Women’s Health in Women’s Hands is a website by Carol Downer.  It features DIY Gynecology, with lots of woman-to-woman information about our reproductive and sexual anatomy, choices in the birth setting and breastfeeding, safe and effective birth control, abortion, menstruation, menopause, and menstrual extraction—told frankly from an independent woman’s point of view.
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Many U.S. feminists are excited about the bold actions of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who founded and runs the Women on Waves (WOW) organization in the Netherlands.  However, I am concerned that her strategy could set us back, because it relies heavily on financial and technical support from population controllers; and it is single-issue.  Instead, I think feminists need to build an independent feminist movement built on reproductive justice and reproductive sovereignty to take back women’s reproductive health.

I traveled to New York City in May at the invitation of Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women to attend a NAPW meeting.  While there, I also visited Choices Women’s Center in Jamaica, and I also met with a group of radical feminists.  All these meetings discussed what our movement should do to fight back against the avalanche of restrictions on abortion legality and/or availability.

ADDITIONAL REPORTS:  I include brief reports of my visit while in NYC to and a lovely evening at Betty Dodson’s apartment.


Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, invited me to attend an invitation-only meeting in New York City about the possibility that the Harm Reduction movement experiences may be relevant to the women’s health movement’s response to the rise of self-induced abortion using a combination of two drugs, misoprostol and mifepristone by women who cannot access abortion services.  NAPW paid my airfare.

The meeting was attended by about 50 people.  All were women except for three men who were from the Harm Reduction movement.  About 30 of the participants were NAPW staffers, Harm Reduction activists or representatives of national and international population control organizations.  The rest of us were lawyers, feminist abortion providers (Atlanta FWHC and Shelley Sella of Southwestern Women’s Options) and individuals affiliated with universities and law schools.

The Harm Reduction Movement’s strategy is to change society's way of dealing with drug addiction.  One of their direct actions has been to cut down the spread of disease by distributing clean needles to illegal drug users, even though this has sometimes resulted in them being arrested by police.

The panel included three men and one woman.  Their presentation was inspiring; their bold actions have brought about some change in the way society deals with drug addiction; from prohibition and punishment to rehabilitation.  After the panel spoke, the floor was opened for an extensive Q&A.  Most questions and comments related to specifics of how the harm reduction strategy was carried out.

Lynn had made it clear that the group would not be considering any specific proposals, and it did not do so.

The question of the possible application of the Harm Reduction Movement to the dealing with the problem that many U.S. women are self-inducing abortion using drugs was never explicitly raised nor explicitly dealt with.  Instead, there was a free-flowing discussion about the current situation in abortion access, including programs to distribute medical abortion drugs and information about how women can get them in Latin American countries.

I expressed my opinion that some of their direct actions of the Harm Reduction Strategy, although inspiring, do not apply to the situation where women are ordering the abortion drugs online and taking them by themselves.  Harm Reduction volunteers go out to areas where drug addicts are known to buy drugs & set up a table with clean syringes and needles.  Meanwhile, other volunteers inconspicuously move among the crowd, discreetly distributing them.  We could not use that tactic; women would have to find us and come to us.  I said that medical abortion is safe when used in our clinics where counseling and backup are available.  I warned that increasing numbers of women who have self-induced will end up either being arrested when they go into the hospital when the bleeding seems excessive or alternatively they will not go in because of fear, even though a small, but significant number will be life threatening complications.  These will not be treated, at least in a timely way.  I held up the speculum and said that the long-range strategy is to educate ourselves about our bodies and start feminist projects to contraception and abortion, legally or otherwise, to women in our communities.


After the meeting, Lynn Paltrow invited everyone to go to her apartment which was walking distance and she served a delicious roof-top buffet.  I briefly spoke to a new midwife.  I presume her way to New York was also paid.  I presumed she was invited to this meeting because she has worked for IPAS in the past, and she travels to speak on abortion.  I urged her to work with me to set up self-help trained support groups to offer themselves as counselors and advocates for women who have self-induced and who are needing help in evaluating their pain and bleeding and/or going to the hospital.  I haven’t heard back from her.

This was a good networking opportunity for the attendees, however, I didn’t come away with any new contacts or ideas, I did have a few interesting conversations with people.

