Merle Hoffman
Photo by Suzzane Fiol

About Merle Hoffman

A pioneer in women's health care since 1971, a staunch defender of abortion rights, an untiring activist and writer around feminist and progressive issues, Merle Hoffman today continues to be on the front lines.

Whether addressing the murder and continuing inspiration of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller or challenging feminists to “learn to want to do the impossible," Hoffman refuses to accept the status quo and calls on others to do likewise.

Hoffman is the Founder, President and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center, one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive women's medical facilities, and the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of On The Issues Magazine.

Mrel Hoffman at Mount Everest

Merle at Mount Everest.

Established in 1971 as one of the first ambulatory abortion centers, under Ms. Hoffman's direction CHOICES has expanded into a multifaceted women's medical center, offering full reproductive health and primary care.

In 1975, Ms. Hoffman founded STOP- Second Treatment Option Program - the first ambulatory breast cancer program specializing in an interdisciplinary model of patient care. Ms. Hoffman recently broadened the services of the medical center by creating CHOICES Mental Health Center, which addresses a full range of psychological issues including rape, incest, and domestic violence as well as general psychiatric and psychological services.

In the wake of the 9/11/2001 tragedy, CHOICES Mental Health Center became a Project Liberty provider of mental health services to those traumatized or affected by the attacks, offering free counseling at satellite centers in neighborhoods throughout New York.

Both the medical and mental health centers have been founded with Merle Hoffman's vision of Patient empowerment through knowledge and education, a philosophy she has termed “Patient Power.”  Ms. Hoffman pioneered the delivery of women's health services, pushing for women to participate in their own health and healing by realizing their power of choice as medical consumers.

In an historic joint venture in 1994 she worked with Russian hospitals and doctors to develop CHOICES East, the first feminist outpatient medical center in Russia.  Hoffman also organized Russian feminists to deliver an open letter to Boris Yeltsin on the state of women's health care. The project, a joint venture between Merle Hoffman, CHOICES, the Moscow Clinical Center Marine Hospital and the Department of Marine Transport of the Ministry of Transport, came to an end because of disagreements about control and governance.

Merle Hoffman with Al Gore and Rep. Nita Lowery

Merel Hoffman with Rep. Nita Lowey and Al Gore

An indefatigable and vigorous political organizer, Ms. Hoffman has been instrumental in guaranteeing abortion rights and encouraging the silent majority of pro-choice Americans to speak out. She was a co-founder of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), a professional association of abortion providers, and founder of the New York Pro-Choice Coalition, the first umbrella organization of pro-choice individuals and organizations committed to ensuring legal, safe abortion in New York. The NYPCC was the first group in 1988 to organize a national response to the efforts of Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups to shut down clinics. The NYPCC set the standard for how to defend clinics and published a pamphlet, “The Battle to Defend Abortion Clinics: Organizing Against ‘Operation Rescue,’ ” that included detailed information on grassroots pro-choice organizing.

In April 1989, Hoffman and the NYPCC led the first pro-choice civil disobedience action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. They protested Cardinal John J. O'Connor's support of Operation Rescue. Protestors held up a Proclamation in front of the massive bronze doors and sat down on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral. The proclamation read:

On behalf of the women of New York City and their sisters throughout this country and out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light.

We stand here today to affirm the following to Cardinal John J. O’Connor who has blessed, praised and hosted the anti-abortion fanatics of “Operation Rescue”:

That you have consistently turned a deaf ear and a cold heart to women by repeatedly ignoring urgent requests to meet with us about the terrorism and violence towards women that “Operation Rescue” represents.

That you have added to the atmosphere of fear, terror and anxiety that women must face when attempting to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion.

That you have encouraged the fanaticism and women hating that feeds the politics of “Operation Rescue.”

Now, therefore, we stand here not as beggars at your gate but as people of conscience to affirm that:

  1. Women are full moral agents with the right and ability to choose when and whether or not they will be mothers.
  2. Abortion is a choice made by each individual for profound personal reasons that no man nor state should judge.
  3. The right to make reproductive choices is women’s legacy throughout history and belongs to every woman regardless of age, class, race, religion or sexual preference.
  4. Abortion is a life-affirming act chosen within the context of women’s realities, women’s lives, and women’s sexuality.

