Merle Hoffman is an internationally known leader in the struggle for women’s rights, opening one of the first abortion clinics pre-Roe in 1971. Throughout her activism career spanning over 50 years, Merle’s mission remains the same; for women to fight for their own reproductive choices and to recognize that each individual woman can make a profound decision for her own life, and has the right to speak up for that choice. You just have to practice courage.
Merle Hoffman is an internationally known leader in the struggle for women’s rights, opening one of the first abortion clinics pre-Roe in 1971. Throughout her activism career spanning over 50 years, Merle’s mission remains the same; for women to fight for their own reproductive choices and to recognize that each individual woman can make a profound decision for her own life, and has the right to speak up for that choice.
Merle Hoffman established Choices Women’s Medical Center, one of the country’s first abortion clinics, in 1971, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationally in the Roe V. Wade Decision. Hoffman considered many standard medical practices of the day sexist, invasive, and paternalistic. In response, she developed many of the patient-centered tenets and practices (PATIENT POWER) that have since become standards of consumer-oriented medical care, forming the backbone of the Federal “Patient Bill of Rights.”
Merle Hoffman is the co-founder and first President of the National Abortion Federation (1976), uniting providers and advocates. She founded the activist New York Pro-Choice Coalition in 1985 to counteract the growing threat of anti-abortion terrorism in the form of Operation Rescue in New York.
Topics Discussed with Merle Homan
- Merle’s first act of political activism and the race-class divide it showed her.
- What Merle learned about abortion as a kid.
- How she made the journey from concert pianist to opening the first clinic offering abortions to women in 1971, pre-Roe.
- Merle’s internal and external journey to becoming an activist.
- Why and how Merle opened the Choices Medical Clinic in 1971.
- The need Merle saw for legal abortions working as a medical assistant.
- Based on her observations of doctor-patient miscommunication, Merle Hoffman developed the concept and guidelines of “Patient Power,” an early model for the patient-centered health movement.
- Feminism is the theory, abortion is the action.
- Bringing women’s choices to the forefront.
- Women’s choices continue to get left out of the conversation.
- The lack of value that many women carry keeps them silent.
- 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
- 6 out of 10 women who’ve had abortions are already mothers.
- How do we become visible when our rights are being attacked?
- Finding the courage to say no as a woman and to make your own choice.
- How can we speak about abortions as healthcare and not about the procedure itself?
- How Merle balances space to receive joy in this work she does using her voice.
- Doing what you love and finding it is what you’re meant to do.
- How to talk to your kids about abortion.
- What Merle means by outposts in your head and how they hold us back.
- How Merle defines power.
- We women can lead this movement together.
(10:00) I held her hand and I breathed with her and I had what I would describe as a kind of epiphany. And that’s the only way I could call it. I saw at that moment, the profound, powerful nature of that choice. Of the choice of deciding whether or not to continue and let this life continue to grow or not. I saw it as a decision and an action of great power yet also one of enormous vulnerability.
(15:10) It’s what I call outposts. The enemy has outposts in our heads. I always say they have outposts. You’re a bad girl. You’re a slut. You’re a whore. You’re stupid. That tape keeps rolling and rolling and rolling and the antis have been extremely effective in setting that narrative. You can be whatever in the world, but yet in your heart and soul, you still have some of those outposts and the work of most women is going to have to be dismantling those outposts.
(17:51) The power of the state has to stop at my skin. How dare you.
(18:11) The abortion is an effect of a seed of violence. An accepted violence that is perpetrated against women. This law is violence against women. I think there is something about why are we fighting against things that have nothing like nothing to do in a way with the truth of who we are. There is some fundamental shift among women that must occur whereby we understand simply that we will not be ruled.
(19:40) What really takes my breath away and is heartbreaking is the cruelty of it. The cruelty of the effect of these laws on women and girls.
(23:30) This cannot stand. And in my mind, how many millions of women have had abortions since legalization? Millions and millions. What a constituency. Why aren’t they out there? Because of the outposts in their heads. We have to make sure everybody can have a legal, safe abortion.
(22:11) You have to practice courage. It’s one of the cardinal virtues and courage doesn’t come naturally. There are different kinds of courage. There’s psychological courage, there’s physical courage….You don’t get anxious or you don’t get afraid, but you have to lean in. You have to go through it because fear is how people are ruled.
(25:00) There is no debate. When abortion is not legal, women die. Because they’ll always have them. They’ll find a way to do it.
(27:20) You have to choose to be chosen.
(31:46) It isn’t just blood and tissue. It is, but it is because it has the potential to be something else. There’s a difference and you have to respect that. You have to understand that. And that’s why the choice is so powerful.
Resources From the Episode:
Merle Hoffman is an internationally known leader in the struggle for women’s rights and healthcare pioneer.
Choices provides abortion services, pregnancy testing, and free abortions if you qualify. Services in Queens, NY; serving NYC and New York.
Banning access to federal funds for abortion care leaves our most vulnerable women at risk.
(WOMENSENEWS)-I remember the moment I became political. It was a rainy Sunday morning, 1976, and I’d allowed myself to stay in bed a little longer than usual. Monotonic radio voices intruded on my sleep . . . something about Henry Hyde and abortion. I sat up in bed, all ears.
Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom
Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom – Kindle edition by Hoffman, Merle. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets.
MERLE HOFFMAN ON HER HORSE “HOLLYWOULD” I was born on March 6 1946, in a two-room apartment in Philadelphia, the only child of Ruth Dubow , a frustrated actor/dancer and a descendant of Russian musicians, rabbis, and revolutionaries , and Jack Rheins Hoffman, the grandson of a strong Lithuanian grandmother who had left her abusive husband and gone to England to start a new life.The grandson, my grandfather, had emigrated to the U.S.
The Illegitimate Overturning of Abortion Rights MUST NOT STAND! INTO THE STREETS TO DEMAND: The Federal Government Must Restore LEGAL ABORTION nationwide NOW!
On May 31, 2009, George Tiller, a physician from Wichita, Kansas, who was nationally known for being one of the few doctors in the United States to perform late terminations of pregnancy (also known as “late-term abortions”), was murdered by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion extremist.
For many parents, the wall-to-wall news coverage of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade means facing some questions from their kids. And that’s brought up some questions of their own. The NPR audience has been sending in their questions, asking for advice. We called in Reena B.