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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Assertiveness in the dr.'s office


by Francie Hornstein

The following information is meant for women going to clinics or doctor's office in areas where feminist health services are not available. These suggestions may help you assert your rights as a consumer of health services. They also provide us with defenses against the sort of professionalism which prevents us from having access to informaiton about our own bodies as well as control over our lives. These defenses are in now way permanent solutions, but measures to be used until women regain full control of the field of women's medicine.

1. All people have a legal right to read their own medical charts and records. You may also ask for a copy of your records.

2. You have a right to full and complete explanation of all examinations, treatments and medications. This includes informing you of possible risks, side effects, effectiveness and experimental nature of any medical care you receive.

3. It is often a good idea to call a clinic or doctor before your actual visit to ask some key questions: cost of various procedures, office routines, billing and insurance collection policies, if Medi-Cal or Medi-Caid are accepted, etc.

4. If you are addressed by your first name by office personnel (includding the doctor) you should feel free to relate to them on a first name basis also.

5. Married women have full rights to any and all medical treatment without the consent of their spouse. In most states this includes abortion, V.D. treatment, and sterilization procedures., If you are unsure about the laws in your state, consult a lawyer or a legal aid office.

6. In California, single women who are legal minors (under 18 years of age) are eligible for Medi-Cal for payment for the cost of an abortion. In most situations, this can be done without the consent or knowledge of parents.

7. A woman does not have to be a certain age or have a certain number of children in order to have an elective sterilization procedure. If you are denied the procedure on these grounds, it may be the policy of the doctor or hospital. Consult a lwayer or feminist group to pressure the facility or doctor to change. Also, check the laws of your state.

8. You have a right to read any literature accompanying any medication you are given. This literature, formerly included for th edoctor, often gives more complete information about the drug or device, the possible side effects and contra-indications (reasons some people should not take the drug). You may want to ask to see this literature or the Physician's Desk Reference, a book which includees this information.

9. You have a right to have all of your questions answered to the best of the ability fo the physicians or health workers.

10. If you were referred to the doctor or clinic by a women's center, women's group or a friend, you should mention that fact. A doctor may be more "on guard" to be on good behavior if he/she knows that more business may be gained or lost through your report back to the original referral source.

11. Take a friend with you if you wish. It always helps to have the support of a friend to serve as a patient advocate.

12. When you meet the doctor for the first time, shake hands and greet him/her. Any indication that you intend to be an ACTIVE participant in the visit will help in breaking the tradition of the patient as a passive object.

13. Try to learn as much basic information about your own body as you can. The more familiar you are with the anatomy and functioning of your body, the more able to assert yourself you will be.

* The document is also available for download (pdf) on our Self-Help Clinic page.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


*The following is an excerpt by Carol Downer. This is part of developing and constructing a Childbirth and Lactation webpage on Women's Health in Women's Hands. We welcome any and all comments. Thank you.

I want to share the continued research that I'm doing into the Women Deliver Conference to discover what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are planning for mothers and babies throughout the world and decide whether we should welcome this or organize against it.

Here is a YouTube video of a 13-minute excerpt of the 60 Minutes video interview of Melinda Gates in which they attribute high infant mortality to midwives using non-sterile instruments and say that they lay newborns on cold, dirt floors. Now, supposedly these rates have improved since they have taught the midwives to use sterile razor blades to cut the umbilical cord and they've taught them to wrap the newborn in a blanket, and infant mortality has gone down.

Now I want to ask you to look at some websites about Kangaroo Care, a practice of laying the naked newborn directly on the mother's bare chest, to see that this is the more advanced, enlightened way to stabilize a newborn, especially a low-birth-weight one. The mother's body keeps the baby warm, encourages breathing, and when the baby squirms and roots around, it will find the mother's nipple by itself within an hour or so, thus securing the best nutrition and "securing its safety in its mother's arms".

• Kangaroo Care -
• Dr. Bergman -

What a difference between the Western-style medical approach of teaching "ignorant midwives" to keep the baby warm in a blanket, and the respectful, supportive approach of letting the baby have access to its Mom.

A personal note: I bottle-fed my first two babies, because I was told I had no milk (in fact, they gave me DES to dry up my milk. A nurse who had breast fed showed me techniques to "help" my baby nurse). I then went on to breast feed my other children and always passed along this knowledge to other mothers. I assumed that this was a cultural, woman-to-woman tradition. Imagine my surprise when I saw an 8 minute film a few months ago showing a brand-new newborn wriggle around on its mother's belly, crawling by fits and starts up until it "latched on" to the nipple.

I'm also enclosing the information so that you can order this 8 minute film to see this for yourself. Also, we hope to include a minute or two of this footage on the new page on my website,

• breastfeeding - baby's choice -

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Abortion Speak Out Kit

It's Time to Come Out of the Closet

For more information, we recommend our Speak Out page.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dr. Andrew Rutland

Dear Pro-Choice Movement,

Dr. Rutland is an obstetrician-gynecologist who is currently on probation. In July 2009 a patient receiving a paracervical block (local anesthesia) had a severe reaction and ultimately passed 6 days later. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office closed the case after autopsy ruled her death as accidental. Under pressure from anti-abortionists, Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran - Chief Medical Examiner changed the mode of death from accidental to homicide. The reasons are connected to technical violations of practice, which the department disapproves of, but are NOT connected to this event.

This case is about the CA Medical Board's attempt to close down an abortion provider very much like Dr. Bruce Steir in 1997. Originally charged with 2nd degree murder, in April 2000 Dr. Steir bargained for involuntary manslaughter.

We currently do not have an up-to-date on Dr. Rutland's case. But we do urge that people be extremely critical of this case and any other case where anti-abortionists are behind the attack.

Please read the following articles:

And, if you'd like further information please contact Dr. Rutland at

Thank you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Copyrighted 1971

Much has happened since we first wrote our Self-Help Clinic article last summer E.W. July, 1971. At that time, under Carol Downer's direction, we had been meeting for about four months evolving a concept that would have far reaching effects. Since early spring, first working within women's liberation cell groups, then expanding to community women's church groups, Y.W.C.A. groups, and then taking the concept across the country, we are pleased to announce that over 2,000 women (including a group in London, England begun by a Connecticut Self-Help sister), have been introduced to self-examination and the Self-Help Clinic concept. Little did we realize that first night when we all agreed to confront our physical hang-ups in a physical way, that we were all to share real sisterhood in a very meaningful way. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew well the meaning of sisterhood. Mothers, daughters and aunts would meet together to share their womanly experience and be ready to help one another through their physical crises. Since grandmother's time, we have lost the closeness of sisters' experiences and helpful hands. This, along with being denied access to modern knowledge, has left us without knowledgeable good preventative health care. The Self-Help concept of self-examination is based on this reintroduction of sisterly sharing of experiences and knowledge in a commonsense, honest manner. Collective knowledge used within close sisterly groups that we call The Self-Help Clinic, have already had positive results as valuable preventative health care measures.

The Self-Help Clinic consists of 3 meetings; usually an evening a week for three weeks. These meetings deal primarily with learning self-examination with the help of all the sisters in the group. This is a very meaningful sharing experience for all, since we learn what is normal by having the opportunity to examine many women, under well-conditions. Occasionally we will have a sister who has a more serious problem and having caught it within self-examination, is encouraged to seek professional help. The Self-Help Clinic provides the opportunities for women to confront the many myths, misconceptions, and misinformation that we have been fed our entire lives. Being able to examine ourselves in a group situation gives us the first real concrete opportunity to compare the "text book" with reality. This is also the time when we learn to recognize cervical cap changes (in color, tone and other signs) in one another. Each woman during the first session has learned to insert her own speculum for the self-examination procedure and keep this speculum for continuous use. We also learn to give bi-manual (two hands) pelvic examinations by the 3rd evening. Looking at diagrams of our pelvic organs and being able to touch them and know their structure manually, gives us a far greater understanding of our bodies. We also spend the sessions reading and discussing a variety of written material, much of it brought in by the members of the group. We use the Birth Control Handbook as a major source for discussion and reference.

One major learning skill we have readily available is being able to recognize what is "normal". Since the meeting are primarily for women who want to learn about their own bodies, we have the perfect opportunity to see many, many normally healthy women. Contrary to clinics' and physicians' experiences (they have been trained and continue to work with patients suffering with some kinds of symptoms of illness), we are in the most fortunate position to learn to recognize what is a well-woman. By being able to recognize what is well and normal, we are better skilled to recognize that which is abnormal. It is interesting to note that Dr. Donald Ostergard of Harbor General Hospital in Torrance, Calif. * has been medical director for a similar program providing "book" and clinical training for women with similar non-medical backgrounds. His findings show that non-medical personnel with a high percentage of accuracy, can recognize deviations from normal. For example; Vulvar lesions, 89%, breast lesions, 85%, vaginal well muscle breakdown, 90% plus, uterine and surrounding structural abnormalities, 90%, antiflexed (elbowed backward) uterus, 90% plus. These are very high percentages of accuracy. Dr. Ostergard explains that his family planning patients are generally well patients who have come into the clinic for birth control information. His training program for the women paramedics stress normal breast and pelvic examinations. When a deviation from normal is found, the patient is referred to the physician. It is not important that the trainee recognize the exact nature of the abnormality. Dr. Ostergard's findings agree with our Self-Help Clinics' similar opportunities for well-women examinations: Women with varying non-medical backgrounds with sufficient training opportunities for examining well-women, can effectively recognize abnormal conditions.

How much better off we are, being able to recognize the unusual and to confidently make arrangements to get professional help; compared to remaining in ignorance until our problems have progressed to the point of seriousness and possible permanent damage. The Self-Help Clinic concept also helps us learn to take better overall care of our bodies. We stress breast examination and strongly encourage yearly Pap smears for cancer detection. We have found that, just like a sore throat, when we recognize an early infection or inflammation, some kind of personal care which includes lots of rest for our body, often connects the problem.

The Advanced Self-Help Clinics

One of the most exciting outgrowths of the Self-Help Clinics is in the development of advanced groups who have dedicated themselves to implementation and research. These groups feel that it is time that we women do the deciding on what we want in research areas on better health care for women. A large number of these women are guiding new Self-Help Clinics, sharing their experience with newer sisters to the concept, as well as perfecting their paramedic training skills. Quality libraries with up-to-date material and references on research into women's health needs, is another area of implementation. Another advanced Self-Help Clinic has published our "Ho To Start Your Own Self-Help Clinic" booklet which is available to anyone or groups interested in starting a Self-Help Clinic. There is presently a sizeable number of advanced, very dedicated and brave women who are determined to research out the possibilities of menstrual extraction. Let us here, clear up any misconceptions involving the experimentations being done within these advanced groups. And that is, menstrual extraction is not a euphemism for abortion. When the Self-Help Clinic means abortion we refer to it as abortion. This is a most important point. Our advanced groups must not be misrepresented if they are going to continue to work effectively for all women. These dedicated women, working and learning together are providing valuable information in the skills of menstrual extraction. Most of them seem to quite comfortable extract on the first day of their flow. We are told that a policy of these groups is that at no time is a sister allowed to experience discomfort. We are also told that it is almost unnecessary to mention the need for caution and gentleness, although both are major considerations in every case. Caution and gentleness seem to be almost instinctive.

While working within one of the advanced Self-Help Clinics, Lorraine Rothman found that the device that the group was attempting to use at that time needed vast improvement. It consisted of a simple syringe specially constructed to hold vacuum by the pull-back plunger; some plastic tubing; and a specially constructed small bored flexible cannula. (Neither the tubing used in manufacturing the cannula nor the finished cannula are available through laboratory or surgical suppliers. It is specially made by a large bio-instrument manufacturer and sold for a very high price.) Lorraine decided that since the syringe fell apart so easily causing air and fluid to back up into the uterus, she would devise another that would, 1) Provide a portable and continuous vacuum without back up worry, 2) Provide a syringe that need not be specially constructed, and 3) Provide a by-pass collection bottle which is a must since menstrual flows vary from woman to woman. She also realized the need to have ready access to the specially manufactured high quality, semi-flexible cannulas. They cannot be purchased at local lab houses, standard lab catalogs, nor can they be improvised out of the hardware store or drug store supplies. Lorraine's invention, tagged "Del'-Em", presently has a patent pending in hopes of keeping it within the women's movement as well as to encourage other women to put their heads and hearts to work for the movement. The semi-rigid cannula, which is a critical component of Del'-Em, when chemically sterilized, can be inserted through the undilated cervix. The cannula will bend to conform to the uterine walls without breaking or losing its flexibility and yet is not hard enough to damage the uterine lining. In addition, the cannula bore is large enough to facilitate removal of the menses. The research in these advanced groups is conducted under the guidance of medically trained personnel within clinical settings. They learn hospital and clinically acceptable sterile techniques under careful guidance. They also have access to the specially built cannulas and use only them. The women examine each other carefully to determine whether the procedure of menstrual extraction is safe for each. In this way they learn that a select group of women are eligible for the procedure. The following conditions, which are screened very carefully, are ineligible: Retroflexed (elbowed backwards) or antiflexed (elbowed foreward) uteruses, serious infections, polyps, extensive scarring, endometriosis and double uteruses. The Advanced Self-Help Clinics have also found that there is no way for a woman, by herself, to know her exact uterine conditions. Sisterhood is Safety: Safety is Sisterhood. In addition, continued research with Del'-Em indicates that group experience, knowledge, cooperation and sisterly concern improves the kit's efficiency. It would be irresponsible, here, to give step by step written directions in menstrual extraction. Just as in learning to sail a boat, it can't be done just by reading a book. It takes a seasoned sailor along to instruct with a properly outfitted vessel. The Advanced Self-Help Clinic groups, some of whom have been experimenting with Del'-Em for almost a year, know by personal experience that if this movement is to succeed, it will-only through SISTERHOOD. Groups of sisters learning from sisters and helping other sisters to fully realize their control over their own bodies is a very meaningful and workable concept. The idea of a "kit in each woman's private bathroom" is anti-sisterhood and anti-women's liberation. By being a select item for one woman only, within the confines of her own four walls, and without the collective help and support of her sisters, everyone and especially the movement looses. The concept of Self-Help stresses Sisterhood that makes possible the benefits from collective knowledge, collective experiences, collective training and especially the sisterly concern for one another. When it is necessary to travel for more extensive experiences or information, we do. Lastly, the Self-Help concept emphasizes competent medical backup and the use of safe equipment at all times.

