written for FWHC-WA's 20th Anniversary
Women's Health in Women's Hands
Highlights from 20 Years in Yakima
years ago, two brave young women unknowingly began a legacy. In the mid-1970s,
Beverly Whipple and Deborah Lazaldi became friends while working at a Yakima restaurant.
Deborah, who had lived briefly in California, learned about self
help at the feminist clinics there. She sought out her friends to share the
revolutionary concept of women's health in women's hands.
Yakima self help group included Beverly and Deborah, Judy Hargis, Lori Mason,
Margo Logan, and Vikki Dahmen. "It was so new and exciting to learn about
women's health," says Judy, now a Physician's Assistant specializing in family
By Women for Women
and Deborah dreamed of opening a clinic run by women for women. Guessing that no
bank in 1979 would give a loan to two 26 year old women to start a feminist health clinic, they sought another way to get.
Undeterred, Beverly personally applied for a car loan for $3,000 and on paper
she 'bought' Deborah's car. The car loan became the startup money to launch Feminist
Women's Health Center in Washington.
Women's Health Center" (FWHC) was incorporated as a 501(c)(3)
nonprofit organization in 1979. The Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers,
especially Carol Downer of CA, and the leaders of the Oregon and California FWHCs,
supplied valuable training and support.
In 1980 we found a pro-choice
doctor, secured a federal job training grant to hire the first employee, and moved
into an office on Englewood Ave in Yakima. "We used the furniture from our homes -
it was all we had," explains Beverly.
Scheduled to officially open in May 1980, the first
abortion services were delayed due to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the inches
of volcanic ash that covered Yakima like snow.
"After the mountain
blew, radio stations announced which businesses were open again. We called in
and said FWHC was open for business and gave our address. It was our first advertisement
and it was free," remembers Beverly.
Continuing self help, in 1981-83 we conducted studies
with women in Washington and Alaska which contributed to Food and Drug Administration
approval of cervical caps, an inexpensive
woman-controlled method of birth control.
In the practice of abortion, we challenged the power structures and demystified
health information. Women (we called them 'clients' not 'patients') conducted
their own pregnancy tests. During exams, each woman held the mirror so she could
watch. In group counseling, women learned as much from each other as they did
from the staff.
Move to E Street
1987, using settlement payments from some of the anti-abortion defendants in the
Everett lawsuits, FWHC made a down-payment on a building in Yakima, symbolizing
our independence and staying power. Ellie Lambert, former health worker, remembers
"we were so excited about moving to E street - it was our own space: more
professional, more permanent and more clinical."
In the extra space
at the new location, we added an on-site childcare center for staff and the community.
"It was wonderful that my daughter could come to work after her morning in
Kindergarten," recalls Ronda Corona. At first it was a fabulous arrangement
for everyone. But unfortunately, anti-choice picketers began harassing the children.
When the anti's refused to quit, the childcare center closed about three years
More Anti-Choice Attacks
Rescue, the anti's who blockaded clinic entrances, targeted Yakima in 1988. "All
of a sudden people surrounded the entire building. There were vans backed up to
the entrances, blocking all the doors. Some anti's put bicycle locks around their
necks and bolted themselves to the bumpers of the blockading vehicles. We felt
ambushed. It was really scary and we couldn't evacuate - there was no way to get
out," recalls Ellie Lambert.
Yakima police were taken by surprise.
It took all day to remove and arrest thirty-some blockaders while dozens more
protesters stood by. Later that day, all of the clients who stayed received abortions.
We wondered every day after that when the next blockage would be. But the
wonderful result was that our community rallied in support. Donations paid for
a video camera and a fence. Trained volunteers took photos for later use in court.
We hired a volunteer coordinator to keep up with all the incredible and dedicated
Denise Rotell was motivated by the news coverage. She recalls,
"On Saturdays they literally dropped off busloads of anti-choice protesters
at the clinic." Derek Smith felt it was important for pro-choice people to
speak out. He remembers how aggressive, volatile and frightening the anti's could
be, but there was a strong camaraderie and friendship among the pro-choice supporters.
"Those were long stressful days but we also had a lot of fun."
FWHC's 10-year anniversary, the overwhelming sentiment was "we're glad we
Yakima Valley Network for Choice
of pro-choice people were motivated by the attacks on clinics. Locally, these
activists founded the Yakima Valley Network for Choice and poured their energy
into petition signatures and passage of Initiative 120 to preserve the freedom
of choice under state law. I-120 won a vote of the citizens in 1991.
Woman's Choice Clinic"
As FWHC grew and added Cedar
River Clinic in Renton, we decided the Yakima clinic deserved its own name
and "A Woman's Choice Clinic" was inaugurated. The addition of Cascade
Family Planning in 2000 enhances the individuality of each clinic while we
all share the mission and values that FWHC was founded on.
When FWHC turned 15 it was time to have some
fun! We sponsored a wonderful comedy event in Yakima featuring "Dos Fallopia:
twin sisters of different cul-de-sacs," the hilarious invention of comics
Peggy Platt and Lisa Koch. We let down our hair, laughed and celebrated.
next two years we held sold-out anniversary dances with the all-woman blues band
"Swamp Mama Johnson," who were incredibly popular with a diverse local
audience. Each of these successful events brought our community together and raised
money for the Women In Need Fund.
Back and Ahead
Connie Cantrell, clinic manager in Yakima for
the past eight years summarizes our tenure: "A Woman's Choice Clinic has
consistently offered abortion access and therefore choice to the rural communities
of Central and Eastern Washington. By keeping the doors of choice open we have
saved women's lives, while also opening new doors of acceptance throughout our
community. Our continued efforts to educate the public and share the FWHC mission
challenges our community to look beyond the political debate about abortion and
explore the positive impact that reproductive and sexual freedom has for women
1997. His voice was calm, stern and deep on the voice
mail..."This Friday, you're going to be dead. Every single one of you.
We're going to burn you out of town." Over the following week he called
many times. The maliciousness of his threats increased with each passing day.
He gave detailed descriptions of surveillance, explosives, weapons, the date and
manner he planned to kill us. Our clinic became home to FBI, US Marshals and local
law enforcement. Due to the unwavering commitment of our staff, the clinic stayed
open. But it wasn't without grave concerns. Then, in the early morning hours on
Friday, a Portland clinic suffered a severe arson attack. That afternoon the FBI
arrested a 13-year-old boy in Eastern Oregon for phone threats against us and
several clinics in Oregon. The arsonist was never arrested. The impact on staff
was long-lasting as we wondered when and where the next attack would be.
for Choice Fall 2000, 20th Anniversary Edition Articles
To make a
donation direction to FWHC - you may give
online or send a check to FWHC, 106 East E Street, Yakima, WA 98901
first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."
Feminist Women's Health Center