Obviously, birth does not create life. Birth is the means life is carried outside of the womb.

      6. Glennwarne says:

        Sorry, Birth is what happens to created life. It does not create life. Boy are we getting in here deep. the whole of it is that when you abort. It is the end of a life.   The problem that is created  is how do you terminate a life?? 

      7. theneva says:

        It’s all a question of semantics until birth. Life begins at birth. Everything else is theory.

      8. GlennW says:

        How clinical of you!  I mean it wasn’t hot,dirty,sweaty,Sex,right?

      9. Anonymous says:

        No, Glenn, not always – often eggs are fertilized in a lab.

      10. Guest says:

        Eggs are fertilized in the Lab, Often??? By whom??Thats not how most of the world does it.  Nor did my Mama And My Daddy!  lolol  What Brave new world do you live in!!??/ Most are create in the Lab!!   Mostly those Lab Bunnies but not Human Beings!

    2. Maryam says:

      Jenna, I’m curious what makes you say the photographs of aborted babies and false? What evidence do you have? I can’t speak for the veracity of all images, and am wondering how you can claim to know?

  3. Kelly says:

    Those who believe that photos of aborted fetuses are manipulated have to be in a serious state of denial.  An abortion is a grisly procedure that takes the life of one and often negatively alters the life of another.  Abortion takes the life of a growing human being and although Feminists Choosing Life does not use or advocate the use of images of aborted children, they do indeed present a powerful element of persuasion.
     Women are certainly up against some serious challenges of equality and survival in our society and around the world but we’ve settled upon abortion as the answer to all of the inequalities we are faced with but in reality, legalized abortion hasn’t done anything to help women as a whole and has turned us into a nation who kills our own for the sake of convenience. Abortion is the wrong solution and until we realize that in our hearts, we will never move beyond it to find the right solution.
    Kelly Brunacini, FCLNY

    1. Rjs19 says:

      Very few women have abortions for the sake of  “convenience,” Kelly.  If they did, I’d agree with you.  But abortion is more than just a “convenience” — it’s a life-saving procedure.  Even if no one ever had unplanned sex or was ever raped or ever experienced the failure of a birth control method — in short, even if no one ever got pregnant except on purpose — we would still need abortion to be safe and legal, because there will always be wanted pregnancies that go tragically wrong.

      1. Armchairshrink says:

        You’re just talking out of your ass here.  What is “convenience”?   Most abortions do not happen because women’s lives are in danger so if that’s why you support abortion, you’re misguided.  How about stopping the moralizing and just supporting a woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her own damn body, full stop?

      2. Kelly says:

        Some facts about abortion: When the Supreme court upheld the partial birth abortion ban in 2006/7, the medical advisors for the court and the court itself stated that late term abortion is never medically necessary.

        Less than 3% of abortions are performed because of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother (that from the Guttmacher institute)

        The reasons most women give for having an abortion are as follows: not “ready” to be a parent, doesn’t want the child to infer with educational plans, are not financially ready.  These stats are also taken from the research of the Guttmacher Institute. These reasons point to convenience sake Michelle.

        I think that the reason 49% of Americans claim to be pro-choice is because rather that doing real research, they believe the marketing slogans (such as my body my choice, safe, rare and legal, etc.) of those who desire to perpetuate the industry for personal profit.

      3. Anonymous says:

        Kelly, those are not reasons of “convenience”. Why do you trivialize such concerns? What could be more important in a woman’s life (or a man’s, for that matter) than getting an education, or becoming financially stable, or wanting to be the best parent possible for a child? These are not “conveniences” – they are central responsibilities of life for any human being. I believe you have let medieval notions of “a woman’s place” affect your perceptions here.

      4. Anonymous says:

        Kelly, let me ask you – what are you, personally, doing to assist women who feel unable to raise a child? What are you doing to support women who “choose life” and then have to give up their children for adoption? Have you talked with any of these women? I have, and without exception, giving up their babies has traumatized them for life. This is an issue that anri-choice advocates *never* mention. Also, a great many women have abortions because they already have a family and they can’t afford another child. How many of these women are you supporting financially?

