Review: Deep Care: The Radical Activists Who Provided Abortions…

February 28, 2024

by Adele

Deep Care: The Radical Activists Who Provided Abortions, Defied the Law, and Fought to Keep Clinics Open, by Angela Hume, is a fascinating, detailed history of three interconnected projects of the radical feminist community in the Oakland, Calif., area over the past 40 years. Interviewing numerous activists and reading archives, Hume describes an underground self-help abortion network, clinics run on feminist principles, and clinic defense organizations.


The self-help network focused on providing and teaching menstrual extraction in small groups. They practiced pelvic exams on each other, learning what was medically normal or not. They used the Del-Em, a vacuum aspiration device invented by two members consisting of a mason jar, tubing, and syringe with one-way valve. This was used for early abortion, easing heavy menstruation, or regulating late periods. Using supplies from the clinic, they continued to practice after abortion was legalized. The term “self-help” meant not just individual self-empowerment but women collectively seizing knowledge from patriarchal medical authorities to help each other.

Both the self-help network and the clinic sprang from the feminist health movement. This began as a movement of primarily white, working-class women, but since Oakland was the birthplace of the Black Panthers, women of color were very involved in both. Their activism was informed by neighborhood health centers and free clinics run and staffed by Black women civil rights activists funded by their social clubs. Black feminists introduced the concepts of trauma-informed care and the inseparability of emotional and physical healing. All of these movements involved laypeople teaching each other basic medical skills and sharing health information. They wanted both to eliminate patriarchy, racism, and capitalism in the medical industry and to allow people’s participation in their own health care.

The radical Lesbian collective activist households in the area strongly influenced the Oakland Women’s Health Center/Women’s Choice—later renamed West Coast Feminist Health Project/ Women’s Choice. These homes and community centers fought for reproductive rights and against rape and domestic violence, also teaching self-defense and job skills. Lesbian poets Judy Grahn and Pat Parker worked at the clinic, with Parker, a Black woman, as its director for many years.

The clinic was a member of the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers. Its many services included pre-Roe abortion referrals, threatening providers with exposure if they endangered their clients. When legal, it provided abortions, along with transportation, childcare, aftercare, and Medi-Cal enrollment help. Like the self-help network, it held classes on topics including puberty, menstruation, and menopause. It started the first U.S. sperm bank serving single women and Lesbians and helped get the abortion medication mifepristone approved.


In the 1980s and 1990s, activists with the clinic formed Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights with other feminist and labor groups. They trained escorts to help women seeking abortions get past religious Right harassers and into the clinic. They used sophisticated organizing and tactics to defend this and other clinics when the religious Right attempted to shut them down by mobbing them. Observing these Christian nationalists’ blatant racist imagery and violence towards women prompted feminists to recognize them as a fascist movement.

Hume touches on many concepts and controversies in radical politics. Recognizing that capitalism is harmful was balanced with needing to pay clinic employees. Feminists reframed contraception, abortion, and menstrual extraction as self-determination in opposition to their use by national and international capitalist population control programs. One member who became a gynecologist acknowledged that while abortion and childbirth are safest in medical settings, that’s not always possible.

Completed as Roe was overturned, this book is an important history of activists facing challenges and using radical concepts to challenge and change society, creating new intersectional and non-hierarchical social structures. Small groups overcame “isolation that was patriarchy’s primary tool,” networking with communities locally and worldwide. Hume concludes with advice to readers on how to do the same while facing today’s similar challenges.

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