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In North Carolina, more people are training to support patients through an abortion

Lauren Overman poses for a portrait at a park close to her home near Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 21, 2022. Overman will sometimes work virtually from this picnic table as an abortion doula, which she has been doing for over four years. She offers her services virtually and in-person, to people across the U.S., including in states that have banned or severely restricted abortion access.
Max Posner/ NPR
Lauren Overman poses for a portrait at a park close to her home near Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 21, 2022. Overman will sometimes work virtually from this picnic table as an abortion doula, which she has been doing for over four years. She offers her services virtually and in-person, to people across the U.S., including in states that have banned or severely restricted abortion access.

Lauren Overman has a suggested shopping list for her clients preparing to get an abortion. The list includes: a heating pad, a journal, aromatherapy oils – things that could bring them some physical or emotional comfort after the procedure. Overman is an abortion doula.

She has worked as a professional birth doula for many years. Recently, Overman also began offering advice and emotional support to people as they navigate having an abortion, which can often be lonely. She makes her services available either for free or on a sliding scale to abortion patients.

Other abortion doulas charge between $200 and $800.

Overman is one of around 40 practicing abortion doulas in North Carolina, according to an estimate from local abortion rights groups — a number that could soon grow. North Carolina groups that train doulas say they've seen an uptick in people wanting to become abortion doulas in the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Every three months, Carolina Abortion Fund offers free online classes for aspiring abortion doulas. Those sessions used to have 20 signups at most, according to board member Kat Lewis. Now they have 40.

"It's word of mouth. It's people sharing 'This is how I got through my abortion or miscarriage experience with the help of a doula.' And someone being like, 'That's amazing. I need that. Or I wanna become that," Lewis says.

Demand for training has also surged at the the Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective in western North Carolina, which started in 2019. Ash Williams leads the free, four-week doula training and includes talks on gender-inclusive language and the history of medical racism. The course also includes ways to support clients struggling with homelessness or domestic violence.

"The doula might be the only person that that person has told that they're doing this ... That's a big responsibility," Williams says. "So we really want to approach our work with so much care."

Going to the clinic, and holding a patient's hand during the procedure, are among the services that abortions doulas can offer, but some clinics don't allow a support person in the room. That forces doulas like Overman to find other ways to be supportive, like sitting down with the person afterward, to listen, share a meal or just watch TV together.

"(It's) 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," Overman says.

Overman also uses Zoom to consult with people across the country, including in states where abortion is restricted or banned. She can help them locate the closest clinics or find transportation and lodging if they're traveling a long distance.

Overman makes sure her clients know what to expect from the procedure, like how much bleeding is normal after either a surgical or medication abortion.

"You can fill up a super maxi pad in an hour, that's OK," she explains. "If you fill up one or more pad every hour for two to three hours consecutively, then that's a problem."

Lauren Overman demonstrates sketches she uses to depict abortion when working with clients as an abortion doula. She sometimes works virtually from this picnic table, which is close to her home outside of Greensboro, N.C.
/ Max Posner/ NPR
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Max Posner/ NPR
Lauren Overman demonstrates sketches she uses to depict abortion when working with clients as an abortion doula. She sometimes works virtually from this picnic table, which is close to her home outside of Greensboro, N.C.

Abortion doulas are not required to have medical training, and many do not. It's not clear how many work across the U.S. because the job isn't regulated.

Overman says she has seen a jump in the number of people requesting her abortion services over the past several months, from around four people per month to four every week. If people are afraid to talk to their friends or relatives about having an abortion, she says, sometimes the easiest thing to do is reach out to someone on the internet. A doula may start out as a stranger, but also can become a person who can be relied on for support.

Copyright 2022 WFAE

Claire Donnelly