In NC, people are trained to support abortion patients

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Claire Donnelly, WFAE

Kaiser Health News

Lauren Overman offers a shopping list for her clients who are preparing to have an abortion. The list includes a heating pad, a journal, and aromatherapy oils—things that can bring physical or emotional comfort after the procedure.

Overman is an abortion doula.

She worked as a professional doula for many years. Recently, Overman has also begun providing counseling and emotional support to people going through abortions, which are often lonely. She makes her services free or on a sliding scale for abortion patients. Other abortion doulas charge between $200 and $800.

Local abortion rights groups estimate that Overman is one of about 40 doula abortion practitioners in North Carolina, a number that could grow quickly. North Carolina groups that train doulas say they’ve seen an increase in the number of people wanting to become abortion doulas in recent months. Roe v. Wade was canceled.

Every three months, Art Carolina Abortion Foundation offers free online classes for those seeking an abortion. According to board member Kat Lewis, no more than 20 people have registered for these sessions. Now there are 40 of them.

“It’s word of mouth. These are people who say, “This is how I experienced my abortion or miscarriage with the help of a doula.” And someone says, “That’s amazing.” I need it. Or I want to be,” Lewis said.

The demand for training has also increased Collective Collective on Abortions in the Mountain District in western North Carolina, which began in 2019, Ash Williams leads a free four-week training for doulas that includes conversations about gender language and the history of medical racism. The course also includes ways to support clients struggling with homelessness or domestic violence.

“Dowla may be the only person this person has told that they are doing this. … It’s a big responsibility,” Williams said. “So we really want to approach our work with that much care.”

Going to the clinic and holding the patient’s hand during the procedure is one service that abortion doulas can offer, but some clinics do not allow a support person in the room. So doulas like Overman find other ways to be supportive, like sitting with the woman afterward, listening, sharing a meal, or just watching TV together.

It’s “holding space—being there so they can bring something up when they want to talk about it. But there’s also no expectation that you have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Overman said.

Overman uses Zoom to consult with people across the country, even in states where abortion is restricted or banned. She can help them find nearby clinics or find transportation and accommodation if they are traveling a long distance.

Overman makes sure her clients know what to expect from the procedure, such as how much bleeding is normal after a surgical or medical abortion.

“You can fill a supermaxi pad in an hour. It’s normal,” she explained. “Fill one or more pads every hour for two or three hours straight, then it’s a problem.”

Abortion doulas are not required to have medical training, and many do not. It’s unclear how many work in the U.S. because work is unregulated.

According to Overman, the number of people requesting her services as an abortion doula has increased from about four a month to four each week in the past few months.

She said if people are afraid to talk to their friends or relatives about abortion, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to reach out to someone online. A doula may start out as a stranger, but can become someone you can count on for support.

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In NC, people are trained to support abortion patients

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