Yesterday, I tweeted a fact I read in Merle Hoffman’s memoir about her experiences at the frontline of abortion services in the United States. “Around 200 abortion clinics in America have been bombed since 1977. And 178 staff have received death threats.” It was retweeted more than 20 times in the first few minutes after I posted it, including by columnists at UK national broadsheets. And people tweeted me back to tell me how horrified they were by this, or to tell me about their own experiences.
Well, if those statistics appalled them, they should read Merle’s excellent and frank book for even more horrific facts about the abuse and threats levied at those who work in abortion clinics in the States. But Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom is far from a look-at-me, haven’t-I-had-it-tough tale. Merle’s memoir is an inspirational, positive and life-affirming testament to what can be achieved by women who work with like-minded people to change the world for the better for hundreds of thousands of women.
A trailblazer in the reproductive rights and women’s health movements, Merle is perhaps less well known here in the UK. Yet she has achieved so much – and became known as the first person to raise the iconic coat-hanger at pro-choice rallies. As a young woman, Merle worked in a women’s health centre in New York, and soon abandoned her intended career as a musician in order to devote her life to fighting for women’s right to choose. More than 40 years ago, she pioneered one of the first abortion clinics and went on to become an international spokeswoman for feminism and women’s rights.
As well as providing a fascinating insight into the history of abortion in the States, as well as Russia – where Merle also set up clinics, Intimate Wars is a frank account of Merle’s own relationships: notably with a much older man, who she later married, and her decision to become a mother when she was in her 50s, and her experiences of adopting.
But despite the positive outcome in Merle’s own story, we must not forget that despite 40 years of hard work from Merle and her colleagues, abortion rights are still under attack all around the world, and abortion patients are still subject to horrific guilt trips and attacks as they attempt to enter or leave clinics for treatment. Abortion clinics spend more money on security than any other type of medical facility – both for the clinics themselves and for the owners and doctors.