By Molly M. Ginty
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
A doula program in New York City has been giving care and comfort to women undergoing abortions for two years. Among the roughly 1,500 women who have been offered the services, only one woman so far has declined.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--One woman was so nervous during her abortion that her sweat soaked through her paper gown.
A second apologized repeatedly for not being ready to have a child.
A third sobbed quietly because she was forced to terminate her pregnancy due to health complications.
During the two years that Lauren Mitchell has attended to the needs of women undergoing abortions, these three patients are among the hundreds she has served.
"Abortion is different for every woman, and though it can be straightforward and simple, it can in some cases be stressful," said Mitchell, co-founder of The Doula Project, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that trains volunteers to support women not only during delivery, but during abortions, too. "Regardless of the circumstances, we're here to help."
Doulas take their name from the Greek word for "caregiver." They typically help women through pregnancy and have become popular in recent decades as expectant mothers' birth plans have begun to include their services; some insurance providers have begun to cover those services, too.
A doula's work, for which she is usually compensated $25 to $35 per hour, ranges from providing parenting-book recommendations to offering guided relaxation and massage during labor. For the first weeks of a baby's life, she may also change diapers and perform housecleaning help.
In 2007, three New York City doulas--Mitchell and her colleagues Mary Mahoney and Miriam Pérez--decided to extend their services not just to women who complete pregnancies, but also to women who terminate them.
They partnered with two Manhattan abortion facilities in August 2008 and began training "abortion doulas" to work there free of charge.
Today, these 45 volunteers chat with patients in waiting rooms, hold their hands when they are on the operating table and provide them with warm blankets and hot water bottles that ease cramps during recovery.
Whether patients experience miscarriage, opt for medical abortion (mifepristone) at home or have the procedure at a clinic, they can decide to work with a doula or not.
Among the New York City women who have been offered this help--more than 1,500--all but one patient has accepted it, said Mitchell.
New York appears to be the only state where abortion doula services are available, but doulas in North Carolina and Washington State have their eyes on replicating the service.
"We weren't the first to come up with the idea that an abortion patient should be able to ask for this assistance," said Mitchell. "Nurses, escorts and counselors have long filled this role. But we decided to give it a name and to offer our services in a formal way because of the growing need for them."
Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider, and 35 percent of U.S. women live in those counties, reports the Guttmacher Institute, a health policy organization in New York City.
Due to this squeeze, some doctors perform 25 to 30 abortions per day, doing one every 20 minutes in an assembly-line fashion, with little time to chat or offer patients counseling and comfort, pro-choice advocates say.
Though abortion doulas provide support and assistance that is lacking, they take flak from both sides of the abortion divide for doing so. On one hand, they facilitate abortion, which sparks outrage from the anti-choice movement. On the other hand, their work acknowledges that terminating a pregnancy can be difficult, which some pro-choice supporters regard as a political Pandora's box.
On her blog, anti-choice activist Jill Stanek blasted abortion doulas for trying "to legitimize and de-stigmatize abortion by making it a component of maternity."
On the Web site AllDoulas.com, one anti-choice doula proclaimed, "I am an advocate for moms and babies, and aborting babies is totally opposite from that."
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