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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December Newsletter: Hyde Amendment, OC NWPC Report, and Next Meeting
Women's Health in Women's Hands
December Newsletter

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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Newsletter Features:

  • Orange County National Women’s Political Caucus Gathering/Presentation (Report by Carol Downer)
  • UNFINISHED BATTLE DISCUSSION GROUP in Los Angeles, CA (Note: Meeting postponed til January 11, 2014
  • Monday, December 9, 2013

    Report on "Emergency Strategy Meeting to Preserve Abortion"

    Report on "Emergency Strategy Meeting to Preserve Abortion"

    By Carol Downer

    The meeting was a success. Four of us, all veteran abortion right activists, introduced our work to each other, exchanged experiences and information and discussed a wide array of tactics.  We all agreed that the future of legal abortion has never been more in peril.  We also agreed that while the pro-choice legal team around the country are doing a great job, now is the time for women and women’s rights supporters to swell the ranks of the existing abortion rights organizations and a grass-roots movement needs to arise if we’re going to win. 

    We set a date and time for the next meeting of like-minded people.  For now, this meeting will be called the Unfinished Battle Discussion Group, referring to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision at a time when the size of the abortion rights movement was exploding in size and picking up steam.  Roe v. Wade pulled the rug out from under this movement; we shifted our efforts into opening clinics and working on other women’s issues.

    For now, the next meeting will be at the same place on Saturday, December 14, at 2:00pm.  See Facebook Event Page.

    We decided that since the need to get organized is urgent, the ongoing-meetings will take place every two weeks. However, members do not need to come to each meeting.  We will keep everyone posted on the group’s progress.

    Topics of Discussion and Reports
    1. The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride Report of their month-long (July and August 2013) tour through 15 states nearly 10,000 miles, 2 dozen people caravanned, and hundreds rallied.  They found the clinics under siege.  They concluded that a new pro-reproductive rights offensive is needed that goes beyond using the electoral system to bring change.  This 55 page, bound report is available for $10.00 or read online at  
    2. A report of the rally held at Hogue Hospital in Newport Beach held to protest the stopping of abortion procedures when Covenant, a Catholic corporation, bought it.  We discussed doctor’s and hospital’s attitude toward doing abortion procedures, and we learned that the doctors at the rally are outraged that someone has come between them and their patients. 
    3.  I shared the rough draft of the article I am writing, “ARISE, YE MASSES OF WOMEN; OUR CLINICS ARE BEING SHUT DOWN! THIS IS THE TIME TO FINISH THE FIGHT THAT WE STARTED 45 YEARS AGO!”  I reminded people that the reason that abortions are done in clinics is because the existing medical establishment refused to do them.  One suggestion I had was that we could start our own hospital.
    4. Feedback on this article from veteran clinic administrators who have picketers every clinic day, but strong community support is that although the legal strategy is not working, the problem is not the doctors; we should choose strategies which focus on the anti’s and their effect.  Their experience is that hospitals and medical societies have decided to coexist with the abortion clinics in their community.
    5.  We have a beginning list of websites of over 50 pro-choice organizations.  If you would like this list, or the hyperlinks for current articles about the court cases challenging various states’ new anti-abortion laws, you can e-mail us at and we will e-mail it to you.
    NOTE: If you know of a calendar showing upcoming dates of hearings or other events around the many court cases throughout the country, please let us know how to access it.


    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 2PM
    2250 Fair Park Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90041
    Text message: 323 547 4119

    Details: Open bi-weekly meetings to discuss news, strategy, and tactics. RSVP via text message if you’re coming. Or online at


    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    Emergency Strategy Meeting to Preserve Abortion

    to Discuss Texas Closing Down 1/3 of Abortion Providers and What to do about it
    When: Saturday, November 30, 2013
    Where: 2250 Fair Park Avenue, 
    Los Angeles, CA 90041
    Time: 2:00pm

    for more information text message 323-547-4119

    1. Introductions
    2. Report on Current situation - Law and discussion of what that means.
    3. Suggestions and Ideas for things that can be done by the group or what other groups should do.
    4. Next meeting: when, where and with whom.

    Additional questions:
    1. Do we think that women can organize themselves and get together and form a mass movement?
    2. Evaluate these different approaches: pushing for legislation, public education, direct-action (menstrual extraction and civil disobedience), etc.

    Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    MANA 2013 "Birthing Social Change" REPORT

    Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) 
    2013 Conference "Birthing Social Change" Report

    by Carol Downer

    BACKGROUND:  I have been attending meetings and conferences of midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, lactation counselors and birth activists since 2010 to prepare myself to add Childbirth and Lactation pages to my website,  I attended the National Conference of MANA in Portland, OR to meet a cross-section of midwives from a large geographic area.

    I attended as a vendor, because I am able to have many face-to-face discussions with conference attendees, display our books and literature and insert a pro-choice presence. 

    SUMMARY: 300-400 persons attended, nearly all women.  MANA’s members are primarily Certified Professional Midwives (most were either grandfathered in through their lay midwife experience or educated at midwifery school and certified by NARM (North American Registry of Midwives), and a few Nurse-Midwives.  Also attending were doulas, student midwives, and a few birth writers (such as Suzanne Arms and Roanna Rosewood) and birth activists, such as Hermine Hayes-Klein and myself.

    MANA, which is a predominantly white organization, was accused of racism by Midwives of Color who resigned as a group last year.  MANA seems to be grappling with its problems of racism.  The theme of the conference was “Birthing Social Change”.  There were several plenary sessions, with open-mike discussion, plus several workshops dealing with how the MANA board and members can become less racist in the board’s decision-making process.  Women of Color headed up several workshops and there was a Women of Color reception, organized and put on by International Center for Traditional Childbirth (ICTC).  All were invited to attend. 

    Additionally, MANA seems to be open to the suggestions of Hermine Hayes-Klein and Roanna Rosewood which are to shift from the paradigm of “doctor versus midwives” resulting from the persecution of midwives and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the practice of midwifery to the paradigm of a “woman’s human right to choose her birth setting and attendant”.  The existence of an independent body of midwives promotes birthing mothers’ human rights because it makes home birth with a midwife accessible to women.

    In the last couple of months a controversy arose between the Alliance for Ethical Midwifery Training (seems to include many Women of Color) and Midwife International, Inc (which seems to consist mainly of Sara Kraft).  MI contracted with several birth centers in resource-poor third world countries to send American Student Midwifes to train.  Charges of fraud and misuse of funding by MI arose.  The only indirect acknowledgement of this dispute at the MANA Conference were the workshops: Midwifery, Colonialism, and Settler Identity: Deconstructing Colonial Norms in Modern Midwifery and Ethical Engagement and Midwifery Volunteerism which dealt with the problem in sending student midwives to train in foreign settings.  If there were any other substantial discussions going on, on this subject I was not part of them.  If you’re interested in hearing more about this controversy; contact me and I’ll supply you with the relevant websites.

    Oregon leads the U.S. in home births and Portland is the capitol. (Dr Eugene Declercq gave presentation with statistics on childbirth.)

    I was able to talk to many women.  There was great interest in the Del’em, both as a tool for midwifery practice and for women to do together.  A New View of a Woman’s Body is a beloved book.  Janna Slack’s article of full-spectrum doulas and the book Radical Doula, were popular (I didn’t sell anything at my table).  The idea of a Pro-Woman Agenda resonated very well with those who came up to the table.  Several expressed the intent to “stop the silence” about abortion rights.  I felt no hostility against me or my message from anyone.

    WORKSHOPS: Workshops on colonial behavior by American midwives toward Indigenous American women and in 3rd world environments; and how and why to stop it. 
    • Midwifery, Colonialism, and Settler Identity: Deconstructing Colonial Norms in Modern Midwifery
      by Wicanhpi Iyotan Win Autumn Cavender-Wilson BA 
    The Midwifery tradition in the Americas is thousands of years old, but the history of white midwifery on these continents has been built as consequence of the genocide of Indigenous peoples, often exploiting the traditional knowledge that existed prior.  Modern midwifery practice has inherited the legacy of racism, privilege and exploitation inherent in the colonial project. 
      This workshop was directed at white midwives (or non-Indians).  The message was: unless they want to perpetuate the colonial system they should stop adopting some of the Indian culture.  Instead of integrating; they should look back to their own culture (in Europe).  For example: sweat lodges, blessing ways, etc. are a rip-off of the Indian people (very colonialist behavior).  And, if they wanted to; they should exhibit cultural competence (should embrace settler identity).  They should not be guilty.  They should actively work to assist in the dismantling of the colonial state.

      An audio CD of this excellent presentation can be ordered.  Also, a 4-page handout given out at the presentation gives a good place to start in your own thinking.  If you want a copy, please contact me.
      • Ethical Engagement and Midwifery Volunteerism
        by Bonnie Ruder CPM, MPH, MA
      In recent years there has been enormous growth in international midwifery volunteerism and service-learning programs in low-income settings.  A controversy has arisen and many are saying that: it is imperative that midwives are able to differentiate between ethical engagement and less responsible/dangerous development.  The politics of global health organizations shaping birth choices worldwide- often based on the exportation of U.S.-style obstetrics, with its dismal maternal and infant mortality outcomes.  (Order audio CD)
       I did not attend this workshop.

      Roanna Rosewood: Her Book and Her Talk
      Roanna Rosewood is the author of Cut, Stapled, & Mended – When One Woman Reclaimed Her Body and Gave Birth on Her Own Terms After Cesarean.  An excellent read for any women whether pregnant or not; or whether she ever intends to have a baby.  Very good facts and well written.

      Roanna submitted her paper on change – very lively, well-organized speaker (she held a mic and walked back and forth across the stage – paused to emphasize various points and point out things on the screen).  Talked about needing a new paradigm; a perspective in which a woman’s right is uppermost.  A woman needs support to achieve whatever birth she wants if at all possible.
      Hermine Hayes-Klein: Organization - Human Rights in Childbirth (HRiC)
      Hermine organized a conference in Europe last year about HRiC; she left for Europe after MANA for the 2nd Annual Conference Birth Rights in the European Union: Mobilizing Change.  The situation in Europe is changing – midwifery is under attack.  She gave a one hour presentation at MANA which was carefully listened to and well received.  She and Roanna are working together to establish HRiC.
      Suzanne Arms: Her Vision and Her Books
      Suzanne Arms has a vision of how gentle birth can change society.  She founded Birthing The Future (a 501c3 Colorado non-profit and International NGO)

      Since 1970, birth and the well being of women and babies has been her passion and her focus.  She is a practical visionary, educator, renowned speaker, and author-photojournalist of 7 acclaimed books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and adoption.  Immaculate Deception was named a New York Times Best Book of the Year.  Suzanne co-founded one of the first freestanding Birth Centers in the USA, and the world’s first resource center for pregnancy, birth and early parenting.  She’s co-producer-director of the public television special: Birth

      Her Philosophy (as stated on her brochure):
      The mother-baby bond literally shapes the nature of society.  Modern Science and Ancient Wisdom both show us that…Every mother-baby pair is one system…resilient yet also very vulnerable. 

      The mother-baby bond, from conception to toddler-hood, is crucial and rooted in our biochemistry.

      The experiences they have shape their lifelong brain and emotional patterns.  Health or illness, happiness or depression is the result.  Things could be so much better.

      We can prevent most of these problems!


      Tuesday, October 8, 2013

      Pill Popular with Slate's Beyerstein but Feminists Have Doubts

      By Carol Downer

      The women’s health movement has had a healthy skepticism about all the invasive methods of birth control developed in the last half century--IUD’s and various type of pills.  Women stormed the Pill hearings in 1970 because they saw that no women were participating in the research or the government approval process, and they were leery of women taking a powerful drug - it stops the reproductive machine in its tracks - to control fertility.  Safe, effective methods of birth control existed that women had used in certain societies for many decades.

      Lindsay Beyerstein, in her review of Holly Grigg-Spall’s “Sweetening The Pill” seems unaware of our protests, including Barbara Seaman’s explosive work, “The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill”.  Our efforts, mostly through the National Women’s Health Network, have continued over the years, forcing the drug companies to improve their inserts and to lower dosages, so that some of the more catastrophic complications that showed up right away have been substantially lowered.  Still, today, no women’s health advocate will dismiss Holly Grigg-Spall’s questions about the way that the Pill has been marketed, the way it’s been pushed by population control organizations in their clinics and the implications of millions of women taking a pill that may change their emotional hard-wiring.  Furthermore, the net social result of millions of women walking around having drug-induced feelings of sadness and depression is unfathomable.

