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World Doula Week Highlight: How Abortion Doula Ash Williams Helps Clients Navigate a Post-Roe World

Bintou Diarra, A.B Candidate | Medical Anthropology, Brown University | March 26, 2023

The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade rendered abortion access and care inaccessible to many people in the United States. The Supreme Court decision has had far-reaching effects for people across the nation—regardless of their local policies. In the absence of a federal standard to protect us, reproductive rights are always in a state of great vulnerability. 

For those in need of abortions in our nation, the necessity of support and informational tools is more important now than ever before. Abortion doula Ash Williams is among the birth workers propping up birthing people in need. Williams is a transgender abortion doula and activist from Asheville, North Carolina. As an abortion doula, Williams provides informational, emotional, physical, and financial assistance before, during, and after the termination of a pregnancy. Abortion doulas answer questions and debunk myths about the abortion process, assist pregnant people with soothing techniques like calming touch, massage, and guided meditation, and help people access specific resources including logistical support and after care as they plan to terminate a pregnancy.

Like many of the world’s birth workers, Williams’ personal experiences led him to his work as an abortion doula. He had two abortions in his lifetime, and with them came a heightened understanding of the importance of care and guidance. “The compassionate care that I received from a friend during my first abortion helped me to understand the need for informational, physical, and emotional support.” Williams’ head goal in the work is not about abortion access alone. It is about setting a standard of care. “I feel called to this work because I believe that people who have abortions deserve the best abortion care possible.”

The work of abortion doulas is wide-ranging because it pulls from many spheres of the birthworker’s lives. Williams’ work as a community organizer intersects with and informs his work as an abortion doula. “As an abolitionist and reproductive justice organizer, I use the reproductive justice principles to guide how I work across movements and issues,” says Williams. Ultimately, there exists an interplay between the principles of his organizing work and those of birthwork. “Abolition helps me understand what is at stake in the fight to increase abortion access because of the ways that the criminalization of pregnant people undermines the criminalization of everyone, but especially particularly vulnerable people in our communities. I work to increase abortion access within a framework of interrupting criminalization.”

In addition to his work as a community organizer, Williams’ various identities inform how and why he shows up for others. “Black trans people are disproportionately impacted by racial capitalism, white supremacy, the gender binary, and other forms of oppression.” With this comes limited access to healthcare and state violence. Williams’ navigation of these conditions drives him to eradicate them and show up for others along the way. “I am working to amplify the experiences of those at the intersections, and I am working to amplify the ways we as Black trans people resist and condemn these forms of violence.”

It is important to note the unique place of transgender people in the fight for reproductive freedom. Williams aptly asserts that the attack on abortion access is a part of a larger move to limit bodily autonomy, one that primarily impacts transgender people. “Reproductive injustice teaches that controlling bodies is the pathway to controlling entire communities. Black trans people are on the frontlines of these material and legislative attacks, and we should be prioritized by movements that also fight for bodily autonomy and self determination.”

While the scope of his work remains large, it all underscores one main commitment—the creation of a liberatory future for us all. Williams’ vision includes the desires and needs of people he cares about, and the eradication of oppressive structures that work in conjunction with the structures that limit reproductive agency. “I want an end to prisons and policing. I want Cop City to not be realized in Atlanta. I want my friends who are being criminalized because of who they are or their beliefs to come home. I want abortion—on demand, without apology, under any circumstance, and at every gestational age.”

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