medical crimes

Medical Crimes Against Women

by Jenny Knauss, Janet M., Kathy M., Lauren C. & Sharon M.(circa 1976) A proposal to launch an ambitious CWLU healthcare organizing project. by Jenny Knauss, Janet M., Kathy Mallin, Lauren Crawford & Sharon M. (circa 1976)

(Editors Note: This document proposed that the CWLU adopt a comprehensive plan to organize around health issues.)

Health is an issue that affects everyone, one that cuts across class, race, and sex lines. Our health care organizing will have at least two goals; (1) building those kinds or struggles which more people to challenge the particular abuses of local institutions and providers, and (2) giving people a sense of the kind of quality of care they have a right to, and should demand, from this, or any other system.

The current national health policy debate about national health insurance makes it imperative that women demand that the abuses and inequities in the present system, in which patients suffer, and providers profit, not become embedded into whatever plan emerges from Congress. But in the long term, we must join other progressive forces in fighting for a national health system which incorporates bother worker/patient control over health institutions and the kind of quality of care stands which are at the core of the women’s health movement.

In the current economic crisis, health care services have increasingly come under assault; services have been cut back, especially in inner city areas, and lay-offs and speed-ups of healthcare workers, particularly minorities & women, have increased. The CWLU has been active in a city wide coalition fighting such cutbacks in public health services in Chicago (see CWLU news, Sept/Oct., “On Saving Cook County Hospital); but we have been slow to respond to two other issues of immediate concern to women -- aborting and sterilization. These are actually two sides of the same issue; women’s control over reproduction, for as access to abortion becomes limited, it becomes more likely that women may be forced into serializations they may not necessarily want.

Our rights to safe, inexpensive abortions have recently come under attack again with pressure to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion, a major issue in the Presidential campaign, and passage of the currently void Hyde Amendment, which would prohibit using Medicaid funds for abortion. Although the women’s movement was instrumental in forcing the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, poor women especially are still being victimized today by illegal butcher abortionists because access to decent services is limited, geographically as well as financially. By 1974, for example, only 15% of all public hospitals had performed a single abortion, and at least 400,000 women were unable to obtain legal abortions last year (Planned Parenthood Study). In Chicago, it was only in response to the Abortion Task Force of the CWLU that Cook County Hospital began performing second trimester abortions, albeit only two per week.

Even legal abortion clinics across the country continue to victimize women, financially as well as medically. In 1973, HERS. was instrumental in closing down a shoddy Michigan Avenue clinic, but we know that unscrupulous and shoddy practices are the norm, and not the exception on Chicago abortion clinics. Public hearings were held just last month on the atrocities committed by one such Chicago clinic which was being sued by three victims of botched abortions, one of whom died of complications due to her abortion.

Sterilization abuse is an issue around which groups across the country have recently begun to move. In New York, C.E.S.A. (Committee to End Sterilization Abuse) formed a coalition that forced the Health and Hospitals Governing Commission to institute more stringent guidelines for sterilization procedures in the municipal hospitals. There are now the subject of a court suit filed by a group of hospital gynecologists.

In Chicago, a small C.E.S.A. chapter has begun researching local institutional abuses and presenting community educational programs on sterilization. And we will soon have access to a study conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health which gives hospital by hospital statistics on sterilizations, and which reveal the shocking fact that 30% of all Medicaid patients in Illinois receiving hysterectomies were under 30. Unnecessary hysterectomies are clearly becoming another issue which women’s groups across the country are just beginning to work on.

Abortion and sterilization are issues which together encompass a woman’s entire reproductive life, from puberty to menopause, and so can reach the young as well as old, poor and “middle-class”, and white and non-white. A programmatic strategy focusing on these two issues follows.

We would begin with an issue oriented forums. If we picked abortion and sterilization for our primary focus such as program might do the following:


A Task Force would be set up which would be responsible both for collecting current data we have on abortions and sterilization and for delineating other research that needs to be done in the area and seeing that this research is done. In collecting current data on abortion the group would keep current files on all current birth control methods and abortion techniques (menstrual extraction through second trimester). This group would also organize the material we have on the Chicago area abortion clinics; gather statistics on how many women are using which clinics; which clinics accept green cards; which accept deferred payment; which do second trimester abortions; as well as how women are treated by staff and doctors at such clinics. Most of the above information is already available to us through the HERS files. The data collection function of HERS could be continued and perhaps expanded. Other groups such as Fritzi and Emma have already expressed interest in expanding their research and educational work. Further research would vary from collecting information on Medicaid payments, how they are made, who they are made, what restrictions govern them, new laws that threaten them (Hyde Amendment) to investigating vitamin C as a means to abortion (is it really safe? What are the possible side effects: Can you take medicine for the side effects without adversely effecting the process? How far into the pregnancy will this method work?) Early research in these areas could easily build a base from which we could expand our research into drug related issues--misuse of estrogen--the pill, DES and post-menopause estrogen therapy. While the abortion issues may just affect women of a certain age (“Child-bearing years”) it cuts across all class and race lines. At the same time expansion into the drugs areas cuts across all age lines as well. Equivalent research has to be done on sterilization. CESA has been strongest so far in educational and community work.

The proposed task force--which would probably divide into two closely connected have would guide and undertake research as a basis for developing strategy on sterilization, working closely with CESA. The hospital data on hysterectomies on Medicaid patients collected by the Illinois Department of Public Health will be released to us in a few weeks. The task force would access the need for further research and the implications for direct action strategy.Education and Outreach Work CESA has already begun educational work on sterilization. For this and for abortion--an educational group--perhaps part of the Liberation School but with close connections to the task force, would organize presentations, and audio-visual materials and set up classes co-sponsored with other groups and community organizations. This would also function as a Women’s Health Speakers Bureau. Classes and educationals should be offered in particular communities where they can be specifically applied to local institutions ( e.g. the issue of 2nd trimester abortions at Cook County or sterilizations at local hospitals.) Here again the Chicago Women’s Center and Emma’s are both interested in doing this kind of work--we should undertake it jointly.

We see the issue of the menopause of women through drugs as very important here. It’s a new mass issue, attracting women who may not be interested in sterilization or abortion, but who can easily make the connections and begin to work on those issues. The medically defined “sickness” of childbirth has been followed by the epidemic “disease” of menopause. Hundreds of thousands of women are beginning to understand the risks from the pill, DES, post-menopausal estrogen therapy, etc. We propose a series of classes and educationals offered jointly with CWHC, or Emma’s, or the Grey Panthers, or community groups--perhaps where CESA is active. We might begin with a class on menopause, follow it with one one Women’s Right’s in the Health System, which would include material on Medicaid, consent forms for sterilization, rights to records, etc. They have to provide good, reliable information. We have a number of resources--women who have worked on the Concerned Rush Students’ Project on the drug industry, nurses, physicians who can help. Probably we should ultimately have a Drug Abuse Research group (could also include appliances--like fetal heart monitors in childbirth.

Direct Action

Out of our educationals would emerge a organizing base. We could mount patients rights campaigns in specific communities directed at particular institutions or consider city wide campaigns centered around Medicaid payments or the closing of a specific abortion clinic which treats women around the city ineptly(i.e. Biogenetics)-or actions around hospitals or clinics with suspiciously high sterilization rates. From our own organization perhaps we could pull the skill and interest of such groups as PT and Secret Storm. Outside CWLU we would try to hook up with other health and community groups. Organizing campaigns would be directed both to win reforms (close down negligent clinics) and develop peoples sense of power over their health care institutions in order to make demands for expanded and improved services. Simultaneous or sequential campaigns on a number of these issues would make their essential connections clear.

The nature of the issues would make coalitions with a wide variety of groups possible. For abortion struggles these might include Illinois Abortion Rights Association, N.O.W. Health Task Force etc. For sterilization we would have a different grouping with stronger representation from third world and welfare groups.


The two task forces might initially be one group, though they probably should become separate but liked groups. If this proposal is to be successful at least 15 people should work on the two task forces, and at least 25 on the project as a whole. We are including in the long-term plans an Educational Group which could be part of the Liberation School, and a Drug Abuse Research group.

In time we would also include an occupational health group (safety hospital workers, for example, might be a focus--which would in turn provide contacts which we could use in further disentangling the sterilization situation in institution. If the schools group develops program around screening, there would also be connections.

This whole proposal looks grandiose at first sight. We stress that the overall chart is a blueprint for possible development in a year from now ?). We would start with one task force which subdivides into two halves, and go on from there.

As for leadership it’s really hard to develop this without a clear idea of what the structure of the CWLU will be over the next year. Probably we should ultimately have a steering committee consisting of representatives from task forces, educational groups, HERS, CESA Drug Abuse group and other groups who want to join--Emma’s, CWHC, community organizations. The connections to other CWLU program will become more clear at the conference. But there is room for most currently active groups to work on this program. At least 50% of the resources of the CWLU might be devoted to it.