Carol Downer

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Carol Downer
Carol Downer.jpg
Born 1933
Occupation Immigration Lawyer, Author, Activist, Board of Directors of the Feminist Women's Heath Centers of California
Years active 40+ years
Awards Christopher Tietze Humanitarian Award in 1998, Wiley W. Manuel Award in 1994,
Website
WomensHealthInWomensHands.org

Carol Downer (born 1933) is an American feminist lawyer and non-fiction author who has focused her career on abortion rights and women's health around the world.

Life and career[edit]

Carol started off active in the struggle for civil rights and local politics in California during the 1960's. She joined the women's liberation movement in 1969 and she worked with some women to try and make abortion available in Los Angeles, California under the liberalized abortion law.[1] When Carol was visiting an illegal abortion clinic, she took a vaginal speculum and figured out how to do a vaginal self-examination. It was 1969 when Downer and others organized as the Los Angeles Abortion Task Force, they then learned how to perform abortions from nurse practitioners, meanwhile, several private clinics opened. Downer's federation formed the Women's Abortion Referral Service, the first of its kind to offer pregnancy screening. "Women came from all over for help, Downer said."[2] She then began to share her news with her women's liberation group on April 7, 1971.

She and Lorraine Rothman were leaders of a group that founded the Feminist Women's Health Center in Los Angeles, California, in 1971. They packed up vaginal speculums and began to travel around the United States to share their information with women all around the country.[3] During the Women’s Health Movement, Downer and Rothman also promoted group meetings where they taught the women how to self-administer cervical exams and they also provided women information on a procedure called menstrual extraction. Carol and Lorraine trained a group of women on how to suction a member's menstrual material out while on or about the time of the menstrual period; if she were pregnant, this would constitute a non-professional abortion.[4][5][6][7][8][9] When they came back from their trip around the U.S., Downer and her new followers started a Women's abortion referral service with their own clinic. In 1972, the police conducted a search on Downer's clinic/health center and arrested Carol and [Colleen Wilson] for practicing medicine without a proper license. Now known as the Great Yogurt Conspiracy, Carol was committing a crime while she was helping a women who was trying to get rid of a yeast infection by using Yogurt (inter-vaginally).[10] Carol was later acquitted of all charges and within 60 days, abortion was made legal by the decision from the Roe V. Wade case. In 1973, after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, their group established women-controlled clinics in Los Angeles and Orange County. Over the next two years, other Feminist Women's Health Centers were established which became part of the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Center in 1975.[11]

Downer began her reproductive rights career on the Abortion Task Force of NOW with Lana Clarke Phelan, author of The Abortion Handbook, who became her mentor. Downer and other women observed abortion procedures at Harvey Karman's illegal abortion clinic on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles to learn how to perform abortions themselves. They called a meeting on April 7, 1971 to educate women about abortion and their bodies.At a feminist book store where the meeting was held, Downer demonstrated the vaginal self-examination to the estimated two dozen women that attended.[12] The result of this first meeting of the Self-Help Clinic was the development of the concept of menstrual extraction and the invention of the Del-Em kit by Lorraine Rothman. This provided women with a less traumatic abortion option than the use of a metal tool to scrape the inside of the uterus, which was predominately used at the time.[13] Downer and Rothman travelled across the country and many Self-Help Clinics were formed.[14][15] During this time, abortion, birth control and fertility information were not available to women. In addition, there were an estimate 5,000 deaths a year from illegal abortion.[16] The menstrual extraction and vaginal self examinations that Downer pioneered with her team provided women with the means to learn about their bodies and take control of their reproduction. Barbara Ehrenreich described Downer and Rothman’s efforts as "legitimizing the notion that we have the right to know and decide about procedures...that affect our bodies and our lives." [17] In 1972, Downer was arrested and charged with "practicing medicine without a license" – for using yogurt to treat a woman's vaginal yeast infection. She was acquitted after a trial that was dubbed "The Great Yogurt Conspiracy".[18][19][20] In 1972 she also gave a notable speech to the American Psychological Association on September 5, 1972, in Hawaii, entitled "Covert Sex Discrimination Against Women as Medical Patients." [21]

From 1987 to 1991, Downer attended law school and worked for the Federation of FWHCs. Since then, she has practiced law, mostly in the area of disability rights. In 1981, she was the general editor of A New View of a Woman's Body, published by Simon and Schuster, and she was an editor of a companion book, How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist's Office, published by Women to Women Publication. In 1984, she and Francie Hornstein assisted Ginny Casside-Brinn, R.N. in writing Woman-Centerd Pregnancy and Birth, published by Cleis Press. But during the Reagan administration, the Pro-Life movements begin and the Women’s choice clinics were hit with protests. “The low point was 1985, when the clinic burned down, but we didn’t give up." Downer said. Many believe the fire was started from protestors. So these women began mobile clinics located in vans, which did screenings in a safe and secure location.[22]

In 1992, she wrote A Woman's Book of Choices with Rebecca Chalker, published by Seven Stories Press. She has also served on the Board of Directors of the National Abortion Federation.

