Access received our first hotline call in September 1993. With a few phones, a handful of volunteers, and binders of referrals, we began challenging the barriers to reproductive health care, whether that meant providing a woman with basic information about her menstrual cycle or offering rides so women could get to their abortion appointments. Since then, Access has grown into an organization that serves 48 counties in northern and central California, is multicultural, multigenerational and bilingual, and serves as a leader in state advocacy efforts.
We are also proud to be part of a long and distinguished history of activism for women's health and rights. Originally a project of the Women's Health Rights Coalition, today Access is an independent nonprofit organization carrying on the spirit of WHRC.
The Women's Health Rights Coalition was founded in 1974 as the Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women, a network of activists and health care professionals whose campaigns combined legal action, public policy development, self-help groups, and public education to create lasting changes in women's health care. Although CMRW focused primarily on California's health practices and policies, many Coalition accomplishments became national models or affected federal policies. Some of the past Coalition member committees and their accomplishments include:
|IUD Committee||1974||Petitioned the California Department of Health to hold public hearings and draft regulations on IUD safety and informed consent. Publicity about California's efforts to ensure IUD safety was a major factor in Federal legislation to regulate medical devices.|
|Pap Smear Committee||1975||Petitioned the California Department of Health to hold public hearings and draft regulations on IUD safety and informed consent. Publicity about California's efforts to ensure IUD safety was a major factor in Federal legislation to regulate medical devices.|
|Sterilization Abuse Committee||1975||Developed new informed consent requirements accepted by the California Department of Public Health. California's regulations were a model for national reform. Developed public education material on sterilization abuse.|
(DES Action continues today as an independent organization.)
|1976||Published pamphlet on DES screening, distributed by Planned Parenthood. Worked with local health clinics and the California Cancer Control Unit to develop DES screening resources and physician training programs. Developed a national education and referral system for DES-exposed individuals and published numerous public education and organizer training pamphlets.|
|Committee to Defend Reproductive Rights||1977||Successfully sued State of California for 10 years to ensure Medi-Cal funding for abortions for poor women (CDRR v. Myers). Developed a national model reproductive rights media campaign and published an activist handbook on media strategy. Filed one of the first successful legal actions against an anti-abortion "fake clinic," forcing them to halt deceptive advertising practices (CDRR v. A Free Pregnancy Center).|
CMRW also sponsored other committees, including ones on Occupational Health and Safety, Low-Level Radiation, and Over-the-Counter Drugs. Some CMRW publications, such as the "Natural Remedies for Pregnancy Discomforts" brochure written by the Over-the-Counter Drug committee, are still distributed by the State of California.
In 1986, CMRW disbanded as a formal network, with the Committee to Defend Reproductive Rights remaining as the only active committee. CDRR continued to use the Coalition's name and 501(c)3 status for fiscal sponsorship.
In 1993, a new project was invited to join the Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women. This project was Access, which continued for over a decade as the only active project of the Coalition. Through a toll-free hotline, volunteer network and abortion fund, Access works to ensure access to the full range of reproductive health services, including abortion, for every woman and girl.
In 1996, CMRW changed its name to the Women's Health Rights Coalition in an attempt to broaden its scope beyond medical issues and recognize a more comprehensive definition of women's health and rights. Over the years, WHRC has been involved in several advocacy and public education projects, all of which have been inspired and informed by the needs we see through our work at Access.
The California Hospital Abortion Access Campaign, a collaboration between WHRC and the California Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League (CARAL), researched and exposed the lack of accessible hospital-based abortion services in California in our report, Holes in the Safety Net.
Medical Students and Abortion Education: Who Decides What You Will Learn? is a booklet written by WHRC and distributed by Medical Students for Choice, aimed at educating and inspiring medical students about threats to reproductive rights, particularly the lack of trained abortion providers.
The Library Access Project was a campaign to make information about abortion available to women and girls by placing donated copies of The Abortion Resource Handbook in public libraries throughout northern and central California.