Annette C. Farrell, Executive Director and Esther Priegue, Director of Social Services served lunch to Becky Chalker, and I at Choices.  Annette talked about the anti-choice demonstrators; volunteer escorts assist women to enter the clinic.  Esther described Choices’ extremely diverse clientele who speak many languages, and come from countries around the world.  Choices has pre-natal and birth services as well as contraception and abortion services, with different reception and waiting areas for each type of service.  They were very busy.  We toured the large clinic, which is on several floors, and met various staff, including Dr. Jay Bissell, the doctor who performs abortions through the second trimester.  We then met with Merle Hoffman and Mary Lou Greenberg, editor of the online feminist magazine, On The Issues.  

It is a beautiful clinic, fully equipped and staffed to deal with women’s reproductive needs.  Merle stresses the importance of supporting women during those critical moments in their lives.  Esther arranges psychological counseling whenever it appears to be helpful; being mindful of ethnic and cultural differences.

In our meeting with Merle and Mary Lou, we discussed the current political climate and the challenges facing abortion providers.  New York providers do not appear to be in any imminent danger of the passage of restrictive legislation.  Merle and I are on the Advisory Committee of  We discussed how important it is for women to speak out right now to protest the anti-abortion laws being passed around the country.

We agreed that the reliance on lawsuits and the Democratic Party has proven to be a losing strategy, and that this is the time to build a strong women’s rights movement around the issue of abortion and contraception.


Kathy Scarbrough arranged for me to meet with radical feminists for lunch at a restaurant near the hostel where I was staying.  Colette Price Swietnicki, Rosalyn Baxandall, Alix Kates Shulman (author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, a best-seller in the early ‘70’s). Becky Chalker, author of “The Clitoral Truth” and Kinyofu Mlimwengu, doula and curator of the “Reproductive Awakening” exhibit in Brooklyn last year, joined us.

Colette, Roz, and Alix had recently seen the movie Vessel and they loved it.  When I expressed my doubts about the Women on Waves strategy, they were surprised, and they peppered me with questions.  I had not yet seen the film, but I have been familiar with the WOW actions over the last decade or so.  Their questions were quite good, and they countered some of my criticisms of the imperialistic nature of the enterprise with facts they had learned from the film.  It came out that I had big criticisms of Planned Parenthood (PP) and their leadership of the Pro-Choice community.  They were downright shocked.  It turned out they were big PP supporters.  This discussion took up most of our meeting time.  Afterwards, Colette walked with Becky and me to the train station, and she invited me to come to Cape Cod in the summer to speak about my objections to PP and what I call the “anti-natalist” movement.

Their positive reaction to Vessel came from several places.  First, they are delighted that someone is dramatically confronting anti-abortion governments.  Secondly, they see it as progress that women in countries where abortion is prohibited are getting the drugs, or at least finding out about how to get misoprostol at their pharmacies.  Thirdly, they got the impression that the Dutch group had established a truly international feminist movement.
I was excited to finally get the answer to my question as to how Women’s Studies or Feminist Studies programs around the country changed to “Gender Studies”.  Roz Baxandall was a Professor in the Feminist Studies Department at SUNY Old Westbury, and was, until she retired recently, the Chair of American Studies Department there.  SUNY is a state university on Long Island, and at the time that this change came about Roz said that she and the rest of the faculty were opposed to changing the department’s name, but the decision to do so came from the top decision-making body at the school, which is mostly males who are not feminist.  This explained to me why most of the women’s studies teachers that I knew didn’t know.  Most of them are adjuncts, not full-time faculty and therefore weren’t part of this debate, as to how the change came about.  They didn’t realize that this was a top-down decision in a patriarchal institution.

Note: Subsequently, I became aware of an interesting blog from circa 1991 which contains an excellent discussion of the proposed change.


VISIT TO WOMEN’S E-NEWS published my articles, “It’s Time to Reclaim Our Reproductive Sovereignty” on April 10, 2015 and “DIY Abortions Can Have Legal Complications” on Thursday, May 21, 2015, Editor Corinna Barnard invited me to visit them.  Becky Chalker and I had an hour-long meeting with some of the staff.  Rita Henley Jensen, Editor in Chief, showed us the spectacular display of photographs, art work and quotations that lined the entry way and one large wall of the large room that has many cubicles with staff working at computers.  We sat at the staff lunch table and Corinna brought over a staffer, Anne Marie Cunningham, who came to Lorraine Rothman and my demonstration in New York City in 1972.  I gave Corinna the 10-minute version of my population control position.  She listened respectfully and had good questions.  I hope it informs her future coverage, however I saw a press release from the Population Council printed verbatim in a recent issue concerning how they are working to delay child marriage in Africa, so I think I would have to have a daily presence to bring my perspective.  Note:  I would have suggested only suggest one change: I would preface the piece with a few sentences educating the reader about who the Population Council is, what their goals are, how they’re funded, etc.

