The Rise of the Abortion Doula

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

Such actions recall the work of the Jane Collective, which was one inspiration for the Doula Project. The collective was a feminist organization in Chicago that performed more than 11,000 illegal abortions in the 1960s, before the passage of Roe v. Wade. Women calling to make appointments would ask, “Can I speak to Jane?”

When the Jane Coalition was uncovered by the police, seven women were arrested. They were looking at lifetime prison sentences. But while they sat awaiting trial, Roe v. Wade passed and the group walked.

Since The Doula Project launched, a handful of similar collectives have popped up across the country. The Observer spoke with abortion doulas in places like Ohio and Illinois, for whom a ban on abortion is considerably more likely. They agreed performing them underground is a last resort, but not off the table.

What is more feasible, some advocates told us, is insurance fraud. At many public hospitals in New York, abortion is on a sliding-fee scale like any other surgery. With proof of residence and a low income, a patient can be treated for around $150, payable over time. “Find a friend in New York City, get an address and mail yourself something, go to New York the next week and get your abortion fee scaled,” one pro-choice advocate suggested.

Some pro-choicers are also considering medical school. Ms. Megill, the founder of Haven, is currently doing her residency in order to become a provider. “What is most needed is for doctors to go into this line of work and to be willing to set up clinics in places where abortion is unavailable,” she explained.

“The fact that medical schools don’t teach abortion procedures as a matter of course is criminal,” Ms. Stanton said.

While the pregnant 13-year-old made the biggest impact on Ms. Stanton, she said all of the women she has hosted had excellent reasons for terminating their pregnancies. “One woman said over dinner that she didn’t believe in abortion, she was a Christian. But she had two kids already. She said, ‘I know I have to take care of the two kids I have first.’ This was her making the best choice she could, between two things she believed in.”

Those behind the restrictions of 2011, believe that more laws will equal less abortion. New York has yet to pass any restrictions on abortion, and in fact, state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins has introduced the Reproductive Health Act, which among other things, grants “the fundamental right of every female to determine the course of her pregnancy.”

“New York is primarily a democratic state” Ms. Bruncini said. “This is a tough state for us. I don’t think legislation can end abortion. That would have to be s shift in peoples hearts, a cultural shift.”

According to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates declined by 8 percent between 2002 and 2006.

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that the Doula Project had placed an announcement on its website stating that it would provide support to women taking Cytotec. It also misattributed two quotes to Ms. Mitchell that should have been attributed to Ms. Mahoney. The Observer regrets the errors.