BAutumn Reinhardt-Simpson is an abortion doula and Ph.D. student in religious studies at the University of Alberta. She is the author of the Humanist Ceremonies Handbook (Humanist Press, 2018) and the upcoming The Companion: An Abortion Doula Handbook. You can visit her at her website www.electriceelpond.com. Here we talk about abortion doulas and abortion doula training in Edmonton.
By Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson
Jill asks, “How did you get started doing this work and why is it so personally important to you?”
Hi, Jill! Thanks for your questions. I talked a little bit in my last piece about how I became an abortion doula but since that also intersects with why this work is so important to me I’d like to revisit that in more depth.
As I said before, I started as a clinic defense organizer. In 2009 I started our local chapter of the National Organization for Women in Richmond, Virginia. One of the members mentioned that one of our local abortion clinics had a clinic defense team (a volunteer group that escorts women past protesters at clinics). I thought that sounded pretty rad so I went over one Saturday and met someone who was possibly the single last remaining member of the old clinic defense team. He got me a sign that read “clinic support” to wear around my neck and I stood with him for a few hours. A few weeks later I went back but he wasn’t there. I got my sign and stood for a few more hours. After a few weeks, it became evident that the last member was no longer coming (I later found out that he had moved). I decided that what we were doing was too important to abandon so I took it upon myself to start a new team. I slowly developed a team, learning as I went, and when I moved to Canada in 2015 we had a stable group of regulars and I felt confident that I was leaving a fully functioning team.
During those years of organizing I became somewhat known about town as someone you could talk to about abortion and I got lots of texts and Facebook messages from people looking for basic information and, sometimes, support. As much as I loved organizing, it was the one-on-one patient work that I really loved. I always felt so good when I could help someone in a desperate situation or when I could assure someone that they could speak absolutely freely about their experience. It’s really that last part that was and still is my favorite. Sometimes in abortion advocacy there is a sense that we can only hold up certain narratives, particularly the ones about patients who have absolutely no regrets. And those people absolutely do exist and they do make up more than half of my patients. But that are others who, though they ultimately feel their decision was right sometimes feel a huge range of sometimes conflicting emotions in the day or so afterwards. They can feel elated and relieved but also a little sad because maybe the timing just wasn’t right for a baby. Or perhaps they feel guilty because someone told them they were going to hell and then because of that theyfeel guilty because they don’t feel guilty! Some of these patients feel like they can’t admit to these weird contradictions because people will misunderstand or will think they are “letting down the pro-choice team”. I found that as time went on that there was a real need to simply be present for patients and to let them know that their experiences and feelings were absolutely normal, whether they felt nothing or everything.
So, when I came to Canada, it just seemed to make sense that I expand my work. Though there are protesters at the clinic in Edmonton, they’re irregular and they are legally prevented from yelling at patients or approaching them from across the street where their fake clinic stands (pregnancy care centers are anti-abortion religious centers, many of which focus on conversion). The clinic wasn’t in need of escorts so I finally decided to make the transition to purely abortion doula work.
You ask, Jill, why this is so important to me personally which is, I guess, a bit different from why this is important to me generally, which I described above. It’s funny you ask because I had a conversation today with a friend about just that. And the answer is that I’m not entirely sure how to put it into words. All I can say is that I’m incredibly bothered by the idea that we, as human beings, allow ideology to separate us to the point that we’ll let a loved one go through a medical procedure alone, a medical procedure that might possibly be an emotional one for them. It upsets me when I see patients waiting all alone for a cab. It upsets me most of all that I have to do what I do, that people have to suck it up and put their trust in an absolute stranger to see them through something they can’t even tell their parents or spouse or friends about. I guess that what motivates me personally is the desire to live my conviction that none of us should ever be allowed to believe that we have no one.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson.