"43 Years Later, I Am Still on the Front Lines"
By Merle Hoffman, Founder/President Choices Women's Medical Center
It has been 43 years since I founded one of the first legal abortion clinic in the country—2 years before Roe. V, Wade. It has been 25 years since I organized the first pro-choice civil disobedience. It was 1989 and Operation Rescue was riding high, defying court orders and blocking clinic entrances, racking up eight hundred arrests in New York, New Orleans, and Cincinnati. Anti-abortion restrictions were working their way up to the Supreme Court.
I recognized then that those of us who understand how necessary the right to safe and accessible abortion is to women's lives had to respond and that the time for patience was over. On Sunday, April 2nd, hundreds of us gathered in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Mary Lou Greenberg and Maria Lyons burst onto the steps of the Cathedral just as mass was ending and unfurled our proclamation. “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,” it began, ending in our assertion:
"We stand here not as beggars at your gate but as people of conscience who affirm that:
- Women are full moral agents with the right and ability to choose when and whether or not they will be mothers.
- Abortion is a choice made by each individual for profound personal reasons that no man or state should judge.
- 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.
- 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 health care, housing, education, and economic survival."
The next day, the New York Times quoted me as saying, "Women's rights are in a state of emergency."
Twenty-five years later, it is dizzying how much truer those words are now. Since that time, eight people have been murdered for their role in providing abortions. Hundreds of acts of violence and terror have been carried out against clinics. Patients and staff everywhere, including at the doors of my own clinic in New York City, are harassed every single week. 203 laws have been passed restricting abortions just in the last three years. And in those same three years dozens and dozens of clinics have been forced to close – in Arizona, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and beyond.
This is why I am proud that a new generation of organizers are stepping forward, including by returning to St. Patrick's Cathedral 25 years later, to take forward the righteous legacy I helped establish. I am also proud to be joining friends and colleagues in the nationally webcast Emergency Abortion Rights Speak-Out to be held in New York City this Friday evening.
I urge people everywhere to tune in and turn out. The future of women depends on what we do.
See you April 11 and 12th!
Friday April 11, 7-9:30pm EDT
Abortion Rights Emergency Speak-Out
Advent Lutheran Church, 93rd & Broadway, New York City, 7-9:30 p.m.
Dr. Willie Parker, award-winning doctor at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi
Merle Hoffman, CEO of Choices Women's Medical Center, which has provided abortions and other health services to women since 1971
Sunsara Taylor, writer for revcom.us/Revolution newspaper, leader of the Abortion Rights Freedom ride, and initiator of StopPatriarchy.org.
Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church, on her own abortion and why we must defend this right
Marge Piercy, poet, novelist, memoirist, via video message: "It was a time when falling in love could get you killed."
Bill Baird, reproductive rights pioneer who was jailed eight times in five states in the 1960s for lecturing on abortion and birth control
David Gunn, Jr., son of first abortion doctor to be assassinated, via video message .
Susan Cahill, owner of the Montana abortion clinic that was destroyed and closed on March 3, 2013 about how this is an attack on all women
Dr. Susan Robinson, one of only four doctors in the U.S. who openly provide late-term abortions; featured in the acclaimed documentary After Tiller
True stories of illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade
Saturday, April 12th: PROTEST!
RAISE BLOODY COAT-HANGERS* AND
BREAK THE SHACKLES OF WOMEN'S ENSLAVEMENT
NYC: 2pm: Gather at NW corner of 49th St. & Fifth Avenue; 3:00 pm: Procession to St. Patrick's Cathedral and silent protest
Check StopPatriarchy.org for protests in other cities or to plan your own.
* Wire coat hangers were used by many women as an instrument to self-abort when abortion was illegal. 5,000+ women in the U.S. are estimated to have died every year from illegal, unsafe abortions before Roe v. Wade legalized abortions.
On The Issues Magazine Winter 2013.
