Becoming an Abortion Doula

by CHOICES. Photo by Sara Jane Goodman

Since joining as a board member of the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, known today as CHOICES, Sara Jane Goodman has gone above and beyond to advocate for patients seeking abortion care. Though growing up in an ultraconservative household in Missouri, her family was a strong supporter of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Joining the board 11 years ago was a no-brainer to her. But her involvement as a board member went further than attending quarterly meetings. Wanting to wholly understand the process that abortion patients experience, Sara Jane trained and currently volunteers as an abortion doula at CHOICES. In nine years, she has held the hands of nearly 2,000 patients.

Sara Jane shares her experience and answers some common questions about the role a doula plays in reproductive health care.

What exactly is a doula?

SJ: The term “doula” is a fairly new term. In previous decades, we were more commonly known as “patient advocates.” A doula is a person who helps another going through a transitional experience. A doula is common in health care, particularly among pregnant people, but there are several other experiences where a doula can serve, such as for someone in hospice care or providing support to trans patients seeking gender-affirming care. However, a doula is not to be confused with a medical professional. We do not offer medical services, nor can we answer medically related questions. We simply serve as an impartial person who a patient can talk to in a supportive, judgment-free environment.

What does an abortion doula specifically do?

SJ: An abortion doula typically serves as a channel for support to a patient before they undergo a surgical abortion. In my experience, I usually enter the patient’s room a few minutes before their doctor and medical assistant arrive. We don’t want to make it too overwhelming for a patient when three to five strangers all meet them atone time. I use this one-on-one time to casually chat with the patient, gauge how they feel and ask if they have any questions for the doctor. Occasionally, patients get nervous or forget to ask their doctor questions, so I can serve as a mediator between the two.

Additionally, I can provide the support and comfort a patient may need during the procedure. In Tennessee, a patient’s partner or a family member is not allowed in the surgical room for a number of reasons. So the patient doesn’t feel alone, I provide the needed comfort in whatever way that particular person needs. Sometimes they want to hold my hand, and other times they want to be hugged or held during the procedure. Others have asked me to just talk about random things to keep them distracted. Every person is different and reacts differently, so my role is to adapt and fit within their needs to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

What are the benefits of having a doula during an abortion?

SJ: The equipment I always bring with me are tissues and a fan! But a doula does much more than that. We are there to bring empathy and love. I often tell people that I’m like water. When I meet a patient, I form around them just like when they get submerged in water. Because abortion is not a one-size-fits-all experience, I assess each patient, understand things from their perspective and meet them where they are. That practice includes working with them to lower their stress, calming their state of mind or providing comfort if they are experiencing pain.

Is there anything else you want people to know about doulas?

SJ: At CHOICES, we believe that everybody deserves reproductive health care because we all have reproductive systems, whether we choose to use them or not. Similarly, everyone deserves access to a doula, for whatever life experience they’re undergoing. I recently trained to become a birth doula to assist CHOICES’ midwives in their new birthing center. I even served as a doula to my mother in the final weeks of her life. No matter the circumstance, a doula can provide open-minded support to help ease the situation.

To learn more about CHOICES’ full range of reproductive health care services, please visit: