Sitting Down with Merle Hoffman, Abortion Rights Pioneer

The other night I had the incredible opportunity to interview Merle Hoffman, the woman who brought abortion from the back alley to the boardroom. This was the art we produced to promote the discussion prepared by Amy Wilson, the brilliant producer of The Best of Everything, which has been playing at the Here Arts Center and is finishing its run tonight:

To prepare for our discussion, I read her new book: Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom.  Hoffman has lived her life devoted to lifting the cause of CHOICE.  She firmly believes that all women deserve control over their reproductive systems, over their bodies, over their lives and has spent her life devoted to helping women.  Forty years ago, she opened a abortion clinic in Queens, the first legal one of its kind.  She has fought, seen battles and lived in fear of going to work, particularly in the 1980s when clinic were being bombed and doctors were being murdered.

Hoffman’s life story is fascinating.  Her middle name is actually Holly (my name) and she was raised in Philadelphia, where my parents were born. She was a classical pianist growing up but didn’t want to enter the profession so when she graduated from college, she didn’t know what to do and her mother made her go get a job.  She became a medical assistant to a doctor who performed abortions and her career was born.  She stumbled into her life mission and has dedicated her life to making sure women are able to get abortions. She also pioneered “patient power,” encouraging women to participate in their own health care decisions. Along the way, she herself had an abortion at age 32.  And going against even her own expectations for her life after fifty 11 years ago, she adopted a child from Russia and writes about her experience as a mother.

merle hoffmanAt a time when Roe vs. Wade’s existence is in jeopardy, Hoffman’s voice is necessary and as strong as ever.  In real life, she speaks just like I expected her to – she’s determined, powerful, fierce in her convictions saying that reproductive justice is a human right several timesOver the years whenever she has spoken in public to crowds, she has brought a wire hanger to get her message across. She didn’t have it with her but I had a vision of her carrying it over her head. She told us stories of the first woman who ever came into her office for an abortion and talked about the fear and shame she carried with her. She told us how she took a group over to Russia to build an abortion center and was defeated.  She is invincible and just goes after anything she believes she has the power to change. A trained psychologist, Hoffman has the skills to put women at ease and her clinic performs thousands of procedures a year.  She is fearful that women’s right to choose will soon be taken away and she won’t give up the fight to keep it in existence, bringing along as many as she can for the ride.

I highly recommend that you read Intimate Wars.  It documents an era and Hoffman’s transformational work necessary to bring about social change, even as she shares the details of her public campaigns. It makes me want to get up and change my life to do something as important.