      Feminist health activists’ lack of enthusiasm about the Pill has continued, but women have voted with their feet.  They’ve embraced the Pill.  Even the harshest critics of the Pill, the Feminist Women’s Health Centers, have given out the Pill freely since they opened their doors in 1973 because women want it.  The National Women’s Health Network focuses its efforts on making the Pill as safe as possible, not on restricting its distribution.  Regarding screening out women with high risk of complication, we say, “There’s no woman sick enough to justify keeping her from taking the Pill; there’s no woman healthy enough to protect her from suffering severe side effects of the Pill.”  We know the realities of our lives, and we respect the calculations any woman makes when she determines what birth control method she will use.  After we’ve made sure she has the most up-to-date information available, we fight for her right to choose whatever method she thinks best.

      We know, from running our women’s clinics, that an inordinate number of women are taking anti-depressants.  No one is really doing the kind of research that would give us answers as to what is causing that widespread experience of depression.

      So, why does Slate, a progressive on-line magazine not pay respectful attention to a serious book which questions the safety of a pill being taken by millions of women at a time when the research into the actions of hormones in our body are at an infant stage?  Aren’t we progressives worried about government approval of routine genetic modification of the public’s food supply. (Oh, I forgot. The government regulators that Beyerstein places her trust in did approve GMO, didn’t they?)

      Does Grigg-Spall’s book not merit respectful review because it calls into question the popular myth of the benefits of the Pill?  Lindsay Beyerstein claims, “The pill ushered in a new era of educational and professional attainment for women.  As a discreet, highly-effective, and fully female-controlled form of birth control, the pill allowed women to plan their families, space their births, and even delay childbearing long enough to establish themselves in careers.”

      This statement reads like the drug company’s promotional ad.  It’s misleading.  When comparing the Pill with non-invasive methods of birth control, they’re about equal in effectiveness when used properly, and about equal when not used properly!  Running abortion clinics, we find that about as many women become pregnant taking the Pill as using other methods especially if one takes into consideration the oft-occurring situation where a woman suffers a side-effect of the Pill which causes her to quit and before she can institute a new method, she’s pregnant!

      She says it’s wonderful that the Pill is a female-controlled form of birth control.  When I asked Dr. Hugh Davis, inventor of an IUD, why they hadn’t tried a birth control pill on men, his answer was, “We couldn’t get the (reproductive) tracts.”  Even if most women envision themselves as having a career, isn’t the real feminist battle to change society so that having a baby is not a career-derailing event?

      Or is Grigg-Spall dismissed because perhaps she thinks that today’s woman is not really that thrilled to drop her children off at a day care center so that she can plug through a day that’s as dreary as their father’s?  Or maybe Beyerstein is unaware of the science of demography, or the machinations of industrialists, or the schemes of social planners who are funded by elite foundations?  She should read Betty Friedan who spent two years looking at the files of public relations firms and interviewed the manufacturers who hired them to discover how much the “Feminine Mystique” was created by the post World-War II media to convince American women to stay home and buy more household furnishings and appliances to support “patriarchal capitalism”.  Oh, where is Betty when we need her!

      My favorite explanation is that Beyerstein’s intemperate review comes from her fear that Grigg-Spall wants to make women, including herself, revel in her bodily procreative functions, thus making her into an incubator.  (Beyerstein makes a gratuitous side swipe against women who want to breast feed or not have epidurals.)  I don’t get that implication.  I believe that Grigg-Spall is sharing her concern that the social pressures and inequality of opportunity that women have that leads them to take the Pill is resulting in their enduring years of feeling sub-par.  She is impressing the reader with the enormity of the monkey wrench that the Pill is throwing into the functioning of our bodies.

      Beyerstein dismisses Grigg-Spall’s experiences as irrelevant, and insists that only scientific studies, (note: funded by the manufacturers), are to be trusted.  Well, the second wave of feminism was founded on the rock of “the personal is political”.  It was when we sat in a circle and shared our individual stories that we realized our position in the whole scheme of things.  I do not think that Grigg-Spall has “proven” that the Pill is creating generations of Stepford Wives, but I wish that there was some research designed to find out what’s going on with women today who sometimes seem to lose their revolutionary zeal.   Taking a hormone-like drug that makes one feel blue may not be the whole explanation, but it deserves looking into.

