Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

11 January 2012

Book Review: Intimate Wars by Merle Hoffman


Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room by Merle Hoffman is a must read memoir by a no-holds-barred feminist activist trailblazer.

Her tale is one like no other I have read. She attacks her life story just as she would anything in life - without fear. It is hard to summarize the life of Merle Hoffman. She seems to be a pretty typical example of people with a lot of intellect and potential, as she floated through the first part of her life. She had high standards and life just never seemed to rise to them. Apparently, it was just waiting for the right moment to strike Merle with her life's purpose.

Merle opened one of the first abortion clinics in New York in pre-Roe days. She did most of her early abortion work without political consciousness. But she soon grows into her warrior life.

Merle's story of how she came to love abortion work is moving and one that should be heard by more people. She simply grew to love helping women through, as she put it in our interview, the "most powerful and vulnerable point" of their lives. She saw the connections between mothers and daughters who came in together, between race and class, especially post-Hyde Amendment and most of all she saw how disconnected some women were with their bodies and the political process. Merle quickly transformed her clinic from a mere health center to a radical place. The waiting room was inviting and filled with current information on abortion and reproductive justice issues.

This isn't an easy memoir to read though. Merle challenges feminists to consider the bifurcation in the woman-versus-fetus debate. She cedes ground and agrees that "abortion stops a beating heart." Because for Merle, an abortion is a sacrifice and we must acknowledge that in order to be a stronger movement. Merle also is not ashamed to acknowledge that she makes money from abortions. Although the price for a first trimester abortion hasn't changed in 25 years. Some will be taken aback by her personal life. She must be honest because reading through her affair-to-marriage story will make you wince.

Merle adopts a daughter late in life and this concluding chapter is poignant and still wrapped in Merle's ability to see everything through a reproductive justice lens. Which, of course I loved.  

Intimate Wars is a great peek back at the early days of the 1970s feminist movement, including their missteps that my generation (third wave/Gen X) often chide them over. Merle doesn't seem to hold back on her criticism of anyone, including herself. This memoir may be difficult to read, but it is also refreshing. Get your copy at Powells or IndieBound.

Disclaimer:  I was offered this book for review by a publicist, who also facilitated access to Merle for the interview previously posted. 

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