Our History

Hyde Amendment Woke Up the Activist in Me

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Passage of the Hyde Amendment was Merle Hoffman's political wakeup call. In this excerpt from her upcoming book, "Intimate Wars," she looks at how the amendment widened the gap between rich and poor women, further fueling abortion politics.

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Evident Disconnect

This disconnect became increasingly evident as I witnessed the demographic of my patients change after the Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976. In the beginning there had been a great deal of racial and class diversity at Flushing Women's and other abortion clinics; everyone went to them. Even the daughters and wives of public figures and politicians frequently came to clinics for abortions.

The Hyde Amendment changed all that. Because New York was one of only four states that continued to have Medicaid funding for abortion, licensed clinics in our state began to see a large portion of Medicaid patients, mostly lower-middle-class women of color. Middle-class white women didn't want to share facilities with poor minority women, so they found other places to get abortions.

Clinics were increasingly thought to be dirty, unsafe facilities, fit only for those who could afford no other option. Gradually, the words "abortion clinic" in New York came to be synonymous with "Medicaid Mill"--a label with all the baggage of stigma, disgust and racism that continues to this day.

This baggage was compounded by sheer ignorance on the part of middle- and upper-class women who claimed that clinic doctors were not as talented or professional as private gynecologists. As more and more women began to have abortions, there were inevitably unpleasant stories about experiences people had in clinics--long waits, scheduling mix-ups, personality conflicts.

These complaints were endemic to any hospital or surgical procedure, but somehow with abortion they became writ large. The politics of abortion were beginning to poison the well of experience.

Intimate Wars will be available from Feminist Press (http://www.feministpress.org) in January 2012.


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Merle Hoffman is an award-winning journalist, activist and women's health care pioneer. In 1971, she founded CHOICES, one of the first ambulatory abortion centers, which has become one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive women's medical facilities in the US. She is also the publisher of On the Issues, an online feminist magazine.

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Speaking out often results in this kind of response, or the unfair actions might not have occurred in the first place. It is never easy to help the disadvantaged. I always remember that it is more difficult to be the disadvantaged, and that is an inspiration to me.