We are seeing, today, unbelievable gains springing from this movement of sisterhood. We also forsee that it will take continued dedication by all sisters, vast investments of time, motivation, enthusiasm, and $$ for this movement to succeed. Throwing off the oppression of centuries takes total commitment and sisterhood.

The West Coast Sisters

* "Family Planning and Cancer Screening Services as Provided by Paramedical Personnel, A Training Program", by Donald R. Ostergard, M.D., AM. Assoc. Plan. Parent. Phys., Kansas City, Mo., April 5-6, 1971.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Published Originally in Women's Health Movement Papers, May 1981

Our Anotomy web page for more detail

In 1976, a self-help group spent several months studying the sexual response and the structure of the female sexual organ. On the basis of these observations and reading of anatomy texts, we now define the clitoris, the female sex organ, as being much, much more than a miniature penis, or various assorted structures collectively referred to as "the vulva" and the vagina.

Superficially, the clitoral shaft and glans resembles a miniature penis, but it does not have the same structure as the penis. It does not, as the penis does, have two types of erectile tissue, several sets of muscles and two bulbs. The new definition of the clitoris does include these homologous structures. The tiny shaft and glans, defined as the clitoris by the male medical profession cannot produce an orgasm in the same way a penis can. The clitoris, as newly defined, work together as an organ to produce the sexual response cycle of excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution as described by William Masters and Virginia Johnson in their famous sex studies in the fifties and sixties.

Introducing the Clitoris

The clitoris is bounded by the vulva, which includes the pubic mound, the outer lips and the hairy area around the anus. The clitoris, covered with hairless skin which is dotted with sebaceous oil glands, consists of the inner lips, hood, glans and shaft, legs, muscles, urethral sponge, perineal sponge, suspensory ligament and the hymen.

Looking at the clitoris with your legs spread apart you will see the inner lips joining at the top of the frenulum which is attached to the hood. This area, right where the clitoris joins the pubic mound, is called the commissure. Many women placed the flat of their fingers over the commissure to apply pressure to the clitoral shaft to masturbate. The hood partially covers the small rod-shaped shaft topped by the glans, which varies in size but is about the size of a pea. The shaft lies in a groove on the underside of the pubic bones, and it thus protected from injury. During sexual arousal, the suspensory ligament which extends down on the pubic symphysis swells, becomes shortened, and pulls the erect shaft up over the symphysis. The effect of this pulling up of the shaft is often to make the clitoral glans seem to disappear under the hood.

The shaft divides at its base into two legs (crura) which extend down and are attached behind the ischium bones (these are the bones that flare out; the bones we site on. Over these bones lie two sets of muscles which form the sides of an equilateral triangle. Another set of muscles is stretched across to form the muscles contract rhythmically several times, squeezing out the blood of the congested tissues forcefully, causing the intensely pleasurable sensations of orgasm.

You can see the opening of the urethra (the meatus) just above the clitoral opening to the vagina. Behind this urethral opening is the urethral sponge which encases the urethra and runs along with ceiling of the vagina, protecting it from pressure, such as might result from fingers or a thrusting penis.

At the base of the clitoris, you can see the inner lips join, forming a loose curtain of skin, the fourchette, that in some women, stretches across the clitoral opening. In others, the skin is very loose or may even be stretched or torn from childbirth. Just below the clitoral opening to the vagina is the perineal sponge which is approximately one inch thick. The hymen may partially cover the clitoral opening to the vagina or it may be stretched or even torn. During self-examination with a speculum, you can see the toothy projection of the hymen about an inch or two within.

The anal sphincter muscle, the circular muscle which closes the anus, also tenses up during excitement and plateau phases and contracts during orgasm.

*Labels in bold face type are parts of Clitoris. Clitoris illustration researched by: Carol Downer, Suzann Gage, Sherry Schiffer, Francie Hornstein, Lorraine Rothman, Lynn Heidelberg and Kathleen Hodge.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mirror Flashlight and Speculum

In 1971 a woman named Carol Downer took a speculum from an illegal abortion clinic in Los Angeles, went to her home and using a mirror and a flashlight, looked at her own cervix.

She was the mother of six children, had had an illegal abortion and had never seen her own cervix. She saw where her babies had passed through, where her menstrual flow had come from, and what the doctors had commented on over the years. It was a very enlightening moment for her.

What she did with that knowledge was revolutionary.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Self-Help Clinic

Copyright 1971

Visit Our History, Self Help Clinic, Staying Well, Our Anatomy, Our Periods, Reclaiming Abortion, Our Birth Control, and Library web pages for further detailed information.

A group of women not long ago banded together to seriously consider some mutual questions concerning the care of their reproductive and sexual organs. It all came about because each of us seemed to be getting the same kind of no help from our physicians. So we decided to just rap, share experiences, and maybe as a group seek out some answers on our own. Our results were so mind blowing that we want to share them with our sisters in hopes of encouraging others to do the same. Some of the problems we first attacked were: how can I recognize vaginal infections early, before they become so advanced that I have to visit a physician and probably wind up on antibiotics$$$. Can I see early infections, especially yeast (Monilia) effectively and inexpensively? How do I recognize yeast? What does syphillis look like, and can I recognize gonorrhea -- in spite of what the physicians say? Are there marked changes on the cervix of my uterus during my 28-30 day menstrual cycle? If so, does the cervix also show change due to pregnancy, and if so how soon can I see the change? We realized early in our rap sessions that being able to recognize very early pregnancy would be a great asset if we were to decide to terminate the pregnancy. Each of us at one time or another had been told by a physician that chemical test for pregnancy wasn't foolproof. We would really have to wait for at least the 4th and 5th week after the missed period to know for sure. Too long, we all decided!

Another point in which we were all up-tight about was the present methods of health care for women. For instance: I've got an itch. So I've gotta call the doctor. When I call, the receptionist asks, "What's wrong?" and proceeds to make an appointment from one to two weeks hence. So I wait. Take sitz baths, douches, and so sex. Sometimes the waiting alone helps, usually not. Often the bladder becomes infected while waiting for the appointment interval to pass. Finally I get to see the physician and his comment on examining me, draped in a sheet so that I couldn't even if I wanted to, -- "Usual female infection, take the antibiotic prescription and come back in two weeks."$$$ When I ask him if I can see what the infection looks like, the physician is appalled at the idea. "You shouldn't worry your little head about this kind of thing. After all, isn't that what I'm here for?" So I return in 2 weeks$$$, and maybe it's cleared and maybe it isn't. Another kind of antibiotic is prescribed and another appointment is made$$$. I again ask for specific information about the infection and by now the answer usually comes in Greek (which I am obviously not very fluent in.)

With pregnancy it's pretty much the same thing. See him, wait, and come back. $$$ I know that the longer I wait the more difficult it will be on my body to terminate the pregnancy. In addition, different states' laws offer time limiting restrictions.

So the women got together. We rapped about our common medical encounters. Then we made a discovery on that very first meeting. In order to better understand what we were talking about we had to look. So we encountered our first, last and only hangup in the entire rap/self-help clinic. And we did it with the help of 5% courage and 95% curiosity. Up on the table each of us went. Some of us were a little shy going up, all of us thoroughly with it by the time we got down. All of us were learning about our sexual organs and realizing that we were not only sharing our answers but were learning things about the cervix that was a gold mine of information. No wonder physicians have been reluctant to share the information$$$. We realized that there was a great deal that we could do for ourselves in personal health care, long before it becomes to see a physician, and all because we learned a very simple self-examination procedure. We were able to purchase plastic speculums (one for each woman). The speculum opens the vaginal cavity to allow examination of the vaginal walls and the cervix.

With the use of a lamp and mirror, it became quite simple to examine ourselves for irritations, infections, discharges, changes on the cervix. Since the cervix has essentially no pain nerve endings, we realized that it was quite easy to have an infection developing without giving any signs. Not until a heavy discharge has reached the vulva (outer lips) or burning and itching is taking place, do we realize what's going on. But by then it is too late to do anything but go through the ritual of visiting a physician at this convenience$$$. We also recognized that there are differences in the cervix, depending on the size of the woman, numbers of children, etc. We were able to easily recognize problems early so as to seek medical help quickly, before the problem becomes a major disease. Results of our self-help clinic were so obvious that some of us are now taking methods and going into neighboring communities to form new self-help clinics. Everywhere we go we are finding the same responses: "Wow! No wonder the physicians haven't wanted us to know our bodies." $$$ "Now I understand how the diaphragm works!" "It's like looking into your own mouth!"

We feel another important aspect of this clinic is to talk about the political implications of women being able to control their own bodies; Giving abortion referrals, becoming fully aware of the great need for abolishing all laws that restrict and control women. We believe that getting to know yourself can save your life. Women are killing themselves with panic abortive methods, because our laws refuse them proper care. In spite of our restrictive laws, getting to know our own bodies and what we can do for them has opened up far better choices of personal care. We are continuing to live under outrageous laws and barbaric medical practices. We believe that in learning to accept the care and knowledge of our own physical selves, we will be well on the road to self determination.

Some of the finding that came of our original self-help clinic and on which we were then able to take positive action were: 1) A woman who is exposed to the risk of pregnancy, by examining herself once a week, and becoming thoroughly familiar with her own cervix, can within one week after missing her period, recognize that she is pregnant. She need not depend on chemical tests. 2) Gonorrhea is still difficult but when uterine discharges occur, we catch them early and can take positive early action. 3) Yeast infections can be recognized easily, and treated inexpensively and in many cases with positive results within 24 hours without prescription. You need not be a highly skilled clinician to learn to recognize by name the most common vaginal infections. By being able to recognize early infections we have taken control of our right to choices of treatment. Including the choice of ultimate self determination which is also called "doing the job myself."

In starting a self-help clinic we can make some suggestions. We have no leader, no formal structure. We use some of the consciousness-raising techniques during our discussions. Although physical experience is essential, rapping about sex, reproduction and physiology especially when you don't know what you are talking about can lead to some fancy bullshitting. That has to be dealt with right on with good factual material. In addition to standard texts, we strongly recommend the Birth Control Handbook put out by Montreal Women's Liberation. (P.O. Box 1000, Station G, Montreal 130, P.Q., Canada.) There are films available through most public and school libraries. They are informative and can be valuable for comparative purposes. After viewing a film on the present, medically approved hospital abortion method (commonly called D and C), we checked into and found a better, more humane, and safer method being developed and used. This method is not to be confused with the aspiration method used today in many hospitals and used in conjuction with D and C's. We have found a more highly refined aspiration technique that is both simple and safe.

Our rap sessions have no rules governing participation. We believe that the modesty hangups for each of us fall in their own time. And they do fall as our consciousness is being raised. Age makes little difference once we get our goals in mind. Our group has an R.N. -- which was totally unplanned. She has been able to steer us into competent references. We also have a sympathetic physician with whom we confer. But no one lectures.

About 10 people seem to be the ideal number to participate. When our group has grown to as many as 15 we spinoff into the neighboring communities.

We feel that by far the most important aspect of our self-help clinic is in its political implications that women already have the right to control their own bodies. There is nothing to fear but ignorance. Get rid of that ignorance and you are doing it!

-The West Coast Sisters


By: Colleen Wilson

Visit our "Reclaiming Abortion" and "Speak Out" webpages!

While doing research about abortion, I must explain that abortion is always mentioned as just another means of birth control and therefore is always grouped with all other forms of birth control and intertwined with the sexual practices between the female and the male.

In the so-called primitive days when women and men were about the same size and strength and the female was as mobile and independent as the male, except when she was close to giving birth, there must have been great mystery for both sexes, as the male of the species could plainly see that the female had three added things going for her that he did not have.

First of all, at a certain age of a female would have menstrual period, and from that time on she could have children. This of course the male could not do, but there is evidence that he sure tried to imitate the menstrual process by a nasty operation called a subincision which was performed on the adolescent boy. A stone was placed inside an incision and allowed to grow closed, but on certain occasions this was irritated until it would bleed. An imitation of the female process that is still practiced in New Guinea.

Now of course if this operation was too painful or did not show the desired results, then no one was going to get by with it, so the menstrual cycle was made into something that was to be dreaded, and women during their cycles were considered unclean. All sorts of taboos were placed on the women, and any man that came near her. The cultural status of women was lowered on the basis of her biological performance.

Now the natural protection against unwanted pregnancy was, and still is, before and during the menstrual cycle and this is also the time of greatest sexual desires. When the taboos were put on our foremothers (the menstrual taboos are the oldest known taboos in the human family), the tide had turned for them as they lost not only their natural birth control, but also their time of greatest sexual desire.

The second link in the natural chain, that somehow became changed and made unnatural can best be stated by Mark Twain when he wrote in the 1890's: "The law of God, as quite plainly expressed in women's construction, is this: there shall be no limit put upon her interaction with the other sex sexually, at any time in her life. The law of God, as quite plainly expressed in man's construction, is this: During his entire life he shall be under inflexible limits and restrictions sexually. Man is competent from the age of 16 henceforward for 35 years, while his own grandmother is still as good as new. By the women's make she is out of service three days in the month and during part of her pregnancy. These are times of discomfort, often of suffering. For fair and just compensation she has the high privilege of unlimited activity the other days of her life. What becomes of this high privilege? Does she live in free enjoyment of it? NO. Nowhere in the whole world. She is robbed of it everywhere. Who does this? MAN. Man's statutes. Now you have a sample of man's "reasoning powers" as he calls them. He observed certain facts. That his procreative competency is limited to an average of 5000 times, while hers is a 150,000 times. Yet instead of fairly and honorably leaving the making of the laws to the person who has an overwhelming interest at stake in it, this immeasurable hog, who has nothing at stake worth considering makes the laws himself, and puts all these facts together and arrives at the astonishing conclusions: That the creator intended that women be restricted to one man. Or even more ridiculous, that the man should have a harem. This is just one of many such Biblical statutes that has been imported into the law books of the nations, where it continues its violations"

In order for some men to prevent the female from using the sexual desires that she was born with, many truly sadistic methods were invented, one being another nasty operation called infibulation. During this operation performed on young girls entering puberty, the clitoris and both labia were cure away and the vulva areas sewn almost closed. Only to be opened in adulthood to enable the husband to impregnate her and then sewn closed again. Open for childbirth and sewn up again. Here the jealousy and/or desire for power of the male went so far as to limit completely the female's desires and also her capacity for pregnancy and childbirth unless that male said differently. This operation is still being performed in parts of Egypt.

The third thing our foremothers had going for them that was also made into a burden was pregnancy and childbirth. Child-bearing in the ancient days and also today in the food-gathering cultures of South Africa and Australia was much easier, as a woman could have a baby and within an hour catch up with the rest of her tribe and behave as before, except for the added activites of nursing. But this has also been made into a handicapping situation and in the more complex societies the more complicated the process of birth has become, until only a few years ago it was common for an American woman to stay 10 days to 3 weeks in confinement after childbirth. Pregnancy is considered a precarious condition, and childbirth is surrounded with myths and mysteries and dangers that cause so many women to approach this period with great fear and anxiety.

The male has denied the advantages that women have by treating them as disadvantages and investing them with mysterious or dangerous properties. By making women objects of fear and some one to be avoided as unclean, they lowered the status of women on the basis of their physical performance. These physical advantages were first demoted to the status of cultural disadvantages and from then on there has always been a belief in the cultural and biological disadvantage of women.

By the time this had all taken place our foremothers were probably convinced that they were somehow lesser persons that their fathers, brothers, and mates. As the great robbery had been pretty well completed, these women of our past had nothing more going for them than extra unwanted pregnancies. But they had another thing going for them and that was their minds. They could think and because this could not be seen, it was harder for the male to try to take away. They were able to think and, like all human beings, they knew what was best for themselves. All the senses were working to let the mind know and make the judgment of decision. A woman knows better than any other person if she should or should not have a child. No matter what the reason against it, each woman knows when she should not have a child. And that's all that our foremothers really had going going for them back in the beginning of time and for thousands of years up until 100 short years ago. These marvelous women of the past practiced that one prerogative that they had left, birth control before the act and miscarriage or abortion after the act.

The Christian dogma came into conflict with Roman customs just when abortions were allowed. (Now this is where we start hearing the word ALLOWED.) What they (men) were going to allow women to do or not to do with their bodies. Even though there was a conflict the old abortion customs remained in effect until 313 A.D. In 314 A.D. St. Basil condemned all abortions, but the majority of theologians followed Aristotle's view that the so called soul developed in three stages -- the vegetable soul at conception, then a higher animal and soul and at last a rational soul.

The church, in accordance with that theory, generally punished abortion only if performed after the soul had become rational or 'animated'. This point also had been drawn from Aristotle and was set down at 40 days after conception for a male fetus and 80 days for a female. No one ever explained how fetal sex was to be determined or how a woman knew exactly which day she had conceived on. Did you notice again that the female came in second? Being that the female was such a subhuman person it only stood to reason that it would take 40 days longer for her to acquire that soul.

Over 5000 years ago in ancient China, women fired quicksilver all day in oil and then swallowed the potion. Or they swallowed 14 live tadpoles three days after menstruation. When these things did not work, then they had a recorded abortive technique that did work. Egyptian women in 1500 B.C. made a plug of crocodile dung mixed with a kind of paste, or prepared a tampon from lint soaked in juice, fermented from locust tips, or mixed honey with a natural sodium compound for a douche. These were used first as a contraceptive and then as an abortion solution.

The Greeks and ancient Romans made abortion the basis of a well-ordered population policy. An extensive literature on abortion techniques, ranging from the insertion of papyrus and dry sponges to the use of laurel and peppers was recorded. William Leaky, the historian stated, "The practice of abortion was one to which few people in antiquity attached any feelings of condemnation, and described it as 'almost universal'." Plato advised abortion for every woman after 40. Aristotle advised all forms of population control.

Now I don't want anybody to get the idea that our foremothers really owned their own bodies. Although the cultures usually cared less, in most of these societies the mate or husband had absolute control over the family. And if he said it was OK, then the woman could have the abortion. But if she did so without his divine approval, then he could have her severely punished or banished from the family. He also had the power to order an abortion performed on her against her will.

By the 6th century, Byzantine women were so desperate that they tied a tube that held cat liver to the left foot, in hopes that this would ward off pregnancy. In the 16th century, an Italian devised a linen sheath for use by the male. In the Middle Ages potions were prepared from the leaves of young willow trees, mixed with iron rust and potter's clay, the bark of a white poplar tree, and the kidney of a mule. A European folk remedy that was even used in this century was to place roasted walnuts inside the clothing. A woman placed the number of walnuts for the number of years she wished to remain barren. Our own grandmothers nursed each child for several years hoping this would keep them from becoming pregnant again. Each and all of these remedies were followed up by desperate hopes for miscarriage and finally abortion by any means.

For a short three-year period in 1588, Pope Sixtus V wiped out the 40-80 rules and declared excommunication for all abortion. This was a package deal, as he also made adultery a hanging offense in Rome. Anything connected with sexual practices was somehow considered a terrible sin, as he was out to cleanse the Renaissance church. The leading theologians of the period disputed his new rule and most Catholics seemed to ignore it. Three years later Pope Gregory XIV revoked the rule and returned to the 40 day practice. He said "that the hoped for effect had not occurred and had led to constant sacrilege." The Catholics affected had simply overlooked their excommunication status. The old 40 day rule lasted until 1869, 100 short years ago. This is when the NO abortion rule started in the church and within a few years every woman on the face of this earth discovered she had a Catholic uterus, as Catholic Church rules became for some strange reason state laws in many nations around the world, even in non-Catholic countries.

For the past 100 years the human race has been told that abortion is "against the laws of nature", but far from being natural law going back to the dawn of history or even back to early Christianity, the present state and church law is only 100 years old. In fact, abortion as just another form of birth control has been practiced from the beginning of time which makes it "natural law".

But in 1869 there was again a great robbery on our foremothers, this time for the last and only thing they had going for them. The right to own their own bodies. And this robbery was again a package deal, as contraception was beginning to be perfected and the birth control movement was on in France and Belgium. Within a few years after the slap at abortion, the Church waged war on contraceptives. There were two dominant attitudes concerning sex at that time. First, sex was completely evil. Second, intercourse was for the procreation of the race and only for that reason was it permitted. Not only was the female not supposed to enjoy the sex act (that's nothing new), but the male was told not to get excited about it, or he would be committing a sin also. Because it is physically impossible for the male to have sexual intercourse without being excited, it is amazing that we are all here. Or maybe our forefathers were not such religious beings after all.

In the United States the Puritans had inherited this dismal view of sex and no one seemed to have any regard for the person who had been keeping this race going. She was then finally demoted to nothing more than a baby-making machine. As the father of Puritanism, Martin Luther said, "If a woman grows weary and at last dies from child-bearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing, she's in there to do it." The type of victory won by this Puritan crusade in the U.S. is exemplified in the U.S. statute of 1873, which was aimed at abortion and contraception. In its title were the words, "Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use".

Now these laws have not stopped women from their natural desire to control their own systems; it has just made it much harder. At the turn of this century it was not hard to abort oneself or have another woman do it but it was hard work to get birth control information. In the past 30 years contraception methods have improved and have been fairly well accepted but the failure factor is still great and abortions are still desired, used, and necessary.

Presently, the federal government is cutting federal funding for abortion. This virtually makes abortion unattainable for poor women. At the same time, there has been an increase in federal spending for sterilization procedures as well as liberalized laws regarding sterilization over the last few years. These sterilization practices have been especially devastating for Third World women in the U.S. --- 20% of all Black women of child bearing age have been sterilized, 24% of Indian women, 22% of Chicana women, and 35% of Puerto Rican women. At The Association for Voluntary Sterilization Conference which was sponsored by Planned Parenthood in Syracuse, New York on September 17 and 18, 1977, there was much discussion of a new sterilization procedure called "mini-lap". This 15 minute procedure involves an incision directly below the belly-button using only a local anesthetic. This new procedure, which can be performed in a doctor's office, is being used largely on Third World women. This is because, according to physicians, TW women are "stronger" and can withstand more pain that white women.

Forced sterilization, either through financial or psychological coercion, or by simply performing the procedure without a woman's informed consent, represents women's ultimate loss of control of our reproductive rights. Now more than ever we must unite with all of our sisters so that we have control of our bodies, our lives, our futures.

Lader, Lawrence, Abortion, 1965, Bobb Merrill.
Phelan and Maginnis, Abortion Handbook, 1969 Contact Books.
Twain, Mark, Letters form the Earth, 1938.
Terrible Choice, International Conference on Abortion, 1967, Washington, D.C.
Osterman and Arnold, The Pill and Its Impact, Newsbook National Observer, 1967

Monday, November 1, 2010

Racism and the Women's Movement

By Carol Downer

Originally Published in Women's Health Movement Papers on July 1980

Please visit Self Help is Global in Women's Health in Women's Hands!

In the Spring of this year, the Feminist Women's Health Center in Los Angeles, along with many women's organizations in Los Angeles, were approached by the Los Angeles Women's Building to respond to a questionnaire on racism. Each questionnaire was to be the basis for an article in Spinning Off, the Women's Building newsletter. Their group had been having discussions about racism, and they wanted to raise the issue of racism and how women's organizations in the women's movement are dealing with it. The Feminist Women's Health Center was one of the many groups that had an interview, article, or statement in the April/May issue. The article, written by Carol Downer, Delores Nola, and Becky Chalker, follows:

One of the most glaring racist characteristics of the women's movement is that most women, like all Americans, are abysmally ignorant of world politics. Many of us, for example, do not comprehend the impact of a trend, exposed by the Peace movement during the Viet Nam War, for the U.S. government to support policies which promote the domination of Third World countries and their resources by U.S. based, global corporations.

In response to this oppressive trend, Third World nations have united in the U.S. and have demanded that they be allowed to become industrialized, instead of simply supplying raw materials to industrialized nations. The Iranian people, whose self-supporting economy and agriculture was destroyed by a flood of U.S. corporations and a massive military build-up, have used the only means available to them to end U.S. interference within their borders -- take over of the Embassy.

In the post-Viet Nam era, the rise of oil prices, the devaluation of the dollar, run-away inflation, high interest rates and unemployment are all the results of the decline of American imperialism.

The rise of the Third World in the last decade represents the best hope that we have seen in our lifetimes for world revolution and for the eradication of capitalism and imperialism and their attendant evils, racism, classism, sexism, homosexism and ageism. While Western white male rulers shake in their boots and scurry around trying to prop up their positions of domination, all women have the opportunity to unite to destroy those institutions which have kept them second class citizens. American women have to get rid of the idea that they have something to lose by the demise of capitalism.