      5. GlennW says:

        Its interesting that you so quickly dismiss the 49%.   Clink! They don’t count!  How Godlike of you!

    2. Anonymous says:

      Actually, *giving birth* is a grisly procedure that often negatively alters the life of the mother and the rest of her family.  It’s far more dangerous than abortion.  As for abortion “not doing anything to help women”: legalized, safe abortion has freed women from the horror of being forced to give birth to children they don’t want and can’t support.  Nobody has a moral obligation to bring a new human being into the world.  The mother *always* bears the main responsibility for a child, and if a woman doesn’t want to accept that responsibility, that’s her choice and nobody else’s.  Anti-choice advocates make much of their love for “life”, but I don’t see many of them stepping forward to adopt unwanted babies, or fund their health care and college educations, or do anything but preach self-righteously at the women who find themselves pregnant against their will.  Anti-choice advocates have no respect for the woman’s role in creating a new life – for them, it all happened at conception and the woman is merely a vessel.  The act of childbirth is meaningless to them.  Motherhood is meaningless to them.   Because of their unenlightened views of women and women’s personal authority, they believe that childbirth and motherhood are things that happen to women because of their biology, and because God said so.  Well, in my world, God gave women a moral sense that enables them to decide when it’s the right idea to have kids, and when it isn’t.  God also gave us the gift of medical science that enables us to safely opt out of an unwanted pregnancy.  The wrong solution, Kelly, is to interfere with women’s personal choices about whether they should give birth or not.

  4. Dianasalles says:

    “…Ms. Stanton, she said all of the women she has hosted had excellent reasons for terminating their pregnancies. ”
    Why does someone even need a reason for ending a pregnancy. People should have excellent reasons for continuing a pregnancy, otherwise, ending it should be the default.

  5. Mallory says:

    It is really disappointing when a writer fails to translate to the audience, the true meaning and essence of such a unique and remarkable organization as The Doula Project.  The underlying sarcasm prevalent in each paragraph–as well as an inaccurate portrayal of volunteer doulas, does not recognize the importance of the organization, but merely echoes anti-choice undertones.
    The Doula Project consists of hard working volunteers who give endless amounts of time, energy, and care to women who may not otherwise have access to this support. To make light of, or ridicule this sensitive subject, as this writer has done, is incredibly offensive to women everywhere, the organization, and the audience. Rather than emphasizing the physical and literal aspects of an abortion procedure, or the small talk necessary for getting to a know a client, I would have liked to learn about how this organization has impacted the lives of individual women, why they do make the medical staff’s lives easier, and how women can empower each other through the doula process.  Asking questions that give the audience a genuine, accurate, and objective sense of what this organization is essential—not focusing on fluff like jello, Madonna or astrology….definitely an unfulfilling and false portrayal of The Doula Project.

  6. Jenna says:

    I will begin my comment with these words, and I will end it the very same way: As an author, you are responsible for the intellectual content of your article.  Unfortunately, this piece is purely sensation-seeking.  But the only real rise it got out of me is rooted in disappointment. I originally sat down to read an article about a service offered by an organization in which I’m interested and knew very little about.  I followed the provided link to the The Doula Project’s website and was presented with the beautifully expressed mission of, in my personal opinion, a truly unique and beautiful organization.  Then I return to this article, and I feel as though it’s been hit with a serious case of lost-in-translation… hard and mocking in all the places it should be soft and tender.

    Oh, and the way in which the author recounted the bit about the Jell-O was just tactless.  Again, you are responsible for the intellectual content of your article, and you did yourself a disservice. 

  7. Abortions are only allowed in some critical situation only, this is almost against a law but still there are many places where abortions are done just for their convenience.

