They hold women’s hands as they grieve the loss of a child to miscarriage. They watch happily as a mother holds her newborn child for the first time. They also sit beside conflicted women and try to convince them that it is ok to abort their unborn children.
New York City’s Doula Project founders see no differences between these situations.
A new Narratively piece followed the group of self-described “radical doulas” and described how they provide volunteer support for women in a variety of pregnancy and parenting situations, including abortion.
The New York City-based group began several years ago with a young woman from conservative Indiana. Mary Mahoney taught abstinence education at her high school at one point, but when she moved to New York City, she quickly became involved in abortion activism. At one point, Mahoney was the assistant director for the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, according to the report.
Nine years ago, Mary Mahoney showed up for her doula training class eager and hopeful. A young reproductive justice researcher, she spent her days scrutinizing statistics about pregnancy and birth in New York City. Becoming a doula – a non-medical caregiver who supports clients before, during and after childbirth – would allow her to see things firsthand. But as the day unfolded, Mahoney noticed the training’s narrow focus. Everything was geared toward serving clients who would likely be white, affluent, cisgender women. No one mentioned race or class. And no one brought up the many pregnancy experiences that do not end in live birth.
“I do a lot of work around abortion,” she announced at one point. The room went silent.
Mahoney left discouraged, but not defeated. Soon after, with Lauren Mitchell and Miriam Zoila Pérez, she founded the Doula Project, the first organization in the country to offer volunteer doula support for abortions. As part of a rising wave of self-identified “radical doulas,” Mahoney says she faced disavowal from the birth community. Some opposed abortion, and those fighting for wider recognition of birth doulas did not want to share the word “doula.” Yet Mahoney pressed on.
The group says it provides a “full spectrum” of services, including support for childbirth, abortion, miscarriage and adoption. However, abortion appears to be the group’s central mission. It is the same group who told volunteer doula Alex Ronan not to question or judge an 11-year-old who was statutorily raped by a much older man and wanted birth control without telling her parents, and a woman who wanted to abort her unborn daughter just because she was a girl. They told Ronan to simply be supportive.
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Brenna McCaffrey is a PhD student who currently volunteers with the pro-abortion doula team. She described how she has provided care both to women having abortions and women experiencing miscarriages.
“I have over here a woman who wants anything not to be pregnant right now, and right next to her a woman who has had seven miscarriages and wants a child more than anything,” she said. “They show up in the same room and they’re talking to each other. The dividing line between a birth doula and an abortion doula shouldn’t be there. What we do is the same, across any experience.”
McCaffrey described how she “can handle” supporting a woman through a second-trimester abortion. What she said she struggles with most is watching the anesthesiologist putting the patient to sleep. She did not mention any qualms about watching the abortionist kill the woman’s unborn child. She said she sits beside the patient while she is asleep and makes sure the abortion staff are respecting and caring for the woman. If the woman’s covering slips off her body during the surgery, McCaffrey said she tells the staff to “cover her up.”
“This is a person,” she said. “If we don’t need to be looking at her stomach right now, we don’t need to be looking at her stomach right now.”
She also admitted to sometimes hearing abortion staff make discriminatory comments about the woman’s race or size while she is under anesthesia. Sometimes she speaks up, sometimes she doesn’t, she said.
To the Doula Project volunteers, women are people who deserve support, compassion and respect, but unborn babies are not.