Founded in 1984, Mabel Wadsworth Center is the only private, not-for-profit, independent feminist health center in Maine and one of fourteen in the United States. The Center began “from conversations around a kitchen table.” From a vision of an alternative model for women’s health care delivery and self-empowerment that is still emphasized today, the Center has grown to provide abortion care, contraception, annual exams, cancer screenings, prenatal care, hormone therapy to transgender clients, and other critical services to thousands across northern and eastern Maine. In 2016, we also began seeing people of all genders, including men, to better meet the needs of our community and demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity.
In addition to direct clinical care, our mission calls upon us to educate and advocate to challenge the root causes of inequities that affect people’s health and lives. Therefore, except for direct reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, the organization does not accept state or federal government funding, ensuring we remain truly independent.
In the early 1980s, when President Reagan was threatening a gag rule, meaning clinics that received federal funding would not be able to even talk about abortion as an option, it became clear that there was a need for a clinic in Bangor that was free from the strings that come attached to government funding. The Center has never wavered from its decision to forego federal or state funding and this commitment remains a strong part of our values today.
Open and Affirming
While access to abortion care was central to the founding of the Center, our founders were also inspired to create a health center that would meet the unique health care needs of lesbians.
Another central but less known reason we wanted an independent sexual healthcare provider in Bangor was to serve the lesbian community. While working at a Family Planning clinic at the time, one of our founders worked for years with a client who came in for her diaphragm as well as an annual wellness exam. After many years of getting to know each other the client finally explained that she didn’t need the birth control. Her partner was female – but she thought in order to get the annual wellness exam at Family Planning she needed to come in for birth control. This conversation led to our decision to build an independent, free-standing, private feminist center that is an openly safe and affirming place for lesbians to seek healthcare. For many years we organized the Lesbian Health Project and hosted Will Workshops for queer women. Supporting the LGBTQ community has been a central part of our mission since the beginning and we are proud that we now offer services for the broader LGBTQ community!
Maine’s First Abortion Provider
In 1994, the Center began providing first-trimester abortion care and has proudly provided abortion care ever since. We first opened our clinic in downtown Bangor and later moved to our current location in 2005 at 420 Evergreen Woods off of Mt. Hope Avenue where we are able to offer a safer, more secure, private, and spacious location for both clients and staff. We began offering medication abortion in 2000 and today offer both medication and suction abortion options.
In the mid-1990s, at a time of increased anti-abortion violence and extremism across the U.S., the Center led Bangor to establish the Communities United for Reproductive Safety (CUReS) Project, bringing together people of all viewpoints to agree that violence against abortion providers and health workers and intimidation of women seeking services would not be tolerated in Bangor. They developed the slogan: “Our Community Respects and Protects.”
In 1997, Terry Marler-DeRosier, founder and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, merged her practice with the Center’s enabling us to expand to offer prenatal care. We are the only provider in Maine to offer the full range of reproductive health care for women, including both abortion care and prenatal care.
Women have and always will be at the forefront of our mission. In all areas of our work, we seek to honor women’s lives. We are privileged to stand with and for women and transgender people.
Mabel’s has a proud history of advocating for access to abortion care and LGBT rights since its founding in 1984. Our founders created the Center specifically with the intent to be bold and decisive advocates for abortion access and that tradition continues today.
Key accomplishments include helping to defeat state legislative anti-abortion measures that would have created barriers for Maine women seeking abortion care and helping to support efforts to pass health reform and marriage equality.
Most of the Center’s early work was educational. As the founders, especially Ruth Lockhart and Sharon Barker, worked to spread the word about the Center’s mission, they spoke at conferences, public meetings and with media. According to Ruth, “We operated out of car trunks . . . wherever the women gathered, that was the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center.”
In 1987, the Center held its first “Health in Our Hands” Conference with the title “Menopause and Beyond.” These conferences were held again over the years with the theme “Women Sharing Knowledge and Power.” In November 1990, the Center held a groundbreaking conference on “Women and AIDS in Maine.”
The Center has earned a reputation for excellence among its clients, community leaders, and coalition partners and allies. Past awards include the Maine Association of Non-Profits’ Dirigo Award for Non-Profit Excellence; Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance award for Dedication to Justice and Equality for Maine’s Lesbian and Gay Citizens; ACLU of Maine’s Roger Baldwin Award; and the Maine Association of Social Workers Agency of the Year Award.
- Sharon Barker
- Ruth L. Lockhart
- Terry Marley-DeRosier
- Mabel Sine Wadsworth
- Phil Worden