(RNS) – Carly Manes, a doula in Los Angeles, supports her pregnant clients every step of the way: birth, miscarriage, postpartum – and abortion. She connects clients with resources for abortion pills, answers questions about the abortion process, and during the procedure provides heating pads or simply acts as a positive presence. With a client, Manes, who is Jewish, performed a mikveh, a ritual commonly undergone by women after menstruation or childbirth.
“A lot of people in the birthspace, especially within Judaism, are calling for more spiritual practices,” Manes said, adding that Indigenous communities have a long tradition of abortion and miscarriage rituals.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, Manes believes, full-spectrum doulas like her and those who specialize in abortion should see increased demand. “Doulas are going to be really important in helping them interact with the medical system in a way that won’t lead to criminalization,” said Manes, author of the children’s book “What’s an Abortion, Anyway?”
Even in California, where abortion rights remain protected, waiting times will be extended due to the influx of out-of-state people seeking abortions. The longer a person waits for an abortion, she noted, the more expensive the procedure becomes.
Abortion doulas, like other types of doulas – the word comes from the ancient Greek for “helper” – are increasingly exploring ways to incorporate spirituality and ritual into their practices, offering yoga, meditation, prayer, traditional medicine and even tarot readings.
As doulas become a more common part of abortion procedures, such spiritual elements are likely to find their way into the experience.
Lynsey Bourke, an abortion doula from Montana, says her home state is on the verge of ending legal access to abortion services. “If this happens it will make me wonder if we will continue to do business in my home country and if it is a safe place for me where my rights will be protected,” she said.
Bourke has been an abortion doula for 15 years and believes abortion is a sacred process. “I have a strong connection with the Creator, or with God, or with the conscious life force that connects us all,” explained Bourke, who was raised Catholic. “And I find most religions very beautiful and really resonant truth in all of them.
Bourke aims to meet clients where they are, noting that the abortion experience can be spiritual for some, while for others it can trigger religious awareness. One of the ways she supports clients of diverse faiths is by helping them create personal rituals.
“I recommend having an altar or a place of prayer throughout the procedure,” Bourke said. “(The client) is invited to perhaps write a letter to the baby explaining the reasons, to say a final word, to write a farewell letter that can be placed on the altar, and anything else of importance And then different times of deep contemplation can be spent there at the altar at different times in the process.
The goal, according to Bourke, is to ensure the client makes a conscious decision and has the space to process the procedure before, during and after, rather than having a rushed abortion that is not thought out.
Bourke noted that the religious/secular binary in the abortion debate can particularly exclude religious and spiritual people who have abortions, especially when it’s a painful or complicated process for them.
“Yes, abortion can be easy, and people have no regrets,” Bourke said. “But there are others who really feel conflicted at the time of the abortion, who really regret it and who carry a lot of pain and shame throughout their lives. So it is important to find different modalities who can heal the minds, bodies and spirits of all these individuals across the spectrum, and meet their different needs, both physical and spiritual.
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Elizabeth Curtis, a full-spectrum doula and nurse-midwifery student at Yale University’s School of Nursing, said it’s important to make room for a range of abortion experiences – including “the nuance and the gray area” outside the world of abortion advocacy.
“I’m grateful for the world of radical organizing happening around politics and protest to expand access, and I’ve also found recently that I find it harder to show up in these galvanizing spaces. “, admitted Curtis.
In the 2010s, Curtis founded the Berkshire Doula Project at Williams College in western Massachusetts and began supporting abortion clients in clinical settings. She found that most people who had abortions did not function within the national debate on abortion rights.
“There were a lot more people saying, ‘I don’t know how I personally feel about abortion, but for me it’s necessary right now,'” she said. “And a few people said, ‘Abortion is a sin, and I need it for my sanity, but everyone else getting abortions here is wrong. “”
Curtis, who grew up in a non-religious household but was recently confirmed in an Episcopal church, believes church communities are well suited to address the complex realities of reproductive health.
“In my experience, church is a place where you can sit with disagreements, and you can sit with discomfort, and you can share your opinions and still feel held back and like you’re getting closer to God. “said Curtis. “This work is sacred work.”
As faith groups determine how, or if, they engage their communities on abortion, doulas such as Curtis can facilitate those difficult conversations, she said, as well as help clients access abortion without pass judgement.
For Manes, the job of an abortion doula is not far from the job of a chaplain, and this fall she will attend the Twin Cities United Theological Seminary in Minnesota to pursue interfaith chaplaincy. She told Religion News Service that she wrote her entire abortion request.
“I think a lot of doulas are being asked to keep more space around the abortion ritual,” Manes said. “I have a lot of curiosity and excitement about it.”
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