Ottawa women launch local 'abortion doula' group

A group of women have trained to become abortion doulas in Ottawa — a job they say provides important companionship and support to women undergoing the procedure.

Abortion doulas say they can provide extra support for those undergoing the stigmatized procedure

Sarah Hedges-Chou, left, and Mallory Daley, right, are two members of the Abortion Doula Collective, a group of volunteers in Ottawa who plan to support women getting abortions. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

When Mallory Daley gave birth last summer, she did so under the watchful care of a midwife and doula.

Grateful for the quality of support she received, Daley wondered whether similar assistance could be applied to another area of reproductive health: choosing to end a pregnancy. 

"I thought often throughout that experience that it would be really wonderful if this type of care and this really supportive, empowering approach was also available for women seeking abortions," Daley told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday.

Through the newly launched Abortion Doula Collective, Daley and 14 other Ottawa volunteers are now trained to support women making the decision to terminate their pregnancies.

A doula isn't trained in medicine, but helps women physically and emotionally before, during and after the birthing process.

For those getting an abortion, a doula can serve a similar role: making sure women are informed and taken care of as they undergo or consider the procedure. That might include driving a woman to and from her appointment — something those undergoing surgical abortion cannot do themselves — or providing support if someone changes their mind about the procedure.

"It's very client-centred. We take their lead depending on what they need ... telling them what they can expect, if they need distractions, talking to them, to sit quietly beside them," explained Sarah Hedges-Chou, another member of the collective.

While Daley and Hedges-Chou had never trained as doulas before, some women in their group already worked in the field. Their training was led by Nova Scotia abortion doula Shannon Hardy, who offers training sessions across Canada. There is no accreditation available in Canada or Ontario for abortion doulas.

In recent years, the profession has grown in popularity south of the border, where reproductive rights are becoming increasingly restricted.

In Canada, even though abortion is legal, barriers remain. It's not always easy for women to access medical facilities equipped to provide the procedure, and provinces have different rules regulating abortion.

Another obstacle is stigma.

"Because of stigma, people might not reach out to their family or friends for rides, maybe their partners don't know, maybe their parents don't know," Hedges-Chou said. "We want to be one extra part of the community that's going to help them access that care. There's so many barriers in place and we just want to be someone they can reach out to."

Daley and Hedges-Chou say Ottawa is lucky to have resources like Planned Parenthood Ottawa to assist people through the termination process. And while the Abortion Doula Collective just recently launched, Hedges-Chou said the group is ready to start helping those in need.

"We just want to make sure that we're there to answer those questions and point people in the right direction. If someone along the way trying to access an abortion and meets one person who's rude to them or who questions their choice, they might not access the help that they need. So we just want to make sure we can prevent that," she said.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning