Review: Intimate Wars by Merle Hoffman
Title: Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom
Author: Hoffman, Merle
Length: 269 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher / Year: Feminist Press / 2012
Source: Feminist Press subscription
Why I Read It: It seemed to fit my recent theme of women’s health.
Date Read: 15/04/12
Hoffman is a true example of a woman who has lived many lives. In her early life she was a classic pianist, and she went on to found Choices, an abortion clinic in New York. In this book she takes us through her life and the various careers or almost careers she’s had, giving us a glimpse of how she came to do the various things for which she became known.
The clinic that Hoffman first ran was started mainly as a way to provide service to patients rather than refer them out, it wasn’t started based on feminist ideals. Through her experience in this clinic Hoffman learned more about the issues women faced in having any kind of autonomy over their bodies or their options, and the ways in which they were mistreated by physicians. All of this worked together to make Hoffman the women’s rights pioneer that she became.
The concept of women as consumers of medical care rather than passive recipients of treatment – the awareness that women’s holding to traditional relationships with physicians was ultimately destructive to them individually and as a class – led to my formulating and expanding on a philosophy that would soon become a movement. I called it Patient Power. (page 82)
This focus on women’s needs and the requirements for doctors to take them seriously was new and not easy for doctors to adopt. While Hoffman describes the early days of her clinic and the struggles she faced day by day with it, she also talks a lot about why abortions have always been around and their importance in women’s lives. Through this she talks as well about the opponents of abortion and the ways in which things like fetal rights campaigns are used as a way to “reinforce the status quo” (page 145) and to prioritize cells over the life of a woman.
“Choice” is sometimes not a choice at all. It is an outcome determined by the economic, physical, sociological, and political factors that surround women and move them toward the only action that allows them to survive at that point in their lives. Survival can sometimes be a woman’s act of staying alive, but it can also be her act of refusing to put what will become an impossible burden on her shoulders. (page 108)
While I don’t agree with everything Hoffman did (for example, eventually she decided she wanted a child and so she adopted a baby from Russia… and renamed her), she certainly did a lot to put women’s rights in the health care system as a priority. She also didn’t shy away from the issues of class and race and the ways in which women of means always had more access, as many did. I think her memoir shows how much can be done by anyone with a drive to do what is right and to do it well. It also shows how we all travel our own path and that how we get to where we are going isn’t always as important as what we do when we get there.
I recommend the book to anyone interested in women’s rights, women’s health, or the feminist movement in the United States. If you enjoy well-written memoirs about individuals who have helped to change and shape the world, you won’t be disappointed.