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More people are training to take on the work of 'abortion doulas'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Having an abortion can be a lonely process, and new abortion restrictions in some states have added more barriers to the process. That's where abortion doulas can come in, offering advice and emotional support to patients. In North Carolina, groups that train these doulas say interest in the job has surged since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Claire Donnelly at member station WFAE in Charlotte has the story.

CLAIRE DONNELLY, BYLINE: For her clients preparing to get an abortion, Lauren Overman has a suggested shopping list of items they might want to get ahead of time.

LAUREN OVERMAN: A heating pad, some massage tools - there are, like, books and aromatherapy things that I have on that list. There's a journal.

DONNELLY: Overman is based in North Carolina. For many years, she's worked as a professional birth doula. Recently, she added abortion services, which she does for free. Some abortion doulas do charge, between 2- and $800. Overman can do things like hold a patient's hand during the actual abortion procedure, but she says many clinics don't allow a support person in the room, so she's had to find other ways to offer emotional support.

OVERMAN: Sitting down with them afterward and having a meal or watching TV and just holding space, being there so that, like, they can bring something up if they want to talk about it, but also there are no expectations that you have to talk about it if you don't want to.

DONNELLY: Overman also uses Zoom to consult with people across the U.S., including in states where abortion is restricted or banned.

OVERMAN: I help them find, you know, what clinics are going to be closest to them and practical support like transportation and lodging if they're having to travel a really large distance.

DONNELLY: She makes sure all of her clients know what to expect, whether they're having a medication abortion or a surgical abortion; things like how much bleeding is normal.

OVERMAN: You can fill up, like, super maxi pad in an hour. That's OK. Fill up one or more pad every hour for 2 to 3 hours consecutively, then that's a problem.

DONNELLY: Doulas aren't required to have medical training, and many don't. They're there to advocate and support. Overman is one of about 40 practicing abortion doulas in North Carolina. Many others work across the U.S. The job isn't regulated, so it's tricky to pin down an exact number.

Kat Lewis is a board member with the Carolina Abortion Fund. She says every three months, her group offers free online classes to become an abortion doula. They used to have 20 signups at most. Now, they have 40.

KAT LEWIS: It's word of mouth. It's people sharing, this is how I got through my abortion or miscarriage experience with the help of a doula, and someone being like, that's amazing. I need that, or I want to become that.

DONNELLY: Demand has also surged at the Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective in western North Carolina. Ash Williams offers a free four-week doula training that talks about gender-inclusive language and the history of medical racism. The course even discusses how to support clients getting abortions who are also struggling with homelessness or domestic violence.

ASH WILLIAMS: The doula might be the only person that that person has told that they're doing this, and that's holding - that's a big responsibility. And so we really want to approach our work with so much care.

DONNELLY: Doula Lauren Overman says she's glad more people want to become abortion doulas. She's seen a jump in people wanting that service. It used to be four people per month. Now it's four every week. Overman says if people are afraid to talk to their friends or relatives about having an abortion, sometimes the easiest thing to do is reach out to a stranger on the internet who they know can offer support.

For NPR News, I'm Claire Donnelly in Charlotte, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.
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