In May, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8, a law that effectively bans abortions at six weeks of pregnancy — as in, before most people know that they are pregnant — once “cardiac activity” is detected in an ultrasound. This law also allows private citizens to sue any individuals who conduct, induce, or support an abortion, levying a minimum $10,000 fine for violating the law. With their profession and livelihoods on the line, Texas-based abortion doulas like Karyn* are urgently searching for ways to support patients, particularly those in marginalized communities, in avoiding costly consequences.
The Cut spoke with Karyn, a Black and queer woman, mother, and Texan who, in addition to her social-justice work with children, is a full-spectrum doula “with a specific emphasis on birth, abortion, sex, postpartum abortion, and general wellness,” about what’s next.
As someone who does work in reproductive justice, I believe in education being the start. Texas is a traditionally conservative and very Christian state, so comprehensive sex education is almost nonexistent. A lot of what is still taught here is very minimal and abstinence-based, assuming that if you’re not having sex, then we don’t need to talk about abortions because you’re not going to be having babies outside of marriage.
When bills like Senate Bill 8 come out and Texan officials call it a “Heartbeat Bill,” they are sensationalizing and relying on people not having comprehensive sex education. People hear “Heartbeat Bill” and think, Oh my gosh, this is a baby. We’re killing babies. Yet if you knew that six weeks is only two weeks past your missed period, then you know that’s really not even a heartbeat because a heart hasn’t even formed. Those are cells pulsating. But if you don’t have that education, aren’t in birth work or didn’t receive it in school, you don’t know those things.
When the Texas SB 8 Bill was passed, I was not surprised —at least, when it passed in September I wasn’t. I was more shocked back when it was first proposed — like, really? You really want to try to do this? This is not right. But the fact that it made it all the way down was not shocking to me because in Texas you can see rioters in front of Planned Parenthood and other clinics all the time, outside of this bill happening.
This bill is doing what it intended to do: inciting a lot of fear in people. The way it’s been worded, it makes it sound as if you can’t get an abortion at all, and if you do, you are going to be in trouble. However, this bill is really not written for the people who are receiving it. Even as we have this bill and they restrict all providers and support, it is going to adversely affect Black and brown communities. We’ve seen in multiple places that just because abortion is restricted in some type of way, that doesn’t mean that the number of abortions goes down. It’s still going to happen, but more of them will be happening potentially unsafely.
There are a lot of people, typically white or influential or who have the funds, who will be able to get an abortion one way or another. If they can’t get it in Texas, they’ll just go to another state and do it. However, not everybody can take off work or has the money to travel that far to get an abortion. That’s also why it’s important for me to be out here being Black and fighting for the Black, brown, and queer communities.
When I started training and working as a doula, I realized that a lot of people don’t talk about losses. Whether it’s elected or spontaneous, there’s still a loss, and there’s still care that needs to be provided to people. There’s this misconception that if you decide to have an abortion, it has to be for a specific reason in order to be valid. Having an abortion is still a physical and spiritual event that a person can go through, and I think that that deserves care.
There are many people who have had both miscarriages and abortions, and people close to them don’t know. As a full-spectrum doula, I can still provide that sense of care and be that listening ear, massage a back, make a meal, tidy up the house, do something to help them feel that they have care and they’re not in it alone, because for some people, this is a life-changing event. That’s hard to go through by yourself. I am there to help guide or bear witness to that experience.
If you’re taking abortion pills, I will come to your house. I’ll inform you in a caring way — versus a cold way, as it may be done in a doctor’s office. I may say, “Your doctor should have explained all this, but here’s what you might experience. Let’s prepare for this.” If we know there’s going to be some bleeding, I’m going to help you prep, make sure you have some pads, have some tea ready, get you tucked in and maybe talk through things. Once you take the pills and you do start bleeding or have some cramps, I’ll be there to process with you. If someone is having an abortion in a clinic, that’s something that I can go with them to because typically, you shouldn’t drive yourself.
Now, with this bill in place, I still share that I do provide abortion-doula support, but I don’t broadcast it in the same way — sometimes I may word it differently, post resource education on Instagram to hint at it. Again, technically, this law does not mean that the person receiving the abortion is unable to get it; it’s the providing and supporting that’s illegal. So a lot of clinics will be forced to close down, and there’s probably going to be a lot more at-home doula support than before.
I’m figuring out how I can still show up for my community and still be of support. If someone were to report me and want to sue me or whatever for providing abortion support, it would be a minimum $10,000 bounty, basically, so that means being careful that people don’t know and definitely having to be careful about confidentiality, clauses, and restrictions with my work on social media.
I do provide some virtual support, too. The pre-medication or pre-procedure, and maybe post-op, I can do virtually. But for me, doula support is also about care and connection. I want to physically be there and be able to support, depending on the person’s situation. Of course, whether I’m with a patient in person or not, according to the bill, support is support.
So maybe in person, that’ll look like me saying say to a patient, “Let’s just say I am your housekeeper or something, not somebody supporting your abortion.”
Whatever comes next, there are people who are out here doing the work and will continue to do the work. If you’re in Texas, connect with local abortion funds and reproductive-justice organizations. They can either support you or point you in the direction of people who can, whether it’s in state, out of state, virtual, or by mail.
Don’t feel like you have no options and you can’t do anything if you are still seeking an abortion and doing what you feel is best for your life. We’ve got you.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.