written for FWHC-WA's 20th Anniversary

Women's Health in Women's Hands

Highlights from 20 Years in Yakima

Twenty 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.

The original 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 medicine.

By Women for Women

Beverly 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.

"Yakima Feminist 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.

Opening Day Delayed

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.

Advances for Women

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

In 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 after opening.

More Anti-Choice Attacks

Operation 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 activists.

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."

At FWHC's 10-year anniversary, the overwhelming sentiment was "we're glad we survived."

Yakima Valley Network for Choice

Thousands 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.

"A 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.

15 Year Anniversary

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.

The 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.

Looking 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 and families."


May 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.


Voices 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

"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."
—Gloria Steinem

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