When women contact Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson, they are usually desperate.
“They find out they’re pregnant, they really don’t want to be pregnant and there is this urgency — ‘I need information, I need it now,'” Reinhardt-Simpson said.
The abortion doula, believed to be the only one in Edmonton, offers as much or as little support as a patient wants. She arranges travel into the city, drives women to and from the abortion clinic and helps them fill out paperwork.
Though the 40-year-old has no medical training, some ask her to sit with them during the surgical procedure, to coach them through breathing exercises or simply hold their hand.
She does not charge for her services. She also doesn’t judge.
“When (patients) call me, they often lay out their story as though they need to justify it to me. As though I’m gonna go, ‘I’ll help you, but only if you fit into these categories.’ Which is so not true.”
“They’re just not ready… Sometimes because they have a kid already and they’re supporting that kid. Sometimes because they’re homeless and they don’t have a job. And sometimes because they just plain don’t want to have a child.”
Reinhardt-Simpson’s interest in abortion issues started in the Unites States. From 2010 to 2015, she volunteered as a clinic escort in Richmond, Va., walking patients past often hostile protesters.
“The idea is to put yourself between (the patient) and the protester… and to continue talking to the patient because the protesters are screaming all kinds of things.”
Over the years, her role at the clinic evolved into an abortion doula. When she and her husband moved to Edmonton in 2015, she wanted to continue to help women. So she set up a website.
“Tiffany,” who Global News has agreed not to identify, was one of the first to contact Reinhardt-Simpson. She felt her family and friends wouldn’t understand her choice.
“(Reinhardt-Simpson) waited with me and then you go in for the procedure part, and she was there for me when I came out,” said the 39-year-old mother of one. “She had a nice little care package for me and we went for lunch after.”
“Abortion is something that you don’t want to be alone for. Some people don’t even like to go to the dentist alone, let alone to have… this major life-changing decision.”
Registered psychologist Kim Knull says the kindness Reinhardt-Simpson offers is important for people who have nowhere else to turn. Women who have abortions can feel grief, anger, anxiety and depression. Research shows the effects are worse for those with no support.
“The women who keep (their abortion) a secret, who don’t talk about it, who… aren’t allowed to talk about it… are the ones who do statistically suffer more and for longer,” said Knull.
Since 2016, Reinhardt-Simpson has supported about 40 women through abortions. She says one of her most important duties is to make sure they go to the right place. Across the street from Edmonton’s abortion clinic is an anti-abortion centre, which patients have mistakenly entered.
She has received hate mail.
“Anybody who’s upset that a stranger comes to me should be upset that we live in a culture where people feel like they can’t tell their closest friends and relatives that they’re going for a medical procedure and need a little bit of support.”
Reinhardt-Simpson can be reached via email.