January 4, 2007

The Closing of a Seattle Clinic and What it Means for Feminist Health Care

Head over to RH Reality Check for an informative post about feminist health care by Amie Newman, the communications director at Aradia Women’s Health Center in Seattle.

Actually, Newman will only have that title for one more month. Aradia, which was founded in 1972, is closing its doors because it can no longer afford to provide services — abortion, birth control and well-woman care — to its mostly low-income clients (read a letter by Aradia’s board president about the center’s history and the reasons for its closing here [PDF]).

Newman turns to colleagues for analysis of the struggle many women’s health centers are facing. Macy Bloom, AWHC’s former executive director, says, “The closing of AWHC is a dramatic sign of our times. The federal government has not funded abortion care since 1978. Our state Medicaid fiscal reimbursements do not cover the costs of providing care. Costs of medical supplies, malpractice insurance and rent have skyrocketed. Abortion is on the decline in the United States except for low-income women. A true societal commitment to quality, funded health care for poor and marginalized women (the majority of Aradia’s clients) still eludes us.”

As Newman points out, the work of feminist women’s health centers extends far beyond the clinic walls. “Aradia helped pass the Washington State Reproductive Privacy Act (our state’s version of Roe v. Wade ), worked to advocate for the development of a viable microbicide for women worldwide, labored to keep Washington pharmacists from obtaining the right to refuse emergency contraception prescriptions, and all the while strove to destigmatize abortion for all women.”

“AWHC,” adds Newman, “was a remarkable force with which to be reckoned for more than three decades.”

And the number of centers who are advocating daily for women’s health and women’s rights is shrinking. Newman writes :

The feminist women’s health movement gave birth to feminist health centers and, at its zenith in the mid-eighties, there were over 50 such centers around the United States. Over the last twenty or so years, an estimated thirty-five of those clinics have closed their doors forever. Clearly, something dramatic is happening.

The growing numbers of closed feminist health centers in the United States represents a tremendous loss for women in our country, according to Beverly Whipple. “Women will get healthcare, but not the same kind of care. In general, providers don’t interact [with female patients] first as women and then as patients, but first as patients and then as women.”

Newman promises to follow up next week with more about “the challenges faced by Aradia and its fellow Consortium members and the consequences for women served by these centers, as well as potential shortcomings in the broader feminist health movement leading to its current struggles.”


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