    1. journalism degree online! says:

      i like your angelfire website

  8. Anonymous says:

    “a fertilized embryo”

    This author needs to learn some basic science. There is no such things as a fertilized embryo. It is just called an embryo. That is like saying a fertilized child or fertilized fetus.

    “Ohio is considering a “heartbeat bill,” which would outlaw abortion as early as six weeks.”

    According to my embryology textbook the human heart starts beating at 22 days post fertilization so you may want to update this section to three weeks or just after three weeks.

  9. Kld says:

    Having been through an 8 week at-home miscarriage, around the same time that most abortions take place, I can vouch for the inaccuracy of the pictures, at least for the most common sort of abortion… Maybe not for 2nd trimester abortions, which these doulas seem to be doula-ing and which limited access to real sex-ed and abortion actually increase. The embryo I passed was about the size of a gummy bear, and about the same shape, too.

  10. Doula Supporter says:

    This article really misses the point. It’s frustrating to see an article about such a wonderful organization that is so narrow-sighted and dismissive in tone. Plucking quotes out of context and focusing on such frivolous details as the importance of zodiac signs, rather than interviews with women who have been touched by this organization, shows a lack of journalistic integrity. This whole article reads as a thinly veiled opinion piece from the anti-choice movement.

    The structure of the article tries to link doulas with a cavalier attitude about abortion. But doulas don’t cause abortions, nor do they discount how devastating they can be for the woman who is choosing to have one. On the contrary, doulas provide a service to women making incredibly difficult choices, often times with little or no support from friends or family. I wish you had spent a little less time on jello and a bit more time on the people the Doula Project touch on a daily basis.

  11. Support says:

    The title is ” The rise of abortion doula” so where does it start to explain the work that abortion doula does or the work of the Doula Project as a whole? Thats all I have to say.

  12. Arielle Neal says:

    While it’s in the job description of a doula to try to lighten the mood of a very heavy experience, the writer’s own dismissive and nearly mocking tone throughout this article was wildly inappropriate. Maybe the author’s overemphasis on astrology was a result of her need to come up with a compelling hook for the article, but anyone with a heart, not to mention journalistic prowess, doesn’t have to look beyond the actual “flesh and blood activism” the Doula Project is pioneering to find a compelling story. Unfortunately, I had to look on the organization’s own website to find out any details about that. 

    Neutral, fact-based journalism has been on the decline since the 1970s, and the rise of opinion pieces play a very important role in shaping the public dialogue crucial to a democratic civil society. What’s upsetting about this article is its failure to present adequate information about the subject, indicated clearly in the title “The Rise of the Abortion Doula.” Not only is the reader misled into expecting a piece with substantive content, the unsubstantiated suggestion that doulas are nonchalant about abortions contradicts the very basis of The Doula Project. 

    Also, referring to an abortion as “for the sake of convenience” is absurdly insensitive, not to mention incorrect. Convenience is drive-thru Starbucks, microwaves, and Netflix. Abortion is never a matter of convenience. Nor do I think any informed person would say that abortion has been chosen as the sole answer to equality for women. That severely underestimates the complexity of gender dynamics in our country.  I would be interested to hear from women who have been raped, or became pregnant at the age of 14, were victims of incest, or were physically unable to carry a pregnancy to term whether the option to get a legal abortion didn’t have something to do with survival and equality.

  13. Clouts says:

    Awww, I think Ms. White has confused “urbanity” with mere condescension. Looks like a pattern around here…

  14. Glennwarne says:

    I do not know what to say.  so far there has been talk of content,style,a persons merit,social responsibility as a writer.    I am afraid when people start using foreign words to hide their actions.   Then we bring in the Zodiac signs.  I mean are you using the signs from the newspaper,what a person doing a real reading or spin the zodiac bottle and see where it lands.
         I cannot and will not be drawn into this other thento say I am glad I am Sterile!   Because those of you with the gift to give life are looking at the answer for me.   Good luck.