Carol is currently promoting women's liberation, giving speaking presentations and also working on her next book about in which she advances the belief that women's collective efforts to achieve their sexual and reproductive liberation is a fundamental strategy for social change. She is also working on the board of directors of the Feminist Women's Heath Centers of California. This board operates eight Women's Heath Specialist Clinics.[23] She recently posted a video on Youtube about the history of her foundation and how she taught other women about their speculum abortion technique.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.womenshealthspecialists.org/about-us/carol-downer
  2. ^ McGRAW, CAROL. "'The low point was 1985, when the clinic burned down. We didn't give up. We did screenings from a van parked outside.'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12/11/2014.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ http://www.womenshealthspecialists.org/about-us/carol-downer
  4. ^ Gordon, Linda.(2002)."The Moral Property of Women A History of Birth Control Politics in America,"Chicago:University of Illinois Press.p.325
  5. ^ Love, Barbara J.(2006)."Feminist Who Changed America 1963-1975,"Urbana and Chicago:University of Illinois Press.p.123
  6. ^ Marieskind, Helen I.(1980)."Women in the Health System,"St.Louis, Missouri:The C.V. Mosby Company.p.292
  7. ^ Morgen, Sandra.(2002)."Into our Hands The Women's Health Movement in the United States, 1969-1990,"New Brunswick,New Jersey,and London:Rutgers University Press.p.7,22-23,34,124
  8. ^ Ruzek,Sheryl Burt.(1978)."The Women's Health Movement Feminist Alternatives to Medical Control,"New York:Praeger Publishers.p.53-58
  9. ^ Sage-Femme Collective.(2008)."Natural Liberty Rediscovering Self-Induced Abortion Methods,"Las Vegas,Nevada:Sage-Femme!.p.64
  10. ^ http://www.womenshealthspecialists.org/about-us/carol-downer
  11. ^ Ruzek, Sheryl Burt.(1978)."The Women's Health Movement Feminist Alternatives to Medical Control,"New York:Praeger Publishers.p.144
  12. ^ Woo, Elain. (2007). “Lorraine Rothman, 75; feminist clinic’s co founder helped demystify gynecology.” Los Angeles Times. url=http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/03/local/me-rothman3
  13. ^ Woo, Elain. (2007). “Lorraine Rothman, 75; feminist clinic’s co founder helped demystify gynecology.” Los Angeles Times. url=http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/03/local/me-rothman3
  14. ^ Davis, Flora.(1991). Moving the Mountain The Women's Movement in America since 1960, New York:Simon Schuster. p.232-233
  15. ^ Morgen, Sandra.(2002)."Into Our Hands The Women's Health Movement in the United States, 1969-1990,"New Brunswick,New Jersey,and London:Rutgers University Press.p.34,124
  16. ^ Downer, Carol. “No Stopping: From Pom-Poms to Saving Women’s Bodies.” On The Issue Magazine. url=http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2011fall/2011fall_downer.php
  17. ^ Woo, Elain. (2007). “Lorraine Rothman, 75; feminist clinic’s co founder helped demystify gynecology.” Los Angeles Times. url=http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/03/local/me-rothman3
  18. ^ Morgen, Sandra.(2002)."Into Our Hands The Women's Health Movement in the United States, 1969-1990,"New Brunswick,New Jersey,and London:Rutgers University Press.p.130
  19. ^ Baehr, Ninia (1990). Abortion without apology. South End Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-89608-384-5. 
  20. ^ Ruzek, Sheryl Burt.(1978)."The Women's Health Movement Feminist Alternatives to Medical Control,"New York:Praeger Publishers.p.144
  21. ^ http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/covert/
  22. ^ "la times". February 14, 1989. 
  23. ^ http://www.womenshealthspecialists.org/about-us/carol-downer
  • Women's Health The Virtual Oral Aural History Archive [1]

External links[edit]