This is why we at the Feminist Women's Health Centers have a commitment to fight racism by working directly on Third World struggles and by making efforts to attract feminists of color to our ranks. We work to achieve our stated goal of struggling against racism, our own and that of others, on a day to day basis. All people who work in our organization must subscribe to these goals. We have open hiring and specific policies concerning job assignment, work space and firing. In our group, women of color have responsible positions and participate in decision and policy making.

To give an example of what we think fighting racism is, in the last year and a half, the Feminist Women's Health Centers in California and on the East Coast, made a major commitment to support the Iranian people's struggle to rid themselves of U.S. imperialism. Because of our work, we were invited after the Embassy takeover, to be on a delegation to travel to Iran in December to support the Iranian revolution, to oppose U.S. military intervention, and to demand the return of the ex-Shah. What we found there made us determined to return home and expose the 25 years of torture and political repression that the United States government wholeheartedly supported.

Our commitment included, in addition to sending 2 staff members on the arduous trip to Tehran, major outlays of money for long distance phone calls press conferences, air travel, duplication of materials, and a national speaking tour. These expenses have resulted in full-time staff taking partial salaries for an extended period. Carol Downer's participations on the tour also resulted in her being jailed for several days, after her stay of sentence for the W.A.T.C.H. Inspection of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, was cancelled by Judge Charles McClure.

Various individuals and groups in the women's movement have bitterly attacked our trip as supporting anti-women governments, as wasting feminist resources and even as imperialistic, for us to impose our standards on Third World people. We regard these criticisms as absurd and as rationalizations to avoid taking an unpopular stand to support the determination to Iranian people to govern their own lives, by substituting, instead, either merely giving money, medicine, and clothing to Third World revolutionary struggles, or even worse, regarding women's individual career advancement as an exemplary feminist goal.

There is a women's movement and there is a feminist women's movement and the distinction is critical. Movement superstars like Betty Friedan, who rubbed elbows with the Shah of Iran in 1975 and bought the line that he had liberated women in Iran, and that the Empress Farah was somehow a "feminist," is an upper-class woman who is making her fame off the conservative, middle-class women's movement without offering anything of substance in return. Germaine Greer, a priviledged academic, who also traveled to Iran with Friedan, is another star who has gained fame, or at least notoriety, without returning anything useful. We need to banish these figureheads so that all women can struggle to know what true feminism is.

There is a feminist women's movement which has a global perspective with the specific goal, not of trying just to create a comfortable women's community, but of trying to change the conditions in the lives of all people.

We as feminists feel that white women have the right to fight for their liberation against their own oppression, but you can't fight your own oppression without fighting against other peoples as well. Our struggles against oppression are inseparable.

There are many reasons that women of color are not in the women's movement in large numbers: racism from within, pressure from without from their male peers, and because of divisive forces from the government and media. Many factors which are keeping women of color from uniting are not white women's fault, they are the fault primarily of the white patriarchy. Regardless, if the feminist movement does not come to grips with these barriers, and if we do not get women of color involved in some way, then we will become a quaint artifact of the 1970's and irrelevant.

However, the feminist movement shouldn't be judged too harshly, because we do not have all the power to control our lives. We are living a right-wing era, therefore, the women's movement is not broad-based. We've lost the benefits of large numbers of women doing consciousness raising. The movement has been side-tracked into single issues. We must be multi-issues. We can't just be pro-ERA or pro-women's art, or just anti-rape. Single-issue approaches ignore the broad political context of our oppression and racism flourishes in them.

Women of color and white women can fight together for common goals, but we can't ask women of color to abandon their brothers and their cause. For example, you can't forget the issue of police brutality against black men in this city. Separatism, or women of color working within their own organizations, but ultimately, we do have the same interests, we do have the same goals, and we must fight side by side.

Vicious racism, such as that found in most schools, factories and businesses in the U.S. does not flourish in the women's movement, but more subtle racism certainly is a problem, and will continue to be so, as long as the society is not fundamentally changed. We must fight against it in our every day relationships among each other, but even more importantly, we must recognize the roots of racism and work as an organization to attack its social and economic causes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Menstrual Extraction

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Originally Published in Women's Health Movement Paper, May 1981

By Lorraine Rothman

Menstrual Extraction is a procedure developed by the Los Angeles Self Help Clinic women in 1971 which gently removes the contents of the uterus by suction on or about the first day of menstruation. It is not a medical procedure performed by a physician as a service to women who request an abortion, and it is not a do-it-yourself abortion technique. Menstrual extraction is a home health care procedure developed by Self Help Clinic women who saw its potential for regaining control over our reproductive lives.

Early History

The development of menstrual extraction resulted from our participation as feminists in the national abortion reform movement. We found that we were supporting actions that did not help women as much as they helped particular individuals. We promoted an illegal abortion clinic in Los Angeles opened by Dr. John Gwynn in 1970. After the clinic was raided in 1970, we picketed the courthouse for the two men and three women who had been arrested. The publicity about the clinic focussed on the charisma and the heroism of the men, rather than on the issue of a women's right to abortion.
Early in 1971 our group decided to learn to do abortions and to open an underground, woman-controlled abortion clinic. We had observed less traumatic methods such as suction using a small diameter plastic cannula, and we saw that this method was not only more gentle and safe, but it could be learned by laypersons.
We also recognized that it was important to be more informed about each procedure that is performed on a woman's body so that we could have a better basis for referring women to safe, competent health care facilities.

We abandoned the plan for an underground abortion clinic, however, because in the fall of 1971, hospitals in Los Angeles were expanding their abortion programs, liberally interpreting the 1967 Therapeutic Abortion Act.

Menstrual Extraction Concept

We saw the possibilities of using the non-traumatic method for reasons other than early abortion. We had practiced on one another during our menstrual periods and we learned that introducing a four millimeter cannula into the os of the cervix caused very little pain so that it was unnecessary to use any anesthetic. We learned that simple sterile techniques were sufficient, since there was no breaking of the skin or scrapping of tissue. We also learned that it was possible to extract the major portion, or all, of the typical menstrual period. This usually brought immediate cessation of the cramps and other uncomfortable menstrual symptoms. We decided to name the procedure menstrual extraction.

