Merle Hoffman
Photo by Suzzane Fiol

Merle Hoffman

Telling it Like it Is

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Merle Hoffman being presented 2015 "Bella" award by BALI Founder Liz Abzug
Merle Hoffman being presented
2015 "Bella" award by BALI Founder Liz Abzug

I Remember Her Hand...

I want to share with all of you the pleasure of being the recipient of the 2015 “Bella” Award given to me earlier this month by the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (BALI).

Not only was I honored to be presented this award by Liz Abzug, Bella's daughter and founder of BALI, but to be in the presence of some of the young women who are BALI-trained and mentored here in NYC each year. After a warm introduction by Liz Abzug, I made the following comments:

I am so deeply honored, not only because of the recognition and reinforcement that this award gives me, but because this award comes from YOU and BALI who come from the inspiration and the lived life of your extraordinary mother, Bella Abzug.

How fortunate the young women of BALI are, as we all are, to have Bella come before us.

When I grew up in the 1950s there were not many role models of women who achieved greatness, so I became obsessed with Queen Elizabeth the First and Joan of Arc.

They are very hard acts to follow.

I was very young when I first heard Bella speak against the War in Vietnam. I remember going into a room full of standing, cheering people – and experienced that energy, that passion, that transcendent righteous rage that burned right through you.

I always thought of Bella when I found myself speaking to crowds and exhorting and inspiring them to fight against another kind of war, a war that continues today, a multi-national and -generational war against women. A war whose theaters of operations are women's bodies themselves.

Because, make no mistake, the struggle for reproductive justice and legal abortion is the front line and the bottom line of women's freedom.

Bella Abzug (foreground left) and
Merle Hoffman at abortion rights rally
Jan. 22 , NYC, circa 1980s

I have been privileged to lead a life on the front lines of this war where I have witnessed and learned to practice courage, patience and humility. My journey has been a difficult, challenging and unique one, and my politics came from the ground up.

I was very young and in graduate school for social psychology when I saw my first patient. Abortion had just become legal – and what had been a crime the day before, a sin, an abomination, now was a legally sanctioned medical procedure. The world had turned upside down.

She was young, she was white, married with one child, and another would mean financial disaster. Someone said to me, go in there and counsel her. Counsel her?

Theories and more theories rushed into my mind. I was terrified, and so was she. There was no such thing then as abortion counseling. But I went into the room and spoke to her, was present with her. I have no memory of what we talked about, perhaps the details of the procedure itself. And then I stayed with her – there was no anesthesia, so I held her hand through her abortion. And it was her hand, that intimate personal connection that wed me to this issue, to this struggle.

Now so many years later, so many hands later, the responsibility of that commitment still is with me. I don't remember her name or her face. But I remember her hand, her hand that became the catalyst and inspiration for all my future work.

And I remember the moment I became political. It was in 1977. Henry Hyde, the Republican Congressman, had inserted his infamous – and now, it appears, eternal – ban on Medicaid funds being used for abortion. I remember watching him on the television saying, if we can't save all the children, we can save the children of the poor. These were my patients; this was my lived reality.

Merle Hoffman, Liz Abzug, and some young BALI leaders

Thirty-eight years later – yes, 38 years later – we still have the Hyde Amendment, and much worse, as egregious Orwellian anti-woman laws are passed state by state. We still have millions of women who are ashamed to and afraid to say “I had an abortion.” And we still have many young people who do not realize that freedom is not free – and requires constant vigilance.

BALI, we need you – we need young, committed, passionate, righteously angry young women to take up this struggle. To risk, to be bold, to follow the visionaries like Bella who came before you - because if you can't learn to follow, you will never lead.

It is 44 years since I saw that first patient – 44 years of struggle, death threats, evictions, harassment – and my patients, the women who through all the years have kept coming, over one million of them, have taught me that.

As my old friend Flo Kennedy said, “You've got to learn to love the struggle.” Because we will have struggle for generations, and if you love it and embrace it, that love will change the world and give you a life of meaning.


A pioneer in women's reproductive health services since 1971...

Check out the video chronicle of Choices' journey to Jamaica!

President/CEO Merle Hoffman guides viewers through the process of turning an empty building into a center for reproductive rights, sharing the nuts and bolts of being an abortion provider -- from struggling to survive in a building with an anti-choice landlord, to persevering despite protesters, to designing space for patients.

We're proud of our beautiful new home, and can't wait to share it with you.

In 2012, Merle Hoffman celebrated the 41st Anniversary of Choices Women's Medical Center and the publication of her memoirs:

Merle Hoffman is the publisher/editor-in-chief of On The Issues Magazine and one of the most outspoken advocates for progressive and feminist issues.

Merle established Coices Women's Medical Center to provide abortion services shortly after New York State legalized abortion in 1971. Today, Choices has grown to become one of the most comprehensive and nationally well respected providers of a full range of gynecological services for women, including abortion to 24 weeks of pregnancy, birth control and pre-natal care..

In 1983 Merle began On the Issues Magazine as a newsletter of Choices Women's Medical Center to communicate with other health care providers, pro-choice activists and the reproductive health care community generally. Within a few years it had developed into On the Issues, the Progressive Woman's Quarterly, gaining accolades as a motivating, challenging and controversial magazine of ideas and action. After ceasing publication in 1999, On the Issues Magazine was reborn as an online publication in Spring 2008 and publishes all-new, themed editions quarterly with new articles added weekly.

Read Merle's editorials, play the videos of her speeches, and open your mind and heart to her passionate, provocative ideas and analyses.


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



Published by Feminist Press logo   Visit Feminist Press
Intimate Wars Book Cover
Link to On The Issues, Selecting The Same Sex by Merle Hoffman
We are delighted and proud to announce that:

The Newswomen's Club of New York has awarded Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Merle Hoffman its 2010 Front Page Award for political commentary.

Hoffman's article, “Selecting the Same Sex,” appeared in the “Our Genders Our Rights” edition of On The Issues Magazine and discusses the complex, troubling practice of aborting female fetuses while firmly upholding women's right to abortion.

"On The Issues Magazine":

We Are All Savita

The DAY AFTER, On the Issues Magazine Fall 2012

Success on equality and justice takes activism in every season -- in and beyond elections.

Visit the site for original content and our archives.



©2012 Merle Hoffman