      Lastly, is it inaccurate for Grigg-Spall to say that the Pill is equivalent to castration?  Well, no one would deny that it is temporarily castrating, that is, when a woman is taking the Pill, her gonads are not working.  But, over a period of years, the Pill can permanently stop the ovary from ovulating.  Now, that’s castration.  Maybe that doesn’t bother some people.  But, remember, hormones, which are manufactured in the ovary circulate through the blood and go into each and every cell of our body.  These incredibly tiny molecules (about which we know appallingly little) cause changes in each cell, different depending on the function of the cell.  These changes are poorly understood and new ones are being discovered every day. 

      I would hope that Slate finds another reviewer who understands that birth control and abortion are hotly-debated topics that are hotly debated global population policy forum.  A woman’s decision regarding her sexuality and reproduction are private decisions, however a battle rages between the camp which wants to engineer women’s choices such that they choose to have fewer children, the camp which wants to engineer those choices in the direction of fewer children, and the women’s health movement which is working to change society so that women can have true choice, because society would provide support for any child they would have.  Without that perspective, Slate finds itself in the company of the first camp.

      Monday, September 9, 2013

      Response to Carol Downer's "Margaret Sanger Award"

      Women's Health in Women's Hands received the following comment on its Facebook page.  It was a response to an announcement of Carol Downer's "Margaret Sanger Award" (awarded by the Veteran Feminists of America).  
      You must be so proud..."We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." -Margaret Sanger 
      Here is Carol Downer's response:
      Yes, I am so proud to be getting the Margaret Sanger award, because I know, from extensive reading about Margaret Sanger’s lifelong work to put birth control in the hands of all women, that she was not a bigot and she certainly did not harbor any genocidal tendencies. She did, however, make alliances with those wealthy elites who seek to control population, especially those of people of color, to deal with the dangers of overpopulation, rather than give up their prerogatives. She did make mistakes, but she would not have countenanced anything that would “exterminate the Negro population”, a phrase she was clearly using to mock intemperate accusations that she was anticipating.

      I know that she worked tirelessly to urge women of all nationalities, cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups, to use birth control to limit their families. I read the quote that you rely on to show her genocidal tendencies to in fact show her awareness of not only the genocidal implications of use of birth control to wipe out undesirable populations, but also her awareness that those who oppose birth control for nationalistic or religious reasons often yell “racism” to cover their own pro-natalist motivations. She says “we don’t want the word to get out”, not “we don’t want the word to go out”.

      If you knew more about Margaret Sanger, you would know that she was a fiery socialist from a working-class background, and her earliest work focused especially on poor people, mostly white working-class women. When wealthy white women took over her organization, directing it in much more conservative direction, she abandoned her grassroots approach. She re-married a very wealthy man, Noah Slee, the inventor of 3-in-1 oil which put her on par with them.

      The reason that I continue to admire Margaret, even though she was closely associated with Planned Parenthood, which has a spotty record on forcing birth control on vulnerable populations, and even though she and her very wealthy associate, Katherine McCormick, were the prime movers in the development of the birth control pill, is that I know that she always stuck up for the right of a woman to control her own body--that was her bottom line.

      Furthermore, and this is the most important reason that I admire her despite her compromises and mistakes in choice of allies is that I see the leaders in the women’s movement, and other progressive movements, making the same mistakes today--and this includes women of color and the movement that challenges gender stereotypes. They accept funding from the same elites that Margaret did, telling themselves that they can take their money without accepting their influence, and they seem less aware than Margaret was about the political price they are paying for this easy money. I respect and admire these groups as well, despite the mistakes that I believe they are currently making.

      I recommend that you educate yourself about the field of population control and the propaganda wars being fought on both sides, those that want to limit population growth and those that want to increase it. Whoever put out that incendiary quote, completely out of the context, had a motive, and I can guarantee you that it was not to promote the rights of people of color or the rights of women.

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      Wednesday, August 28, 2013


      Book Description: Millions of healthy women take a powerful medication every day from their mid-teens to menopause - the Pill - but few know how this drug works or the potential side effects. Contrary to cultural myth, the birth control pill impacts on every organ and function of the body, and yet most women do not even think of it as a drug. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, panic attacks - just a few of the effects of the Pill on half of the over 80% of women who pop these tablets during their lifetimes.

      When the Pill was released, it was thought that women would not submit to taking a medication each day when they were not sick. Now the Pill is making women sick.

      However, there are a growing number of women looking for non-hormonal alternatives for preventing pregnancy. In a bid to spark a backlash against hormonal contraceptives, this book asks: Why can't we criticize the Pill?