ON THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF ROE V. WADE
The Love of Strangers - by Merle Hoffman
|"Patient #4 in recovery was moved by your work and wants to see you." When my assistant's email came through, I was in the middle of a meeting in my office. Excusing myself, I put on the white coat I always keep hanging on the back of my chair and went up to the recovery room.|
In the fourth bed, I met the wide dark eyes of the woman who wanted to see me and introduced myself. She reached out her arms, and as I drew her close to me her words spilled out: "You saved my life. I was 18 weeks--the baby was dead--they should have told me weeks ago. The doc--she didn't want to help. I found you on the Internet--read all about you. Why didn't they tell me earlier? You saved me--thank you, thank you." •Art by Norma Bessouet
"She Had a Heartbeat Too" The Tragic Death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish Hospital - by Ann Rossiter
|A 17-weeks pregnant woman with severe back pain is admitted to a hospital in the west of Ireland. After an examination, she is told that her cervix is fully dilated; her amniotic fluid leaking. Her immature fetus will not survive. This is made clear to her. She is also told that once she miscarries her ordeal will be over and she can return home. But this never happens. A spontaneous abortion does not occur in the four or five hours predicted by the consultant gynecologist. The woman and her husband are informed that because the fetal heartbeat is still present, no intervention is possible. In spite of her repeated requests for an abortion, the woman is refused. Her husband says they were told that abortion "is against the law." He says they were told, "this is a Catholic country."|
First Irish Abortion Clinic Opens Amid Controversy, Threats and Confusion - by Caelainn Hogan: On The Issues Special Correspondent
||On October 18, 2012, the first clinic to offer legal medical abortions, albeit within the tight legal restrictions, finally opened in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Marie Stopes International, Belfast's new private clinic, is located on Great Victoria Street, just across from Belfast's main bus station, and a two and a half hour ride from Dublin. It is part of a network of reproductive health clinics that reports serving more than 100,000 men and women throughout Great Britain and also runs more than 600 centers in forty countries. •Art by Joyce Kozloff and Susan Kraft|
Forty Years After Roe V Wade, Getting an Abortion is Still a Major Challenge - by Eleanor J. Bader
|Ramona, 32, mother of a four-year-old daughter, is dropped off at the Summit Women's Center in Bridgeport Connecticut at 8 a.m. on a frigid December Saturday. As she gets out of the car to walk the thirty feet to the clinic, she notices a dozen people holding weathered pictures of mangled babies bearing the words "abortion kills." The protesters can't trespass on clinic property or enter the fenced-in parking lot, but plastic bullhorns amplify their voices. "The Lord loves you," they shout. "He has a purpose for every life. You don't need to go in there and murder your child." •Art by Norma Bessouet
It's Up to Us to Defend Abortion Rights - by Mary Lou Greenberg
||The action starts at 7 a.m. every Saturday when volunteers start arriving, women and men, some who get up at 5 a.m. and travel far on the subway to be there, donning white lab coats and positioning themselves on the sidewalk. They come to help escort women patients through the gauntlet of physical and mental harassment outside into Choices Women's Medical Center, so they can get the abortions, birth control, or pre-natal or routine gynecological exams that Choices offers to about 40,000 patients a year. •Art by Georganne Aldrich Heller and Susan Kraft|
The Art Perspective: Transition Art
||I’m caught in an artistic state of transition. I didn’t plan it. It came slowly, over a period of 6-8 months, maybe more. I wasn’t aware of it happening. It took me by surprise. |
Now, it’s become clearer to me: I have, indeed, been in a gestating/ incubating phase.
Let me try to remember its beginning, to articulate its progress, to recount my process.
•Art by Linda Stein
Poetry....... Back and Forth - by Judith Arcana
|Judith Arcana is a Jane, a member of Chicago's pre-Roe underground abortion service. She's written a lot of poems and stories about abortion and reproductive justice. Her most recent book is The Parachute Jump Effect; two new stories are in the fall 2012 issue of SERVING HOUSE JOURNAL online. •Art by Andrea Arroyo
The Poet's Eye: Curated by Judith Arcana
|Featuring poetry by Rosellen Brown, Patricia Smith, M, and Susan Eisenberg.
These poems were curated by Judith Arcana, outgoing co-poetry editor of On the Issues. Her wisdom and perception over the years shall be missed. •Art by Andrea Arroyo|
- by Anna Platt and the Feminist Press
|Reviews of Complaints and Disorders (Second Edition) by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us by Carole Joffe, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich, The 'Abortion Trail' and the Making of a London-Irish Underground, 1980-2000 by Ann Rossiter, Delirium: the Politics of Sex in America by Nancy L. Cohen, and The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion by Stephen Singular.|
ROE THROUGH THE YEARS AT OTI
Rosa Parks and Alice Paul put their bodies on the line, saying, “This much injustice and no more.” So did all of the providers of abortion services who risked their lives and freedom before abortion was legal, and those who continue to risk their lives by just doing their work on a daily basis.
Perhaps Martin Luther expressed this perspective best after he nailed his 95 Theses on the doors at Wittenberg in 1517: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”
That act was an inspiration 20 years ago when I led the first pro-choice civil disobedience at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on April 29, 1989. Pro-choice activists were arrested for the first time in the movement’s history. We declared that “women’s rights are in a state of emergency,” and we held our petition at the cathedral door.
READ FULL STORY AND THE PROCLAMATION
The tragedy of Savita Halappanaver who died on Oct. 28, 2012 after being denied an abortion in a hospital in Ireland reminds us that all women suffer from circumstances that cross national boundaries, from social and religious conventions, outmoded ideas and societal norms, united by "just" being female.
From its 1983 inception as a newsletter of Choices Women's Medical Center, founded by Merle Hoffman, through the 16 years it grew into a nationally acclaimed print magazine, and into the nearly-five years of its rebirth as a quarterly online publication, On the Issues Magazine has covered and analyzed the struggle for and around abortion and how reproductive freedom is essential to women's lives.'
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