Tuesday, June 11, 2013


By Carol Downer

The current radical doula movement is a breath of fresh air!  It’s bringing the skills of the birth doula to the abortion situation.  Forty years later and millions of abortions later, we still have not broken the shame barrier that keeps us from sharing our abortion experience with our family, or friends or our associates.  The information sharing of an abortion doula and her presence at the woman’s side may be the most powerful way we have to banish that feeling that many women experience even when they get their abortion in a well-equipped, competent clinic that either provides little if any informational and emotional support or goes overboard and “psychologizes” each woman who comes in.

Whether this movement realizes it or not, their revolutionary vision of providing this support to women of all colors and classes has very deep roots.  The women who started over 30 abortion clinics after Roe v. Wade pioneered the non-judgmental, informational counseling.  We took these ideas to the meetings of the National Abortion Federation (NAF); we held workshops, we held symposia.  Most powerfully, we incorporated these concepts into the very warp and woof of our clinics, and although only a handful of women-controlled clinics still survive 40 years of ruthless competition and harassment from anti-choice state agencies, we still provide this every clinic-day to every woman who walks in the door.

"Speculum of Power" by Suzann Gage
First and foremost, women are given straightforward, complete information from the first phone contact by “phone counselors” through the process of filling out forms, getting blood work done, to the procedure itself and the recovery period.  We find that women can be very nervous and “forget” the information; therefore specially trained counselors are there to answer any questions and reassure them.  Additionally, the clinic “traffic flow” is arranged so that women have ample opportunity to chat with each other, and very importantly, to see women walk out to leave who are being released to go home--healthy and able to give a cheerful wave to the woman that’s still in the process.

But, the work of the health worker who’s trained to know good procedure doesn’t end with comforting the woman getting the procedure.  She monitors the doctor, who is a contract worker who gets paid per procedure.  She makes sure he or she is respectful and skilled. We don’t have to worry that the doctor will use a cannula (the tube that suctions out the embryonic material) that is unnecessarily large, because we set up the tray and we only put cannulas out that are appropriate to the length of the gestation.

Abortion clinics keep informal statistics about the rate of women who come in for a post-abortion check-up.  It’s considered that a woman who’s had a positive experience will be most likely to come back in for the check-up.  (Unless she lives far away or has some other barrier).  Our clinics have a high rate of women coming for that check-up.  They also refer to us; they volunteer as escorts; and sometimes they even go on to become health providers themselves and become allies in the community.

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