      Carol Downer's endorsement: "We discovered in the '70s that the personal is political. Holly Grigg-Spall starts with her and other women's personal experiences with the Pill, then thoughtfully and thoroughly considers it scientifically, medically and philosophically to discover the political truth of the Pill. She shares strategies for finding new ways to control our fertility while regaining control of our destiny. Grigg-Spall's careful study on the Pill's effect on women's health is long, long overdue. We are so busy fighting to keep hormonal birth control available that we don't want to question what it is doing to our health and our lives. After reading this book, we can never see the Pill in the same way again."

      Veteran Feminists of America - 20th Anniversary Celebration - Conference & Gala Awards Dinner

      Saturday, September 7, 2013
      Sheraton Universal Hotel, Los Angeles, California

      Note: Carol Downer receiving the Margaret Sanger Award for Champion of Women's Sexual & Reproductive Liberation

      Wednesday, July 24, 2013

      Midwives Alliance of North America 2013


      By Carol Downer

      I am attending the MANA conference this October 24-27 in Portland, Oregon.  I will be setting up an exhibit table, distributing flyers, displaying our books, selling speculums and talking to conference attendees.  I will have a display that draws attention to the main issues in women’s reproductive and sexual health and graphically shows that they are interrelated and inseparable from one another.

      MANA is expecting between 300-500 conference attendees comprised of midwives, nurses, physicians, childbirth educators, doulas, parents, midwifery students, and childbirth advocates.  I hope that 300-400 attendees will pass by my booth and see the display which features an array of photos of women in childbirth, women having abortions, birth control methods, nursing babies and our books “A New View of a Woman’s Body” to create the image of the interrelatedness of these events in women’s lives.  I hope to to be able to have a meaningful interaction with at least one hundred people, and that many more will take one or more pamphlets or flyers to look at later.  

      I hope to get the conversation going around the need for pro-choice feminists to embrace the cause of natural childbirth and nursing and the corresponding need for midwives, doulas and other birth workers to wholeheartedly support women’s rights to sex education, birth control and abortion.

      I also hope to learn more about the extent and the nature of the persecution of midwives.

      Tuesday, July 16, 2013

      Verdict in Zimmerman case “This is what racism looks like”

      By Carol Downer

      The verdict in the Zimmerman case stunned me.  I expected them to bring in at least a verdict of manslaughter.  What happened in the minds of those jurors?

      How could they view the tragic outcome of George Zimmerman’s benighted quest for “law and order” as excusable? 

      And, how could I, who is generally pro-defendant, want a guilty verdict if there was a reasonable doubt as to Zimmerman’s guilt?

      Answer: Given that Zimmerman, had invested himself with the authority to accost a young man walking in his own neighborhood and then used a gun to extricate himself from the mess he had created, there could be no reasonable doubt that his actions, and his alone, brought about the tragic outcome.  Therefore, Zimmerman is guilty.

      And, how could I, an attorney who respects the jury system, reject the jury’s decision as illegitimate?

      Answer: For those 6 people, presumably ordinary individuals with good will and ordinary intelligence, to place any responsibility whatsoever for his own death on Trayvon Martin, they showed deep-seated disrespect for his rights to be walking down the street free from molestation by strangers, especially armed strangers with no official authority.  So, the jury process failed.  I don’t accept their verdict.

      Maybe they would disrespect anyone’s rights, including their own.  Flordians may be so cowed by authority that they side with the more powerful, no matter who they are or what they do.

      More likely, they just don’t value the rights of a young black man. They don’t even seem to recognize that they lack of respect for Trayvon’s rights.  In other words, they’re racist, so their verdict was unjust.


       To Trayvon’s family and friends: My deepest condolences. 
      Justice for Trayvon! 

      Wednesday, June 19, 2013

      Reply to Comments on "Women's Health In Women's Hands: Menstrual Extraction"

      By Carol Downer

      I want to encourage your interest in safely reducing or eliminating the discomfort of your menstrual periods-or the periods themselves if you wish through the use of the Del’em (or similar device) that Lorraine Rothman developed in 1972.   

      Many times, people have confused this procedure with abortion, or think that the feminists who pioneered it were simply using a semantic trick to disguise their true purpose of doing abortion. It’s true that menstrual extraction was discovered in the process of learning how to do vacuum aspiration abortion, and it’s also true that in the very early stages of pregnancy, using the menstrual extraction technique will vacuum out the fertilized egg or embryo.  