We also met Juhie Bhatia, Managing Editor and Hajer Naili, Staff Reporter, who had just returned from Europe and where they interviewed the European Planned Parenthood organization and some of the women there who are fighting against the pro-lifers who are trying to keep women from getting abortions.


Becky Chalker, Kinyofu Mlimwengu, and I, went to dinner at Betty Dodson’s apartment.  We ordered in a fabulous Persian dinner and had a lot of fun commenting on this and that and everything.  Betty drew and wrote the beautiful small book, Liberating Masturbation which she originally self-published and personally sold thousands of copies before it was picked up by Crown Publishers and republished as Sex for One, and is still in print today.  She continues, with her business partner, Carlin Ross, to produce videos that convey more information about the female genitalia and sexual response than all the scientific texts combined, and they’re beautiful and fun also.  Their amazing website is  We didn’t come up with any startling new ideas about how to combat the anti-abortionists.  Betty is firmly in the anti-G spot camp, and has used some of Suzann Gage’s illustrations in her own videos.  We just talked about the latest “woman as sex goddess” and enjoyed ourselves immensely. 


Colette Price Swietnicki invited me or someone from the Women’s Health Specialists to attend a feminist gathering at her summer home in Cape Cod to explain our position on the undue influence of the population control movement on the U.S. feminist reproductive rights movement.  They planned to publically screen Vessel at the Truro Public Library, and she wanted us to be part of the program.

We applaud the actions of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts and her Vessel group in their efforts to try and provide abortions to women in desperate need in those countries where abortion is illegal.  And although initially, Dr. Gomperts’ plan was to make those early abortions available on their ship VESSEL, in fact, few abortions ever got done on the ship and so they eventually came up with another strategy of creating a website WOMEN ON THE WEB to mail the abortion pills to women, with instructions and the advice to enlist a friend to support them.

When I first saw the film I thought yes, great we need to get these pills into every woman's medicine chest. Then I remembered – this is America.  Abortion is legal here--under certain conditions, right?  Available -- under certain conditions, right?  We have clinics with safe, qualified practitioners.  If we take a pill it should be with guidance and counseling and knowledge - not from an unmarked package in the mail in our back bedroom.  But more and more restrictive legislations are closing down abortion clinics around this country.  Recent court decisions just closed all but 8 clinics in the great and large state of Texas, and many other states are poised to follow suit.  Federal monies have not been available for abortions since 1976 - remember the Hyde amendment, still in effect.  And then there's the long travel distances and waiting periods that put abortion out of the reach of many more women.  Have you seen the latest mugshot of the woman murderer.  Kenlissia Jones 23 years old arrested for murder after taking these exact same pills to end her pregnancy.  After spending 3 days in jail before she was released, Georgia DA Greg Edwards reminded us that she still faces misdemeanor charges for “possession of a dangerous drug.”  Dangerous indeed!

What should be done right now?  Reproductive rights were gained through Women's Liberation struggle.  We need to organize like we did nearly 50 years ago and maybe start with an ABORTION SPEAKOUT according to the old consciousness - raising format.  That is sharing our experiences.  Talking about our abortions, or near abortions, or the abortions we worried about or the ones we took for granted.  We need to get back to calling things what they are and dispel this ridiculous STIGMATIZING of abortion like we shouldn't even mention the word.  And such a Speakout also affirms the right of women to control their own bodies.
We had several sessions during the next two days at a large dining room table near the food and drink, coffee and tea during the day and wine at night.  Attending the meeting were Colette Swietnicki, Kathy Scarbrough, Jeanne Hirsch Ingress, Carol Hanisch, Nancy Campau and me.  Colette and Nancy are Certified Nurse Midwives, which means that they are independent midwives that work under standard protocols in the hospital.  Carol Hanisch and Kathy Scarbrough publish the blog “Meeting Ground”.  I met them last year in Boston at the “A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s” conference.  They spoke on a panel entitled, “De-fanging the Movement”.  Jeanne Hirsch Ingress and her mother, Lolly Hirsch, published the “Monthly Extract: An Irregular Periodical” and sponsored a Childbirth Conference in Stamford, Connecticut in 1973.

