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In a 6 to 3 decision on June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing the court's 50-year-old decision that guaranteed a woman's right to obtain an abortion. The court's action also set off trigger laws that banned or severely restricted abortions in some states and prompted protests across the country.

North Carolina abortion doulas offer support through an often lonely procedure


Lauren Overman has an Amazon shopping list she sends people preparing to have an abortion: a heating pad, massage tools, a journal, aromatherapy oils — items she thinks could be helpful before, during and after the procedure.

Overman is an abortion doula based in North Carolina’s Triangle. She offers her services, both virtually and in-person, to people across the U.S., including in states that have banned or severely restricted abortion access.

“I help them find what clinics are going to be closest to them (and) what resources there are for funding,” Overman said. She also helps them secure transportation to and from the procedure as well as lodging if they’re having to travel a long distance.

In North Carolina, there are about 100 trained abortion doulas and about 40 who are actively working, according to estimates from local abortion rights organizations. Abortion doulas aren’t regulated so it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number.

For Overman, a large part of abortion doula work is expectation management. She educates people about what to anticipate, whether they’re having a medication abortion, meaning taking a pill at home, or going into a clinic for a surgical procedure. She tells them things like how much bleeding is normal and which side effects are concerning.

“You can fill up a super maxi pad in an hour, that’s OK. If you fill up one or more pads every hour for two to three hours consecutively, then that’s a problem,” Overman said.

Another crucial portion of Overman’s job is emotionally supporting people who have abortions. She can even hold someone’s hand during the actual procedure, though lately, with COVID-19 restrictions, that hasn’t always been possible. After an abortion, Overman said, doulas often spend time with people as they’re “wading through tricky emotions.”

“Even if it’s just like, sitting down with them afterward and having a meal or watching TV and holding space — being there so that 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,” she said.

Overman doesn’t charge for her abortion doula services, but other doulas may charge on a sliding scale, which can range from $200 to $800.

Doulas don’t have to attend medical school and there’s no standard licensing process. However, many abortion rights groups like Carolina Abortion Fund (CAF) created their own certification processes with training and clinic shadowing requirements — and have seen a surge in demand for abortion doula training in the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“It’s word of mouth. It’s people sharing, ‘This is how I got through my abortion or miscarriage with the help of a doula.’ And someone being like, ‘That’s amazing. I need that.’ Or ‘I want to become that,’” said Kat, a member of CAF’s board of directors (WFAE isn’t using Kat’s full name because she’s concerned about her safety).

CAF’s online abortion doula training sessions used to draw between 10 and 20 people, Kat said. They’re now full at 40 people per course. Kat said CAF hopes to expand the number of training sessions it offers in the coming months to accommodate the high demand. All of CAF’s abortion doulas are volunteers.

Ash Williams has seen more people signing up for abortion doula training, too — not just from North Carolina and South Carolina, but from around the globe. Williams, a doula with the Asheville-based Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective, offers virtual doula training that incorporates topics like gender-expansive language and the history of medical racism. For a recent course, Williams received more than 800 applications for 40 available slots.

Williams’ four-week class also educates potential future abortion doulas on how to support those who may also be struggling with homelessness or domestic violence.

“The doula might be the only person that that person has told that they’re doing this,” Williams said. “That’s a big responsibility and so we really want to approach our work with so much care.”

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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 Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.