Materials and Methods

It was evident that women did not have equipment to do menstrual extraction, nor any way to get and safely use what was available. Vacuum aspirators are expensive, large and cumbersome, and produce much more vacuum than is necessary. We had practiced with a portable device used by Harvey Karman, and were impressed with its simplicity (the plastic cannula attached directly to a plastic syringe). We found it difficult to manipulate, however, and it had the potential to accidently reverse the suction, thus allowing menstrual fluid and possibly air into the uterus. We were concerned about the potential complications that might result from reversing the suction. As a member of the Los Angeles Self Help Clinic, I saw that we needed a simple and inexpensively-made device, which had built-in safety features. I invented the Del-Em to suit the group's needs. Vacuum is created in a small bottle which is attached to a small cannula that is inserted into the cervical os. An automatic valve attachment controls the direction of the air flow and locks in the pressure, eliminating any possibility of pushing menstrual fluid or air back into the uterus.

The Del-Em's safety features are particularly important because of the constraints under which we operate. Opportunities to learn the procedure are dependent on a member of the group having her menstrual period. In spreading the technology to other communities, we are limited by the short time in which we can visit others or in which other women can visit us.
Menstrual extraction occurs either at the woman's home or at the group's meeting place. A woman will usually choose to have an extraction on or about the first day her period is expected. However, some women have extractions as much as two weeks beyond the expected date of menstruation.

Three women are the key people involved with extractions: the woman who is to have the extraction (she sometimes controls the vacuum pressure), a woman who observes the equipment for proper functioning, and a woman who inserts and moves the cannula. At times, other group members participate in order to learn the procedure.

After the woman who is to have the extraction places herself comfortably on a table or bed, other women in the group perform a pelvic examination to determine the size, location, and characteristics of the woman's pelvic organs. Certain signs are watched for, such as advanced pregnancy, infection, or other problems. Because the group has frequent opportunities at regular meetings to become familiar with one another, a basis for comparison has been established so that any contra-indications are more easily recognized.

The woman inserts her own speculum, examines her own cervix and talks with the group; has others in the group look at her cervix; and then decides whether or not she wants to have the extraction. She talks about her past experiences and purposes for extracting her period, such as relief of menstrual pain. If she suspects she is pregnant, she will discuss her subjective signs and these signs will be evaluated in light of her previous experiences with pregnancies, amount and frequency of exposure to sperm, and her fertility at the time of exposure.

The Del-Em consists of a plastic 50-cubic-centimeter syringe that has a valve on the end. The valve prevents air from being injected into the uterus. The syringe is pumped until it becomes difficult to pull the plunger. Air is removed from the bottle in this way creating a vacuum. The cannula is carefully inserted through the undilated cervical os. Often, the inner cervical muscle can be felt against the cannula. If the slender flexible cannula bends, forceps can be attached to the middle of the cannula giving it more stability. Sometimes a stabilizer is attached to the cervix so that the uterus does not move with the movement of the cannula.

The woman who is having the extraction will tell the other women when she feels the cannula touching the back wall of her uterus. She will continue to relate what she is experiencing as the cannula is moved back and forth making sure, however, that it remains fully inserted. The menstrual material appears within the cannula after a short time.

The cannula is moved within the uterus until either no more menstrual material comes out or the woman having the extraction says she wants to stop. The tubing attached to the cannula is clamped off to avoid any unnecessary discomfort of suction as the cannula is removed through the cervical canal.


Most women who do menstrual extraction do not experience excessive discomfort. Women experience different degrees of cramping during the extraction. Sometimes, women can feel strong cramping when the cannula is inserted through the cervical canal. Most women feel strong cramping at the end of the extraction as the uterus contracts. Menstrual extraction discomfort or pain from abortions that are done by electrically powered suction machines.
Daily phone contact is the common follow-up method until the group meets again. Infections, which in our experience have been rare, are recognized by a rise in temperature to 100.5 F. or more for 8 or more hours. Pain or cramping in the lower abdomen may be felt as well. It is important that if an infection occurs, the woman receives antibiotic treatment.

Sometimes a woman may have strong cramping in the couple of days following the extraction and pass clots or retained tissue. We have found that passing of the clots or tissue can be aided by gently messaging or pressing the lower abdomen and uterus.

If the woman believes she may have been pregnant, the group will pour the uterine contents into a shallow pan looking for chorionic villi*. They are yellowish with branch-like structures and are quite different from menstrual fluid. If there were no signs of a pregnancy, the extracted material will be studied in order to better understand the composition of menstrual fluid.
We are often asked about complications, such as uterine perforations, hemorrhage, infection, retained tissue, cervical incompetence, uterine prolapse and air embolism. These questions arise out of confusion of menstrual extraction with abortion techniques performed by physicians. People incorrectly assume that we use dilators, large rigid cannulas and curettes.

Most women who have access to legal, reasonably priced abortions have chosen to do menstrual extraction only if they were part of an on-going group and had done menstrual extraction previously, have missed their periods by a few days, and, because of their familiarity and knowledge, were reasonably sure that no contradictions existed.

Lorraine Rothman, an activist in the women's health movement, is currently a member of a book-writing team at the Feminist Women's Health Center in Los Angeles which is writing a self-help book. As a member of the first self-help clinic organized by Carol Downer in 1971, she invented and patented the Del-Em menstrual extraction kit.

*Webster's defines these as "highly vascular embryonic" membranes that are associated with "the formation of the placenta." (Webster's Third World International Dictionary, G. and C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1966)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What is the Women's Health Movement?

Originally Published in Women's Health Movement Paper, July 1980

The Women's Health Movement is a movement of women who are working on women's health issues so that women's lives will be improved by having more control over their bodies. Much of the work of the women's health movement has been to improve the ability of women to get health care within the health care system, to develop alternatives to the traditional health care system, and to fight unsafe medical practices which are harming women all over the world. Many women's health groups are directly confronting pharmaceutical companies which manufacture dangerous experimental drugs, hospitals for dangerous childbirth practices, sterilization abuse and unnecessary surgery. Other women's health groups have launched suits to get damages for women who have had health injuries from dangerous medical practices (such as DES, or Dalkon Shields).

The Self-Help Clinic is another major part of the womens health movement. In self-help groups women have learned much about the normal functioning of our bodies and how to control our health care, through self-examination. Self-help groups have focused on safe birth control methods, treating vaginal infections, lesbian health care, menopause, and early pregnancy detection. Women involved in self-help clinics are working in the spirit of women regaining control over their own lives.

Women-controlled clinic are another part of the women's health movement. These clinics offer a real alternative to women from the medical system. These women-controlled clinics offer many services, ranging from abortions, to pregnancy screening, vaginal infection clinics, VD screening, and some women health care clinics have home birth projects and/or lesbian health care clinics.

Women's support groups have also emerged on issues such as breast surgery, C-sections, rape, DES Daughters.