A self-declared “abortion doula” spoke this week to Catholic University of America students about her experiences coaching women through delivering or aborting babies, as well as coaching “pregnant men” to deliver in what she called a “seahorse birth,” according to audio of the class lecture obtained by The Daily Signal. 

A Catholic University nursing student described Tuesday’s lecture to The Daily Signal, saying the guest speaker said she also practices Reiki, a controversial Japanese method of spiritual healing and self-improvement.

The Roman Catholic school confirmed that the doula spoke to the class, said she didn’t represent the school’s values, and vowed that she wouldn’t speak to the class again. 

“It was really unsettling,” nursing student Felipe Avila, 20, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Friday. “The fundamental point is to understand human development from conception to natural death, right? And they brought in someone who counsels women to terminate life.” 

Psychology lecturer Melissa Goldberg invited the doula, Rachel Carbonneau, to address her class, titled Psychology 379: Lifespan Development.

The term doula usually refers to a professional who provides physical and emotional support to a woman before, during, and shortly after childbirth. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, defines an abortion doula as someone who “provides physical and emotional support to a patient during their abortion process.”

Carbonneau identified herself to the class as an “abortion doula,” according to the audio recording obtained by The Daily Signal. The founder and CEO of the LGBTQ-aligned doula company Family Ways also was an English lecturer at Catholic University from 2005 to 2008, her LinkedIn profile says. 

Avila, the nursing student, said he first recognized the doula’s misalignment with the Catholic school’s values when Carbonneau began “using terms like birthing persons [and] pregnant person.” The lecturer was “very strategic in avoiding the word ‘woman,’” Avila said.

One of Avila’s classmates repeatedly asked Carbonneau how abortion ties into her work as a doula, which prompted the lecturer to share her pro-abortion stance openly. 

“This is a space I feel comfortable navigating,” the doula said in response to questions. 

Carbonneau also described what she called “seahorse birth.” 

Listen here:

“We work with trans clients,” Carbonneau told students, according to the audio. “I have some men who have given birth; it’s amazing, we call it seahorse birth. It’s lovely, especially when it’s a water birth; it’s fantastic.” 

Female seahorses still produce eggs and male seahorses fertilize them, but male seahorses incubate the young in a special pouch, from which the young emerge. This does not mean male seahorses become female, but they do appear to “give birth,” in a sense, so pro-transgender activists claim that when a “transgender man” gives birth, that is similar to a male seahorse doing so.

She insisted: “It’s not my business as a doula or a human being to pass judgment on how anybody else chooses to live their life.” 

When discussing the stigma of “pregnant men,” Carbonneau urged students to “normalize” the discussion of women who identify as men giving birth. 

“I think just normalizing it, right? Using the gender-neutral language, talking about pregnant men as pregnant people, pregnant women, pregnant men, pregnant humans,” she told the class. 

Carbonneau acknowledged the tension between her support for abortion and the Catholic position on the issue, saying she herself had studied at the university.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that abortion is a “moral evil” and “gravely contrary to the moral law.” 

The doula’s presentation Tuesday at Catholic University felt “unsettling,” Avila said. The student pointed out that “one of the many reasons that students like me and many of my peers made the decision to attend Catholic University is for that Catholic identity.”  

“The university should not wait for there to be public pressure or a public outcry for there to be some kind of change … if they want to preserve the Catholic identity, then they need to take these things a lot more seriously,” Avila added. 

Carbonneau said she uses Reiki, a Japanese spiritual healing technique condemned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as incompatible with Christian teaching and scientific evidence. In 2009, the conference said that “it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions … to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy.” 

On Friday, Catholic University acknowledged the contradiction between Carbonneau’s support for abortion and the institution’s own values. 

“The Catholic University of America was appalled to learn about reports regarding this guest speaker,” the university told The Daily Signal in a written statement Friday. “It does not reflect our mission and values as a university that is committed to upholding the dignity of life at all stages.”

“The guest speaker will not be speaking again to the class, and we are re-communicating the terms and expectations by which all outside speakers are vetted and invited,” the university, added, referring to Carbonneau.

The Daily Signal sought comment from Carbonneau, but did not immediately receive a response.

Editor’s note: Noah Slayter is currently a student at The Catholic University of America.

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