The side of abortion you don’t see: A doula’s perspective

Rachel Behling, 38, helps people who undergo abortions. She has counseled thousands of them in the last nine years.

“It affects your sleep,” she said. “It affects the way that you interact with your loved ones, but you eventually learn to understand your limitations. I can impact their future by allowing them to get through these events. There are some clients that I interact with that I think about all the time.”

Behling is a doula, a person trained to advise and offer emotional and physical comfort to a patient before, during and after a procedure or pregnancy. She began specializing in abortion work in 2014. 

Though she lives in Ithaca, New York, far from Florida, she has strong opinions on the Sunshine State’s new restriction on abortion. It limits the procedure to the first six weeks of pregnancy, when many people don’t even know they’re expecting.

The result can be a decline in mental health and more children in the foster system, according to Behling.

“There’s gonna be a lot of people that are forced into continuing pregnancy,” says Behling. “It honestly, in my opinion, sounds like dystopia to me. I think if someone’s pregnant, and they don’t want to be, it can be an illness, it’s a health issue.”

Behling provides a unique and important perspective on the controversial bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April of this year, that installed a six-week ban on abortion. This is one of the measures that severely limits abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022

Belling says she knew she wanted to be a doula long before taking up the trade. She worked on her family’s farm, waitressing and bartending in many places before finishing her bachelor’s at City College in New York. She picked up doula work as a 29-year-old when she volunteered for a nonprofit organization from New York City called the Doula Project. 

Soon she was working with those going through abortions.

“I just became fascinated and hyper-focused on the abortion aspect of it and realized I wanted to do that more than attending births,” says Behling. “Once I started volunteering with the project, I would do one or two shifts a week at a public hospital where they did abortions up to 24 weeks.”

Behling helps patients from the first consultation, sets up their appointments, explains all the risks and what to expect during and after the procedure. She’s sometimes with them during the abortion as well, supporting in whichever way they choose. 

“Some people want to talk and be distracted, and some people want a lot of tactile stuff like touching and holding hands,” says Behling. “I remind people to take deep breaths, make eye contact, and encourage them. Sometimes people just want to talk about random things so I ask them about their families, about their school, what they like to do.”

After the procedure, Behling is right there beside them, checking their vitals and making sure the patient knows their discharge instructions. Behling says that she lets them release in any way they need. Letting some cry or hang out for a couple minutes to collect themselves. She says this recovery process takes about 20 minutes.

New York’s laws guarantee abortion rights in the state, and Behling has met many patients from out of state.

“We’ve seen people come from Pennsylvania a lot,” says Behling. “We have people that live in Southern states, but are from here, so they’re able to come back and stay with family while they get the abortion that they need.”

Rachel Behling (Photo courtesy of Rachel Behling)

In 2021, .0.4 percent of children were in foster care, according to FLHealthCharts. Behling says this rate is only going to rise now. 

“I think that we’re gonna see a lot more kids in foster care,” says Behling. “I think that part of the rhetoric of anti-choice people is that these children can essentially be adopted by people who can’t have their children, but that’s just not the reality of the situation. There’s going to be all these unwanted children born and I don’t think that there are enough people who are desperate to adopt children.”

Behling shares some more misconceptions about abortion. 

“Most people do not know what it’s like to get pregnant and feel the devastation of that,” she says. “Pregnancy can happen under all different kinds of circumstances: birth control fails, people get assaulted, people are in abusive relationships, and not necessarily wanting to have sex, but feel pressured into it.”

Behling says that the restrictive ban in Florida could cause a decline in people’s mental health.

“When depression and anxiety will probably increase, we might see an increase in suicide rates for people forced into pregnancy,” says Behling. “[Pro-lifers] force someone into parenthood, and then they’re going to,turn around and say they’re an unfit parent because their mental health might be suffering.”

Behling argues this could lead to a “slippery slope” for women’s rights and reproductive rights across Florida.

“I think it affects healthcare in a lot of ways,” says Behling. “We’re already seeing these horror stories in the news about how people are denied an abortion and they’re having to be forced into having a hysterectomy or people are being forced to carry a child that won’t live.”

Behling says that healthcare providers who are trained in abortion could be at risk of going to prison if they attempt to perform abortions past six weeks. 

“[Healthcare providers] are forced to make this terrible decision to protect their freedom,” says Behling. “We have politicians who are elected by evangelical Christians that want to control people’s bodies and bodily autonomy, who are now making the decisions that doctors should be making.”

The last thing she pointed out was that abortions don’t make you infertile, at risk for cancer nor do the people when they receive these services regret it after the fact. 

“You don’t know anything about them and don’t have the right to tell them what they should be doing, so back the f*** off,” says Behling. “If somebody does regret their abortion, it’s likely because they were forced into it by someone else, but people who feel like it was 100% Their decision are not likely to regret it.”

Izzy Canizares was born and raised in South Florida and is studying Digital Journalism as well as Theatre. They have had two journalism internships at Just Begin Magazine as a writer and WSFL Inside South Florida as a Production Intern.