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.
"We're also getting pushback from the pro-choice community," said Alison Ojanen-Goldsmith of Seattle's Full Spectrum Doulas, which is preparing to train abortion doulas this fall. "Some pro-choice advocates don't want to admit that abortion patients may need support. They deny it because they're fighting anti-choice rhetoric and its insistence that women are somehow damaged by abortion."
On the progressive Web site Slate.com, one pro-choice journalist asked, "Are women really so fragile that they need a complete stranger to hold their hand at the doctor's?"
Mahoney, one of The Doula Project's co-founders, said the criticism doesn't interfere with her organization's work.
"This pushback isn't going to stop us from training abortion doulas across the U.S. And it won't distract us from offering our services to the women who need our help," she said.
A woman may want a doula's extra reassurance because she is a teenager who fears her parents' disapproval, or because she is a domestic violence survivor who is hiding her pregnancy from her abusive spouse. A patient may be upset because she is pregnant by a rapist, or mourning because she is pregnant by a man she loves and cannot afford to raise their child.
Some abortion patients do not tell their partners, friends or family members that they are terminating their pregnancies. Even if they do have someone to sit with them through the procedure, that person may not be permitted to do so.
"For security reasons, many clinics do not allow a patient to have a partner or friend with them," said Lauren Guy-McAlpin of the Spectrum Doula Collective in central North Carolina, which hopes to train abortion doulas within the next year.
Security is so tight at the two Manhattan facilities that currently have abortion doulas that these clinics will not release their names in print. They have reason to take precautions. Since 1993, eight abortion clinic workers have been murdered by anti-choice extremists and since 1977 U.S. clinics have suffered more than 6,000 acts of violence, including bomb threats, arson and kidnappings, reports NARAL Pro-Choice America, based in Washington, D.C.
Fear of clinic violence can heighten the anxiety that some patients already feel about having an abortion.
"On top of all this, there can be incredible shame and stigma surrounding abortion, even though this procedure is incredibly common," said Laura G. Duncan, a Brooklyn-based abortion doula. "Our job is to offer patients whatever they need: someone to joke with, someone to cry with, maybe someone to rub their feet."
Half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended, with 40 percent of those ending in abortion. Nearly half of U.S. women--43 percent--have an abortion by the time they are 45, reports the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, a nonprofit in New York City.
"Research indicates that though many women feel relieved following an abortion, 10 to 15 percent have some emotional difficulty afterward," said Ava Torre-Bueno, author of the book "Peace After Abortion" and a licensed social worker who counsels abortion patients in San Diego, Calif.
If patients want to talk after their procedures, abortion doulas may give them their own phone numbers, along with the number of an after-care abortion hotline run by Exhale, a nonprofit group in Oakland, Calif.
Remembering how an abortion doula helped her through a stillbirth two years ago, Rose Ferreira of New York City said, "It's incredible how her kindness made this bearable. She made me realize it was OK to feel frustration and anger at not being able to control this heartbreaking situation. Above all, she helped me feel strong and secure even though I was at first afraid."
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Molly M. Ginty (http://mollymaureenginty.wordpress.com) is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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