Abortion is often the most moral choice in a world that frequently denies healthcare, housing, education & economic survival.

Hoffman has been outspoken against the Hyde Amendment, which in 1976 banned federal funding of abortion. In 1977, Hoffman helped to convince congress to pass legislation requiring the accurate labeling of over-the-counter birth control.

Hoffman was also a vocal proponent for the accurate labeling of over the counter birth control drugs resulting in congressional hearings and the eventual labeling requirements.

Due to her leadership role, Hoffman has been called upon to debate leaders of the anti-abortion movement and the Religious Right, such as Jean Head and the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

In 1982, Hoffman began On The Issues Magazine as a newsletter of CHOICES Women’s Medical Center in an effort to communicate with other health care providers and pro-choice activists. The first issue in 1983 featured pieces about the early days of the AIDS crisis, the newly-named and diagnosed pre-menstrual syndrome and a report on Hoffman’s debate with Jerry Falwell in Detroit.

For a few years, it was published twice a year and sent out free to large mailing lists of progressives, feminists and pro-choice activists. The kind of writing and topics that On The Issues Magazinewas covering struck a responsive chord in those who were reading it and many suggested Hoffman turn the newsletter into a magazine.

In response, Hoffman, with the help of committed staff and editorial professionals, created what was to become On the Issues, the Progressive Woman’s Quarterly. At the height of its readership it reported a circulation of 20,000, with additional thousands of readers from free subscriptions to women’s studies departments, women’s centers, students and prisoners.

In 1990 On the Issues Magazine began to be published quarterly and in 1999 was forced to suspend publication.

In Spring 2008, On The Issues Magazine was revamped and introduced as a free online magazine, including searchable archives of the print edition. New, themed editions go online quarterly, and the Cafe section features new articles weekly.

Mrel Hoffman and her statue of Diana

Merle Hoffman in her office with her statue of Diana.

Hoffman’s writing has appeared in numerous publications and journals including the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association. Hoffman also published two studies in the 80s that documented how poverty leads many women to choose abortions and another that showed nearly half the women seeking abortion at CHOICES would pursue one illegally if Roe v. Wade were repealed.

One article “Abortionomics” was picked up by UPI in 1982 and reprinted across the country. The study Hoffman conducted argued that the Reagan Administration’s economic policies were “having a direct effect on abortions in this country.” The study, conducted in 1981, said 1.5 million abortions were performed a year in the United States and that because of economic circumstances women were “sacrificing their desire for children.”

 Hoffman presented at the 1995 International Women's Conference in Beijing at the invitation of the Japanese Association of Feminist Counseling Practices, addressing an international panel on women's therapy issues. Hoffman was also appointed to the American Philosophical Practitioners Association's (APPA) National Advisory Board August of 2002.

Hoffman has received many awards during her career. In 1984, the Department of Corrections of New York City recognized her work. Ms. Hoffman was included in the "Who's Who of American Women," "Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare", as well as "Who's Who in the World."

Hoffman was honored for her work by the Department of Corrections of New York City, the National Organization for Women (NOW), Women's Health Care Services, Ecovisions, Community Action Network, the National Victim's Center, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Veteran Feminists of America, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, and others.

Hoffman was given the Women of Power & Influence Award by the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1988, the first year they gave the award, and again in 1998. In 1995, Hoffman was awarded the Women's Equality Award by the Long Island National Organization for Women for her work in advancing equality. Hoffman also received an award for lifetime service to the movement from the Veteran Feminists of America in 2000 and 2002.

A film, “Choices from the Ground Up,” was produced to honor Hoffman.

Hoffman produced, directed and wrote the documentary film “Abortion: A Different Light” in 1982, and in 1986 she produced and hosted the first feminist television show, “MH: On The Issues, a syndicated 30-minute cable TV show. The program’s first guest was Congresswoman Bella Abzug. Other guests included Bill Baird, Carol Bellamy, Susie Orbach, Elizabeth Holtzman and Betty Friedan.

Merle Hoffman’s Archive Collection featuring the On The Issues Magazine back catalog, CHOICES documents and thousands of pages on the Reproductive Rights movement are in the Merle Hoffman Papers Collection, 1994 to 2001, at Duke University.


The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room
by Merle Hoffman



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