What We're About

Putting Your Health In Your Hands

Women's Health in Women's Hands has a Pro-Woman Agenda which comes from the perspective that in order for a woman to control her sexuality and reproduction, she must learn about her body and enjoy the full spectrum of her sexual and reproductive rights. Women's Health in Women's Hands is a resource for learning and we encourage you to share what you find here.

Women's Health in Women's Hands opposes all state restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, whether it be laws prohibiting or forcing abortion, or laws prohibiting a pregnant woman from choosing work or lifestyles when lack of choice might pose risks to her fetus, or laws limiting a woman's options in the birthing process.

Together, Carol Downer, director of Women's Health in Women's Hands and Feminist Women’s Health Center co-founders pioneered the self-help clinic, a type of meeting in which women learned vaginal self-examination using a plastic speculum. FWHC founders traveled around the United States sharing the self-help clinic concept. This led to forming the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers.

The federation has produced presentations and films, and has published several women’s health books, A New View of a Woman’s Body, How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist’s Office, Women-Centered Pregnancy and Birth and A Woman’s Book of Choices.

The Federation Of Feminist Women's Health Centers

Carol Downer co-founded the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers in 1975. Under her leadership, the federation members were crucial in helping other woman-controlled clinics open across the country. Carol coordinated the "Book team”, and edited the unpublished manuscript, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands. This manuscript was the foundation for three books by the Federation, A New View of a Woman’s Body edited by Rebecca Chalker, How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist’s Office, Women-Centered Pregnancy and Birth with Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, R.N. Carol also co-wrote A Woman’s Book of Choices: Abortion, Menstrual Extraction, and RU486 with Rebecca Chalker. Carol is a founder and former board member and Vice-President of the National Abortion Federation.

“When hundreds of thousands of us start sharing our stories
with friends and relatives, the cumulative effect of our honesty
will be like the sun coming out from the clouds"

— Carol Downer

Women’s Health Specialists a WHWH sponsor
WHS has several locations in northern California, which provide an array of women’s health services, predominantly birth control, abortion and adoption since 1975. WHS was a co-founder of the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers in 1975.

WHS, originally the Chico Feminist Women’s Health Center, was formed by 8 women in Chico. The immediately successful health center quickly gained acceptance in the rural community where the California State University at Chico is located, however they fought a legal battle against local physicians to force them to provide back-up for their clients who may experience complications requiring hospital facilities. Later, the staff successfully defended itself against charges of fraud from the Republican administration of Deukmajian. Some of the later attacks are well-publicized, like the ongoing raucous, hate-spewing protests from anti-abortionists and violent attacks like stink bombs and arson which destroyed the Redding WHS twice. Others, like repeated ill-founded investigations by the State Department of Health and Welfare attract less notice from the media, but require vigorous, lengthy and expensive defense efforts by the staff, its legal counsel, its board and its supporters. Throughout this tumultuous history of attack and victory, the Chico FWHC has expanded to become the Northern California Women's Health Specialists with several sites and enjoys the respect of pro-choice legislators, law enforcement agencies, other providers of women’s health services, and women in the community.

Many other women-controlled clinics, including most of the FWHC’s, closed during the 80’s. Today, Feminist Women’s Health Centers are located in Washington State, California and Georgia. There are 13 women-controlled clinics in the Feminist Abortion Network, FAN.


Carol Downer

Carol co-founded the first Feminist Women's Health Center in Chico, California and was the first woman to practice self-help in a group. She took a vaginal speculum from an illegal abortion clinic and figured out how to do vaginal self-examination, and shared this revolutionary news with her women’s liberation group on April 7, 1971.

Carol and the Feminist Women's Health Center pioneered self-help clinics, a type of meeting where women learned vaginal self-examination using a plastic speculum. Carol and FWHC co-founder Lorraine Rothman traveled across the United States with boxes of speculums bringing vaginal self-exam and menstrual extraction to women of the United States. They launched the idea and shared the tools for women to control their own reproduction, at a time when abortion, birth control and fertility information were not available.

After Roe v. Wade, self-help women started women-controlled abortion clinics around the country and joined together to form the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers. The federation clinics influenced most abortion practitioners to abandon the old-fashioned D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure for the less traumatic vacuum aspiration method using smaller, flexible plastic instruments. Carol and FWHC founders also fought TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) that would have blocked the establishment of abortion clinics. Read Carol's full bio here

Co-founders of Feminist Women's Health Centers

Lorraine Rothman 1932-2007

A pioneer of the Self-Help Movement, Lorraine Rothman has dedicated her life to women’s rights of self-determination and control of their bodies. In 1975 Rothman’s self-help clinic concept was the subject of the books A New View of a Woman’s Body, How To Stay OUT of the Gynecologists Office and Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth. Read more about Rothman here




Dido Hasper 1949 - 2004

"Self help was really interesting to me and the whole concept of being able to see my cervix and have that understanding was just phenomenal."

At a time when Chico, CA physicians did not offer abortions, and local doctors required women to be married to obtain birth control. Carol Downer, Dido and women from the community held women’s health night at the local free clinic. The women’s group provided pregnancy tests and helped women go to the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center to obtain abortions. Women learned how to do self-help and menstrual extraction during these clinics. Read more about Hasper here


Barbara Seaman 1935-2008

In 1975, Barbara helped co-found the National Women’s Health Network, a watch-dog for women’s health issues and the FDA. The National Women’s Health Network has played a pivotal role in exposing the dangers of birth control pills, DES, Depo-provera, estrogen replacement therapy during menopause (ERT), and "the patch” method of birth control. She, along with other feminists working in the women's health movement - such as the members of the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers and other women-controlled clinics - promoted the cervical cap (a barrier method of birth control that had been widely used in Europe). Read more about Seaman here

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