Merle Hoffman’s Post-Roe Abortion Rights Manifesto: ‘Anger Is Our Sacred Fuel’

“Women are second-class citizens without the fundamental right to a legal, safe abortion nationwide.”

After New York state legalized abortion in 1970, 25-year-old Merle Hoffman helped establish one of the nation’s first abortion clinics in Flushing, New York, before the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Her first patient was named Helen, who had traveled to New York from New Jersey, where abortion was still illegal. 

“There was no script. I sat with her. I talked to her. And in a sense, we were pioneers, the two of us in this extraordinary new reality,” said Hoffman while speaking to students at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts on March 7.

After caring for Helen, Hoffman decided to make providing abortion health care her life’s calling. 

In her new book Choices: A Post-Roe Abortion Rights Manifesto—dedicated to Helen—Hoffman shares insights from her 50-plus year fight for abortion access. Hoffman co-founded the first professional organization of abortion providers in the U.S., the National Abortion Federation, in 1976; and in 1985 founded the New York Pro-Choice Coalition, which organized the first pro-choice civil disobedience action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in April 1989, where police arrested nine abortion rights activists protesting Cardinal John O’Connor’s support of the violent anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Hoffman was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of On the Issues magazine from 1983 to 1999. 

Part memoir, part call to arms, Hoffman’s book offers an engaging and thought-provoking assessment of how we lost the right to abortion and what we need to do today to achieve “legal abortion on demand nationwide.”

“The real threat legal abortion poses is the realization that women—like men—can have a chosen sexual life without risking their entire futures,” says Hoffman in Choices. “Women could actualize their dreams and perhaps become anything they wanted if they had the ambition and the skills. They also began to take jobs that were generally held by men, creating what many analysts consider an underlying reason for the current rise in expressed misogyny in our society.”

Hoffman explains, “women’s autonomy is the most threatening to the power structure, which is still predominately male. This is why women and their reproduction had to be controlled.”

Merle Hoffman (third from right) with students from Smith College and Mount Holyoke College. Photo by Carrie N. Baker.

Hoffman still runs her abortion clinic, CHOICES Women’s Medical Center, in Jamaica, Queens—one of the largest and most comprehensive women’s medical facilities in America, providing abortions as well as prenatal care, all-options counseling, gynecological visits, mental health services and trans health services. 

In January 2022, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade looming, Hoffman co-founded Rise Up 4 Abortion, which has organized street protests across the country for “legal abortion on demand and without apology nationwide.”

“We got thousands of people into the streets,” says Hoffman, who is critical of the mainstream reproductive rights movement for focusing on raising money to transport women to states where abortion is legal, which she describes as “funding our oppression” and “normalizing the loss of human and civil rights.”

As she condemned the “deafening pro-choice silence” when Congress first adopted Hyde Amendment in 1970s, today Hoffman condemns the current failure to take to the streets in massive numbers and protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“You have to be confrontational,” argues Hoffman. “You have to call out what is happening as it is happening. When nobody is standing up or screaming ‘STOP,’ the opposition will simply keep going, which is exactly what they did.”

“Anger is our sacred fuel, but it has to be controlled and disciplined,” says Hoffman.

Merle Hoffman with longtime reproductive justice collaborator Smith College Professor Loretta Ross. Photo by Carrie N. Baker.

Hoffman calls for finding people “who have the skills, drive, and ability to lead” and to “move beyond identity politics and group egos to forge a truly united, comprehensive front against this assault by Christian fascists.” And she disagrees with abortion rights organizations that “want distance themselves from the very nature of the reality of the results of illegal abortion by not showing coat hangers and by not allowing costumes of handmaidens,” which she says is “censoring the deaths of women and the dangers of illegal abortion.”

“It is imperative to continue to keep the goal of legal abortion nationwide front and center and to always remind people that ‘as long as one woman in not free—none of us are free.’”

Hear an interview with Merle Hoffman on Carrie Baker’s radio show Feminist Futures on WHMP, Northampton, Massachusetts. 

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.