      And it is further true that unless the woman wants to carry any pregnancy to term, the group doing the menstrual extraction are concerned with determining whether the procedure is an abortion only to the extent that, if it is an abortion, they will switch gears from doing a menstrual extraction to doing an early abortion, and they will make any appropriate changes in the procedure.  

      Menstrual Extraction consists of inserting a narrow, flexible plastic cannula attached to a plastic tubing into the uterus 2 to 3 inches through the os of the cervix and then using suction to extract the period.  Very early abortion can be done using the same equipment in much the same way.  The procedures are very different, however, in terms of:
      • the setting, 
      • equipment used, 
      • amount of preparation needed, 
      • amount of skill needed, 
      • amount of time it will take, and
      • follow-up needed.
      In our patriarchal society, some of the differences between the two procedures arise from the problematic legal status of women directly exercising reproductive control using equipment to extract their periods or doing an abortion.  The legal status of a group of women doing menstrual extraction among themselves has never been established, nor has any group of women doing abortion among themselves been arrested or tried for any crime.  

      If the group is concerned about legal repercussions, they will take precautions against possible discovery by the authorities.  This mainly means establishing a network of committed feminists who are trained in the method and committed to providing support to defend menstrual extraction.

      Being prepared also means having back-up arrangements with sympathetic medical personnel for consultation if something unusual comes up, so that if necessary, the woman undergoing the procedure can be admitted to a medical clinic facility for any follow-up needed.  (This has rarely happened and has always occurred when the group misjudged the length of gestation, and the Del’em was not adequate for the procedure.  What was needed was a more experienced operator and other equipment.  The procedure then was successfully completed.)  


      Menstrual extraction is generally performed within a circle of friends who have learned the technology by using it with one another when their periods came or were expected soon. 

      Abortion using this equipment is usually performed within a circle of friends, even though the woman getting the procedure may be a relative or friend of one of the women.  It is usually performed by the more experienced persons in the group   


      Menstrual extraction can be done using the Del’em which consists of a 4 mm cannula attached to a long tubing (3 feet or more) which goes into a Mason jar through a hole in a rubber stopper.  The stopper has another hole.  Another tubing (2-3 feet long) protrudes from the other hole and goes to a one-way valve that is attached to a 50 cc. syringe.  

      Abortion can be done using the Del’em may consist of a 4mm cannula, or sometimes a 6 mm or even an 8 mm. cannula.  The reason the larger cannula may be used is because a woman’s cervix softens and becomes more pliable by the second or third week of pregnancy and a larger cannula can be used without undue discomfort.  If it is an abortion, the larger cannula makes the procedure go faster because small clumps of tissue can pass through easily. 

      Additional equipment:
      Some menstrual extraction groups utilize surgical tools, such as an O-ring forceps to hold the cannula, or serrated forceps to stabilize the cervix.  These metal tools can be modified or stretched open so that they do not close completely, thus preventing the possibility of pinching the lip of the cervix. 

      NOTE: Problems with the Del’em: 
      Unfortunately, the company manufacturing the one-way valves has discontinued production, and only those groups that already had equipment are able to use the features of the Del’em.  However, over the forty years since its invention, ingenious women have found other equipment that can be modified to ensure that the flow of air can never be reversed so that air would be introduced into the uterus.

      Amount of Preparation:

      In Menstrual Extraction, since the women in the group know each other well and have been examining each others cervixes monthly or even weekly, they know whether the woman is having penis-vagina sex and whether she has any health problems.  Even if she is pregnant without any signs of pregnancy, they know they would only be dealing with a very early pregnancy, therefore the usual bimanual uterine size check would be sufficient, and they don’t have to have any medical back-up arrangements made, etc.

      In Abortion: if the woman getting the procedure is not an ongoing member of the group, it is vital that the group establish that the woman is not further along in her pregnancy than she states or that she herself is aware of.  This requires much more careful examination and checking of the reliability of the information.  The group considers the social, legal and political environment to decide whether to continue or to refer the woman to an abortion facility.

