Merle Hoffman is an internationally known leader in the struggle for women’s rights, a healthcare pioneer, founder of women’s health, political, and reproductive rights organizations and a prize-winning writer and publisher. Her work spans 50 years and continues today, proving to be more essential and relevant than ever in the ongoing fight for women’s human rights, including the ability to make their own reproductive choices.
Merle Hoffman established Choices Women’s Medical Center, one of the country’s first abortion centers, in 1971, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationally. She continues to serve as President and CEO, implementing and expanding her initial vision of empowering women and girls through reproductive choice and the best care possible. Today CHOICES is one of the nation’s largest comprehensive women’s medical facilities, providing abortion services, birth control, gynecology, prenatal care, Behavioral Health Counseling, Tele-Medicine, LGBTQ programs, and extensive educational outreach to schools, prisons, and women’s organizations.
Based on her observations of doctor-patient miscommunication, Merle Hoffman developed the concept and guidelines of “Patient Power,” an early model for the patient-centered health movement. Hoffman considered many standard medical practices of the day sexist, invasive, and paternalistic. In response, she developed many of the patient-centered tenets and practices that have since become standards of consumer-oriented medical care, forming the backbone of the Federal “Patient Bill of Rights.”
These practices include informed consent, access to medical records, second opinions, and participation in treatment plans. Hoffman was also among the first to urge women to question their doctors about everything from their training and background to the reason for prescribing certain medications. Her work was noted by Francis X. Clines in The New York Times (Dec. 19, 1978) as “making women feel powerful.”
In November 1974, Hoffman was the initiator and moderator for New York City’s first Women’s Health Forum, with speakers including Barbara Ehrenreich and Congresswoman Bella Abzug. In 1975, Hoffman helped develop and introduce a program to diagnose women with breast cancer in an outpatient center. In 1982 Hoffman started a pathbreaking program known as STOP (Second Treatment Options Program). Prior to its inception women were not consulted as to their diagnosis or treatment options. Previously, doctors had simply removed the breast of any woman whose biopsy came back positive while she was still anesthetized and before she had the opportunity to learn about her options or make decisions.
Merle Hoffman is the co-founder and first President of the National Abortion Federation (1976), uniting providers and advocates. She founded the activist New York Pro-Choice Coalition in 1985 to counteract the growing threat of anti-abortion terrorism in New York.
Hoffman was one of the first activists to criticize Operation Rescue, an organization dedicated to ending access to abortion by blockading clinics. When Operation Rescue announced it would shut down abortion services in New York City for a week in the spring of 1988, the New York Pro-Choice Coalition responded by rebranding those days “Reproductive Freedom Week,” organizing a counter-protest that drew 1,300 activists and supporters.
In 1989 Hoffman and the Coalition also publicly challenged New York City’s Cardinal John O’Connor’s support of Operation Rescue, which she deemed “violent to women,” by organizing the first pro-choice civil disobedience action outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Several hundred participated, and nine pro-choice protestors were arrested.
Merle Hoffman’s memoir, Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom, was published in 2012 by Feminist Press. Publishers Weekly opined that “she eloquently chronicles more than three decades of struggles to keep abortion legal. Readers will learn much about her drive to recast ‘reproductive freedom as a positive moral value.’” Kirkus Reviews called it “An inspiring story of a woman who participated in ‘one of the greatest revolutions in history’—and is still at the forefront of the struggle.”
Created by Merle Hoffman in 2015 to help immigrant and minority women who live in shame-and-honor cultures, Choices Global Institute of Healing and Education is a nonprofit foundation to support projects in the USA and internationally that promote health services and education for underserved women.
Our mission is to help women worldwide.
Hoffman’s Archive Collection, which features the On the Issues back catalog, CHOICES’ documents, and thousands of pages on the Reproductive Rights movement is in the Merle Hoffman Papers Collection, 1994 to 2001, at Duke University.
In 2011, Hoffman endowed a Director’s position for Sustained Leadership of the Duke University Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.
One of her most recent actions was organizing support for the massive protests in Poland in Fall 2020 against a draconian abortion ban. She authored a letter of support “To the Great Women of Poland” which was signed by prominent feminists in the U.S., including Phyllis Chesler, Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, and many others. The letter began, “The world is in awe of your principled activism and is filled with admiration for your courage and commitment.” It was published in Poland’s largest daily news outlet, Gazeta Wyborcza, on Nov. 10, 2020, and spread widely on social media.
Our team of board-certified medical professionals and support staff offer safe, trusted, comprehensive care and services at the highest level. Our state-of-the-art facility is located in the heart of Jamaica Queens, NY.
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