I had prepared several handouts for the meetings—too many, it turned out.  We never referred to them. 

Several objected to the term “anti-natalist”.  I agreed that the term has been used to describe someone who’s against birth for philosophical or political reasons.  “The best thing we can do for the Earth is to cease reproducing the human species.”  The other terms that have been used is “birth controllers” or “Populationism”.   These are negative terms to describe American public agencies, foundations, and individuals who spread contraception in the third world to reduce the population of their poor people.  I use the term to describe those who favor limiting the birth rate both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world as a solution to poverty and degradation of the environment, and a way to promote political stability.  “Pro-natalism” is the accepted term for people who favor increasing the birth rate to increase national power and improve the economy and to promote political stability.

Mostly, people wanted to know why I criticized Planned Parenthood.  I primarily object to PP assuming a leadership role in the reproductive rights movement because it is not a feminist organization.  It is not even a membership organization, and its goals are not to give women the full range of choices, but rather to push the use of contraception, including abortion when contraception fails.  I know many feminists who work for PP.  Nevertheless, as employees, they carry out PP’s anti-natalist programs that are decided at the top by the boards of directors of the National and International PP.  The independent community-run PP is disappearing; most have been gobbled up into PP chains.

I also shared examples of PP’s policies and behavior that stem from their lack of concern for building a feminist movement to push for reproductive rights.  “Pro-choice coalitions”, led by PP (and other anti-natalist organizations, such as ACLU and NARAL) and the Democratic Party, take over State legislative battles and squelch the local feminists who want to fight male domination, left or right.  PP wants to define the battle as being with the Republicans and the religious right and they see electing Democrats as the way to get “pro-choice” legislation.  From a feminist viewpoint, the “pro-choice coalitions” are timid and Democrats compromise easily.  And, some leading Democrats are virulently anti-abortion.  Democrats have held both the Presidency and both houses for up to 8 years in a row and never failed to renew the Hyde Amendment.

I based my own criticism of PP on my own experience and my second hand knowledge gained from my membership in the National Abortion Federation for many years, I broke the independent abortion providers “code of silence” by sharing many of the complaints that other abortion providers have against PP.

Other than Jeanne who agreed with my criticism of PP, I would say that the consensus of the rest of the group is that while it is unfortunate that a non-feminist organization has taken over the leadership of the abortion battle, nevertheless we need to ally ourselves with PP at times.  And, although everyone agreed that our goal is for women to gain complete control of our bodies, there still is a need to protect young females and also, even though some methods of contraception may have dangers, women who cannot support a number of children should be advised to use these methods, if they are not able to use less invasive, natural methods.

We talked about some innovative tactics to get women to become more active in the abortion movement.

Colette suggested that we have a C-R group in which we each talked about our decision to have children—or not, describing the time frame and the social context in which that decision was made.

Since our group were in our sixties and over, Colette invited two women of her acquaintance to join us.  They are in their 40’s.  We didn’t have any summation of our discussion, so these are my impressions.  All of us felt that we arrived at our decision independently.  As one woman said, “I always knew I wanted children”.  Another said, “I never thought about having children, possibly because I never met any man that I considered suitable for having a child with, and then when I finally did, it was after menopause.”  After hearing other’s accounts, realized that I always assumed I would have children, since every woman I knew growing up had children, unless they couldn’t conceive.

What emerged to me was that the choice we made followed very much with the time frame, especially in regard to the availability of contraception and abortion and in regard to a woman being able to have educational and employment opportunities.  I was the oldest and I have six children.  The younger the women, the fewer children they had, in general.

Also, I realized in hearing the younger women describing how they made their choices, is that male-female relationships have changed so much (not necessarily for the better) that my experiences have very little relevance to them.  It’s very different out there in the heterosexual “world”.  I also saw that the work of this feminist health movement has greatly improved women’s understanding of many things, such as alternative remedies, options in childbirth and how they can seek out the kind of health care they want. 
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