Carol Downer

Feminist LawyerAuthor

Carol Downer (b. 1933) has focused her career on abortion rights and women's health around the world. She participated in the civil rights movement in Los Angeles during the 1960s and joined the women's liberation movement in 1969. Carol is currently promoting women's liberation, giving speaking presentations and also working on her next book about women's collective efforts to achieve their sexual and reproductive liberation as a fundamental strategy for social change. She is on the board of directors of the Feminist Women's Health Centers of California, which operates eight Women's Heath Specialist Clinics.

In the 1970's, Carol worked to make abortion available in Los Angeles, helping form the Los Angeles Abortion Task Force and learning how to perform abortions. Downer's federation formed the Women's Abortion Referral Service, the first of its kind to offer pregnancy screening.

In 1971,Carol and Lorraine Rothman founded the Feminist Women's Health Center in Los Angeles. They traveled around the USA to share women's health information during the Women's Health Movement. In 1972, the police conducted a search on Downer's clinic/health center and arrested her and Colleen Wilson for practicing medicine without a proper license. Downer was later acquitted of all charges.

In 1973, after the Roe v. WadeSupreme Court decision, their group established women-controlled clinics in Los Angeles and Orange County. Over the next two years, otherFeminist Women's Health Centers were established, forming the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Center in 1975.

Downer began her reproductive rights career on the Abortion Task Force of NOW with Lana Clarke Phelan as her mentor. Downer’s participation in the first Self-Help Clinic led to the invention of the Del-Em kit by Lorraine Rothman. Downer and Rothman formed many Self-Help Clinics across the country, providing the means to learn about their bodies and take control of their reproduction. Barbara Ehrenreich described Downer and Rothman's efforts as "legitimizing the notion that we have the right to know and decide about procedures...that affect our bodies and our lives." In 1972 she also gave a notable speech to the American Psychological Association on September 5, 1972, in Hawaii, entitled "Covert Sex Discrimination Against Women as Medical Patients."

Downer attended law school (1987-1991) and worked for the Federation of FWHCs. Since then, she has practiced law, mostly in the area of disability rights. In 1981, she was the general editor of A New View of a Woman's Body, published by Simon and Schuster, and she was an editor of a companion book,How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist's Office, published by Women to Women Publication. In 1984, she and Francie Hornstein assisted Ginny Casside-Brinn, R.N. in writing Woman-Centerd Pregnancy and Birth, published by Cleis Press. In 1985, the clinic was burned down in a pro-life protest. Mobile clinics located in vans were developed for screenings in a safe and secure location.

In 1992, she wrote A Woman's Book of Choices with Rebecca Chalker, published by Seven Stories Press. She has also served on the Board of Directors of the National Abortion Federation.