When I opened one of the first abortion clinics in the country in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade, women finally had access to safe, legal abortions. New York State had acted to decriminalize abortion in 1970, so we were already a step ahead. Doctors could now treat patients in a respectful environment, far away from the back-alley secrecy and lethal dangers.
I remember my first patient who travelled from New Jersey because abortion was still illegal in that state. She was white, in her mid-thirties, and married with two children. Abortion had then been viewed as a crime, a sin, a pathological response to pregnancy, an act of utter desperation.
I was 25 years old and nervous. In this, as in all my other tasks, no one had trained me. What could I say to her? What would she say to me? She was pregnant and did not want to be. Coming to my clinic required an enormous amount of courage, and now her future was in my hands. I was to guide her way; I was to be her bridge into the realms of power and responsibility that encompass the decision to abort.
I recall holding her hand tightly in mine to ease the discomfort of the dilators; that hand that came to symbolize the intimate personal connection of one woman helping another, the gravity of forming a natural alliance with that woman and the thousands who followed her.
Now, 48 years later, I can’t count how many hands I held, how many heads I caressed, how many times I whispered into how many ears, “It will be alright, just breathe slowly.” I saw so much vulnerability: legs spread wide apart; the physician crouched between white, black, thin, heavy, but always trembling, thighs; the tube sucking the fetal life from their bodies.
“It’ll be over soon, just take one more deep breath” — one last thrust and pull of the catheter — then the gurgle that signaled the end of the abortion. Gynecologists called it the “uterine cry.” Over and over again I witnessed women’s invariable relief after their abortion that they were not dead, that God did not strike them down by lightening, and that they could walk out of this place not pregnant any more. Grateful that their lives had been given back to them.
The act of abortion positions women at their most powerful, and that is why it is so strongly opposed by many in society. Historically viewed and conditioned to be passive, dependent creatures, and victims of biological circumstance, women assume the power over life and death with the choice of abortion—it is THEY who decide when and whether to bring new life into the world.
In 1989, I led the first pro-choice civil disobedience action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Nine people were arrested as we hung our Proclamation of Women’s Transcendent and Generational Rights on the great doors of the cathedral which stated:
- Women are full moral agents with the right and the responsibility to choose when and whether they will be mothers.
- Abortion is a choice made by each woman for profound personal reasons that no man or State should judge.
- The right to reproductive choice is a woman’s legacy throughout history, and belongs to every woman regardless of age, class, race, religion or sexual preference.
- Abortion is a life-affirming act chosen within the context of women’s realities, women’s lives and women’s sexuality.
- Abortion is the most moral choice in a world that frequently denies healthcare, housing education and economic survival.
Now, in the year 2019, we are facing a full frontal assault on these principals and on the delivery of women’s reproductive care from “heartbeat bills” to legislation calling for as much as 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions (which was approved yesterday in Alabama with Senate passage of a total abortion ban, punishing providers with up to 99 years in prison, and criminal penalties for women who have them). Now, the power of the state and the fundamentalists who control much of its levers are directed to ensure that every attempt will be made to push women back to a place where they once again become the tools and vessels of the political fundamentalist forces.
I agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who said in his Nobel Lecture, “I am indeed thrown arbitrarily into history. I therefore choose to voluntarily shoulder the responsibilities of my advantages and the burden of my disadvantages.”
Now is the time, and this is the hour to ACT!
We are in a Profound Power Struggle…and are currently losing this battle. Step into your PERSONAL power—take responsibility for your agency and your fundamental rights by doing the following:
*You can support your local abortion clinic by escorting patients past protestors or volunteering for other support functions
*Help agencies that are working to get women in slave states—to Free ones—like New York (see list of agencies below).
*Join activist campaigns at any level you are comfortable with.
*Give money to organizations that are doing this work.
*Come out of the closet and talk about your abortion with your friends, family, and even strangers.
*Get involved with the Presidential election and demand that all 22 of the Democratic nominees are questioned about their stand on legal abortion.
*Hold speak-outs at colleges or other appropriate venues for women who are willing to tell their abortion stories.
Choices Women’s Medical Center works closely with the following funding agencies to provide financial assistance for patients seeking abortion services at our facility:
The New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF) supports people who are unable to pay fully for an abortion and live in or travel to New York State by providing financial assistance and connections to other resources. Contact: 212-252-4757 (leave a recording) or email: [email protected] (they work with a variety of intake coordinators).
Women’s Reproductive Rights Access Project (WRRAP) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization helping women gain access to safe, legal abortion services and emergency contraceptives. We work with pre-qualified, reputable reproductive health clinics across the U.S. on behalf of disadvantaged women in need. Contact: 323-223-7727 leave a recording, or email [email protected] (they work with a variety of intake coordinators)
National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) works with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice. www.fundabortionnow.org
Midwest Access Coalition (MAC) envisions a world in which all people have access to safe, free, legal abortions wherever they live. As a practical abortion fund, MAC helps people traveling to, from, and within the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) access to a safe, legal abortion with support in the following areas: travel coordination and costs, lodging, food, medicine, and emotional support.
Contact: Phone: 847-750-6224 Email: [email protected]
The Brigid Alliance is an organization that provides logistical and financial support for travel and housing for patients seeking abortion:
- Transportation assistance – bus, plane, and train tickets or funds to cover gas, tolls, and parking.
- Housing assistance – hotel accommodations or referrals to local practical support.
- Additional expenses – reimbursement for taxis or referrals to local practical support.
- Referrals to local practical support organizations for: clinic escort services, emotional support, overnight housing, and other support.
Contact: 877.BRIGIDA or 877.274.4432Email: [email protected]
Merle Hoffman is the Founder/President/CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center. www.choicesmedical.com