NORTHERN IRELAND – Training abortion doulas in Northern Ireland: lessons from a Covid-19 context

by Emma Campbell, Naomi Connor, Suzie Heaney, Fiona Bloomer

BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, Online first, 18 June 2021 (Open access)

Historically, societies have long-standing traditions of birth doulas, as lay persons who support the pregnant woman/person during the birthing process, with contemporary studies affirming their positive impact.

In parallel, abortion doulas have held roles in assisting in abortion. The role centres on emotional and social support, with evidence of their impact increasing in the last decade. While some doulas operate within specific roles, a full-spectrum doula is involved in all reproductive health outcomes.

While the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) broadly and in particular abortion services, it also presented opportunities including abortion doulas working alongside clinical services to complement and be integrated within SRH. In this article we set out the development of abortion doula training in Northern Ireland (NI), within the pandemic context.

As co-convenors of the activist organisation Alliance for Choice (AfC), two of the authors (NC and EC) have been supporting abortion seekers in NI for a combined total of 16 years, assisting approximately 700 abortion cases during this time. Providing this help or even information about abortions risked criminalisation prior to the October 2019 decriminalisation of abortion legislation in NI. Having encountered abortion doulas at an international conference in 2016, AfC found a name for the work they were already doing. In the following 4 years they continued to provide the grassroots service alongside their role as activists and engaging in intensive political campaigning…. (continues)