The term “doula” may be unfamiliar to many people but the role itself is an ancient one. Traditionally, a doula would “provide emotional, physical and information support to women throughout their pregnancy, birth and the early postpartum.” Modern doulas are professionally trained to equip them for this work.
Before childbirth became medicalised in modern western society, women traditionally gave birth at home and were supported by family members and other women throughout the process.
“With the development of obstetrics and hospital births in the last century, women became estranged from the birth process, and family members lost sufficient knowledge and confidence to guide a woman. To fulfil women’s need for birth support in modern times, the professional doula arose in the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Evidence demonstrates that there are a number of positive outcomes when continuous support is provided to women during labour by (for example) a person such as a doula: women are more likely to deliver their babies spontaneously through vaginal delivery and to have shorter delivery times with the help of a doula; they are less likely to need epidurals or caesareans or to report dissatisfaction after the labour.
“Doulas are knowledgeable and experienced in labour and birth and are able to offer tools and strategies for improving the woman’s comfort and managing pain during labour. The doula will also be able to make suggestions to maintain the safety of birth and to increase its efficiency.”
However, in a major departure from the purpose for which they were originally created, a new type of “doula” has emerged. Instead of assisting women before, during and after birth, “abortion doulas” are trained to provide non-medical, emotional, physical or informational support to women while they undergo abortions.
Pro-abortion group Children by Choice is the first organisation in Australia to provide “abortion doula” training, with the first round completed last year. Children by Choice staff travelled to New York to receive mentoring and training from pro-abortion organisation “The Doula Project”. Children by Choice is an Australian non-profit organisation that provides financial assistance to women by paying for abortions and contraception and lobbies for legislative reform to expand access to abortions around Australia.
The training takes place over two days, and equips doulas to re-examine any preconceived ideas they may have about abortions. It also educates them about abortion legislation around Australia and explains terminology regarding medical and surgical abortion.
A zine (small booklet) created by The Doula Project provides materials to assist women through the process of an abortion, including suggested strategies to deal with their negative emotions and disquieting sensory experiences.
For instance, one of the segments included in the zine offers women the following mantra to help get through the procedure: “See No Evil, Hear no Evil and Think no Evil”:
See No Evil: Look away, close your eyes, pick a spot to focus on.
Hear no Evil:
Earplugs, or put your fingers in your ears.
Music: headphones, sing or hum
Talk: to someone else or even yourself.
Think no Evil: Deep Breathing, think something else, guided meditation/visualization.
No matter what: even if you can still see or hear something you wish you didn’t… know that this is temporary. Try using things from “during” like deep breathing to get through these tough moments.”
It is important to note that the concept of an abortion doula has arisen ostensibly because women are finding that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, abortions are not like any other procedure. The process of aborting a baby is qualitatively different from having an appendix removed or going to the dentist. Because it evokes complex emotions and has physical ramifications for a woman’s body, women are finding that they do need emotional and psychological support.
A great deal of research now underpins the contention that abortions are not consequence-free decisions for women. Abortion correlates with a significantly increased risk of physical and psychological harm. Women’s Forum Australia‘s research paper Women and Abortion: An Evidence-Based Review found that “ten to twenty per cent of women suffer from severe negative psychological complications after abortion, despite the frequent presence of relief soon after the abortion”, and that “many more women experience emotional distress immediately after the abortion and in months following. Women experience a range of negative emotions after abortion including sadness, loneliness, shame, guilt, grief, doubt and regret. Depression and anxiety are experienced by substantial numbers of women after abortion”.
Ironically, these findings are confirmed by one of the Children by Choice abortion doulas who participated in the training, following her own experience of abortion:
“Although birth and postpartum care are important, abortions are very traumatic … so it’s very important to be able to support someone properly through that.”
As Catherine Glenn Foster, current president and CEO of Americans United for Life (AUL) in the United States has stated:
“The abortion doula movement is right to recognise that abortion is not simple or easy, and that women in abortion centers are in need of care and support. But many women experience real doubt, real coercion and even abuse; their inner voice that is calling on them to choose life, that is bolstering their confidence that they are strong enough and can handle what life is throwing at them, should be affirmed rather than stifled.”
The appropriation of the term “doula” to describe abortion assistants is part of the broader linguistic deception used to position abortion as merely one aspect of women’s “reproductive health”. The use of the common term “doula” obscures the fact that the experiences of giving birth on one hand and aborting a baby on the other, have very different consequences for the women involved. The linguistic conflation of these very different experiences seems calculated, like the “See no evil, Hear no evil, Think no evil” exercises, to hide the reality of abortion from the women themselves.