      Amount of skill needed:
      The use of the Del’em required a lower level of skill than a vacuum aspiration done by an individual operator in a medical setting.  The long tubing between the cannula and one-way valve and the collection bottle allows one woman in the group to sit comfortably at the foot of the table and insert the cannula into the vaginal cavity (the vaginal walls are kept apart by a speculum).  Similarly, the long tubing between the collection jar and the syringe allows another woman to stand at the woman’s side and pump the syringe to create the vacuum.  This separation of functions dramatically reduces the skill level.  Many times another member of the group will stand at the woman’s other side and keep her posted as to the progress of the procedure, maybe even helping her to hold a mirror so that she can visualize the material coming down the tube.  Or, this woman may massage her uterus to ease any discomfort and to stimulate the uterus to contract. 

      Menstrual extraction is not usually as easy to do as an abortion, because the os has not softened and opened up as much.  The woman may feel some pain on insertion of the cannula.  She may need extra time to adjust, or to be massaged, etc.  Or, she may decide not to continue the procedure.  The necessary skill of inserting the cannula is higher, but the amount of skill in manipulating the cannula within the uterus is less.  

      Abortion: Any pain in the insertion of the cannula is usually quite tolerable; in fact there may be none.  The necessary level of skill of manipulating the cannula is somewhat higher, because it’s important not to perforate the uterus.  Risk of perforation is very low because in early pregnancy, the uterine wall is thick and tough and the unsedated woman is able to say, “That’s it; I feel it on the back wall; don’t go any further”.  

      Amount of time Needed:
      Menstrual Extractions can take a long time.  The menstrual material is viscous and moves very slowly through the tubing. Of course, since this is an elective procedure, we usually take our time and manipulate the cannula very gently.  Sometimes people in the group just run out of time and decide to stop the procedure, because they have to get home to a baby-sitter or something.  The material, when it comes out into a bowlful of water in the sink, forms tubing-width coils, looking something like spaghetti.  The tip of the cannula can be felt sliding against the slick inside of the uterus. 

      Abortion:  After the cannula is inserted and the procedure begins, the material often then comes down the tubing at a fast pace.  It’s watery & clumpy and not sticky, like a ME.  If the group was uncertain if the procedure was an abortion, they usually know at this point that it is an abortion.

      Menstrual Extraction usually requires very little follow-up.  The menstrual material is discarded and the woman either continues to have some menstrual flow or she has no further flow.  All symptoms of menstrual go away.

      Abortion: The material that is extracted is placed in a basin of water and additional water is poured into the bowl until it overflows and the solid pieces of material are gradually rinsed off and then examined.  If it is a very early abortion, the bits of material will look pale pink and fern-y.  Rarely can any particle be seen that looks like a part of a embryo.  If there is any doubt that there is still products of conception in the uterus, the group may do another aspiration either then or the next day, using another sterile cannula.  The person doing the abortion can feel the cannula rubbing against the ridged inside of the uterus, almost hearing a “scraping” sound.  The uterus will have contracted and it may be hard to extract the cannula because the os will have tightened around the tubing, grabbing it.

      In the next week after the procedure, the group will keep close track of the woman who got the procedure.  If she starts having any pain, or any discharge from the uterus, they will want to get together and re-aspirate the uterus and extract any leftover tissue. If they do a thorough job, that’s usually the end of it.  Any further problem and they will want to consult will their medical back-up.  Needless to say, any excessive bleeding would be an immediate red flag.     

      Legality:  If abortion is completely illegal, all of the above guidelines will be affected.  For example, even if a woman has an extra-tender cervix, she may tolerate a high degree of pain or discomfort in the insertion of the cannula.  Also, the group will bring in extra consultation, sometimes just with a more experienced member, to be absolutely sure they’re not dealing with an advanced pregnancy that might result in needing to go to a hospital to finish the procedure.

      Social Network: Both Menstrual Extraction and Abortion in a Menstrual Extraction Group require close-knit groups with high level of trust.  Individuals must have a willingness to become well-trained and to be resourceful.  This is not a procedure to be performed by a loner or person who’s doing it for superficial motives, such as avoiding heavy periods or “helping out a friend”. 


      In the past, menstrual extraction groups have typically formed in communities where women are geographically and philosophically close.  Communes, women’s health activists, small rural communities, college groups; these are possible places to start a menstrual extraction group.  

      SUMMARY: Any group of motivated and conscientious women can learn and perform menstrual extraction (and early abortion) using the Del’em with a high degree of safety.  The real challenge facing such groups is to recruit and train a stable, disciplined group and build community support in the broader community, including sympathetic medical and legal personnel.