The Aradia Woman’s Health Center, “Healthcare by Women for Women Since 1972,” closes its doors this month. It is one of only 13 feminist women’s health centers remaining in the country. It ran out of money. Aradia has always served poor women, with doctors and other health care professionals volunteering their time. Now, too many women are without health care insurance. The past five years has seen 20 percent rise in low-income women seeking abortions at Aradia, probably because they do not have access to birth control.
This is such a loss for women! Aradia stood for women caring for women, for women’s liberation and full humanity. How many clinics do we have to lose, how many rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters will be co-opted or closed down or taken over by the Religious Right before we realize what we have lost as women, how successful men’s resistance to and fight against feminism and women has been?
It’s a cramped space set below street level. Faded purple carpets and narrow hallways branch off into small examination rooms, office space and labs. Classical music plays in the halls. For now.
But they’ll soon be empty.
Aradia Women’s Health Center, a First Hill nonprofit organization with a feminist point of view, has faced protesters, debt, several moves and a lot of change over the years. Recently it confronted an even more potent threat: a lack of funding coupled with rising costs. This financial crisis will soon take its toll. In January, after 34 years of service, one of Seattle’s first abortion clinics and women’s health centers will close its doors permanently.
“We’re calling it the perfect storm,” says Karen Besserman, vice president of the board of directors. Over the last two years Aradia’s insurance provider tripled the cost of malpractice coverage. Most of the clinic’s clients are low-income women -70 percent up from 50 percent five years ago – and Medicaid subsidies simply did not cover costs. Donations from local individuals have stayed consistent and account for 10 percent of the clinic’s funding. The rest comes directly from clinic services.
Aradia was created in 1972 by a group of women at the University of Washington’s YWCA. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion a year later, and in 1977 Aradia incorporated the procedure into its general gynecological care program. It has served 54,000 clients and stayed true to its original mission of care for women by women, together with reproductive advocacy and education. The clinic has been at its current site, 1300 Spring St., for 10 years.
Here the organization’s eight health care advocates, a nurse, a physician’s assistant and nine doctors, provide abortions, birth control counseling, annual exams and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
…At Aradia, health care advocates receive intensive training that takes three months. They screen and talk to clients, take their health care histories and also do some lab work. “It’s quite intimate,” says Rose. They stay with clients during abortions and afterward take them to the recovery room with its recliners, heating pads and scent of peppermint. “We’re there so that they are not alone,” says Rose. That kind of one-on-one care was one of the things no one at Aradia wanted to give up.
…The board considered other options aside from closing, such as merging with a larger organization, becoming just an abortion clinic or purely an advocacy group. But, says Newman, none of the options would “retain the essence of Aradia.” Roughly 20 employees are being laid off. Bloom feels certain they will go on to continue Aradia’s mission, “with the brand of feminist health care on their souls.”
“It’s a sign of the times,” says Bloom. The federal government does not fund abortion. Washington state subsidizes it through Medicaid but those reimbursements are too low, says Aradia staff. As fewer Americans have insurance, independent non-profit clinics like Aradia are unable to cover the rising costs of service. Abortion is on the decline nationwide, except among low-income women, something Bloom feels is due to their lack of insurance and access to birth control.
… Aradia is one of 13 feminist health care clinics left in the country