  15. Pro-Life says:

    I honestly am disgusted by a lot of content in this article. I cannot believe such a thing exists. Haven? Really?  How can a program exists that helps undocumented illegal aliens obtain abortion help.  Women need to start taking responsibility for thier actions.  Men are not the only ones who should be prepared to practice safe sex.  It’s 50/50.  If u feel u are resposible enough to have sex then u should also be willing and able to bear a child should that situation arise.  My view has changed drastically since I was a stupid teenager.  I am a woman who had an abortion at a young age and absoolutly regret it everyday.  I now have a 2 1/2 year old and wish that she had a 11 year old brother or sister.  These irresponsible women of NYC make me sick to my stomach. 40% of all pregnancies.  It makes me want to cry.  They need to make abortion iilegal and lock up these people who started Haven.  Once that little cell has a heartbeat it is a human being and human life is so precious.  It should not be treated as an inconvience…..

    1. Anonymous says:

      There are plenty of kids out there waiting to be adopted.  Take responsibility for your own opinions –  if abortion is made illegal, there will be many more of these kids.  What are you doing to solve this problem?  If you want an 11-year-old brother or sister for your daughter, you can find one easily.

    2. journalism degree online! says:

      I wish you had a doula to support you and help you through your abortion. I also wish our country emphasized the importance of education and cultivated critical thinkers instead of lemmings, who take tabloid trash for gospel. Find your own stats if you are so interested in the percentage of which pregnancies end in abortion, and get involved. Or, is it easier for you to demonize the big bad city and distance yourself from a bigger reality which we are all apart of and is not as easy to indict?

    3. Red says:

      These women are far from being irresponsible. It’s very clear you didn’t have a proper support system unplaced when you got your abortion.

      But I

      I will tell you this; making abortion illegal WILL NOT STOP IT. One need only look at the countries where abortion is illegal to see that it will backfire. If a woman wants to have an abortion badly enough, then nothing will stop her. Abortion is least frequent in countries where it is legal AND a comprehensive sex education plan are in place.

      Abortion, sad as it is, is a reality in the world we live in and nothing will change that. Making it illegal will NOT SOLVE ANYTHING.

  16. “Those pictures pro-life activists flash are real,” Ms. Mahoney said. “That is what a fetus looks like when its head is crushed. When you see the procedure, you must decide, as a pro-choice person, whether you are in or out.” She’s thought about it a lot. “I have never been more in,” she said.  I DON’T REMEMBER WHEN I’VE EVER BEEN SO DISTURBED.  Ms. Mahoney and I really do need to live in separate countries, lest my wrath overtake her.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Have you seen the photos of women who died because of botched illegal abortions?  

      1. Mollymeredith says:

        Yeah, I have.  Why does that negate the horror of aborted babies?  I’m not forcing anybody to get an illegal abortion.  

    2. uses her brain says:

      Calm down. This article is full of misinformation. Get a hobby.

      1. Mollymeredith says:

        I don’t need a hobby when there are so many injustices to fight.  

      2. uses her brain says:

        and what are you doing to fight injustice?  getting into a tizzy over misinformation?  Educate yourself.  Avoid being emotionally hijacked by a crap article.  and get a hobby.   

  17. Ninassalon says:

    Ok im sure many of you think this is great. But as i see it, why dont we have murder doulas too?

    1. Red says:

      Because there are those who don’t see abortion the same way you do.(

  18. uses her brain says:

    did I just read this on the checkout line in Walmart? NY Enquirer? This article is rife with thinly veiled lies! One can only question the motivation of the author and the editor! They should count themselves lucky if not required to substantiate such allegations and “facts” included here. Ms. White: the intern who cried wolf. Her editor: the criminal who screamed “fire!” where there is none. Readers: use caution, a 30 second google search will provide you with more founded facts than this article.

  19. A concerned human being says:

    Disgusting.

    1. Red says:

      Clarify?