1. What made you decide to write a memoir, and why at this particular point in your life?
This year is the 40th anniversary of my founding Choices–I felt that 4 decades was a good time to look back and reflect on the history of my life and times. I also had lost the 4 people closest to me in the two years prior to writing–so that the process of creating a narrative of my life was therapeutic.
2. In your book you mention many times that a choice you made caused other feminists to critique or challenge your commitment to the movement. How would you characterize your role in the feminist movement and why is/was it necessary?
They did not challenge my commitment but felt that I was not “pure” enough because I was also “making money off the movement”–There was this thinking that one had to be a socialist to be a feminist–that being an entrepreneur -and a successful business person was antithetical to being a radical feminist. I never agreed with this–but knew that I could be a capitalist with a conscience– developing a business model that served the needs and interests of women–both as patients and as staff.
My role in the movement was and is multi-faceted–I took theory and put it into practice by creating and developing one of the first legal abortion clinics in the country–Developed the concepts of Patient Power–engaged women’s health care–defined abortion as a Mothers Act–was consistently out front on major political issues–debates–ectc–so in a sense I bridged the gap between theory and practice–by being both a provider and an activist.
I also see myself as a gadfly–pricking the consciousness of not only the opposition but of the pro-choice forces–always challenging them to go deeper and further in their thinking and in their pro-activism.
3. How has the feminist movement (and specifically the pro-choice/reproductive rights movement) changed over the last 10-20 years? Do you see these changes as positive?
In many ways it has been institutionalized–and as a result much of the argument is stale and far too responsive.–There is now more of an apologetic feel to the political discussions–In a sense it has become even more difficult to have “abortion without apology” because of the success of the opposition in placing abortion within an ‘immoral context” the pro-choice movement has to OCCUPY the ABORTION DIAGLOGUE AND THE DISCUSSION.
4. What are some of the challenges of being a single parent to a child over fifty years younger than you? What are some advantages?
Having to explain my decision–which was the most natural for me at the time that I made it.
The first challenge was to become comfortable with the title of ‘Sasha’s Mom”-which I met rather quickly. The next was finding my way after landing on Planet Parenthood- and dealing with situations I had never been exposed to before–but that was extremely stimulating–so it was also an advantage–and I would say that about all of it–that the challenges are advantages for me.
The challenge of having to deal with the reality that I will not live to see a great part of her life–is an advantage of keeping me living so much in the present–realizing and appreciating the preciousness of it all–and having to deal head on with my own mortality.
It is also a kind of enchantment–being able to play with Sasha and her stuffed dinosaurs after coming home from the intensity of my other activities.
Fortunately I have the resources to give me the support that is necessary–which privileges me in relationship to so many other single mothers–I would obviously never be able to do my work and be a mom if I did not have great people around me to support this and I would also state that I love being a single parent because there is no negotiation with anyone else about how I want to raise and educate my child.
5. How did your own pregnancy decisions (abortion and adoption) change your relationship to the pro-choice movement?
It did not change it at all–just deepened it–I love being a mother because I could become one at the right time for me–so it just reinforced how critical that choice is for all women.
6. How do you think your marriage to an older man who was also your mentor gave you an advantage in your professional and/or activist life?
It allowed me to enter worlds I would never have had an opportunity to go into–he gave me the love and support to fulfill my dreams without having to fulfill his.–And it allowed me to found Choices–to eventually own and operate the largest women’s medical center in the country.
7. What were some of the challenges of writing a memoir? Did you ever find yourself not wanting to write about certain things, or changing events to give them a better flow?
I start my first chapter with a quote from Wittengestein–”Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself”Of course, it takes a great deal of psychological courage to look into your own mirror without flinching—I wrote out all of it–but edited quite a bit also–so there was a distinction about what I could and wanted to look at-and how much I wanted to share–but the book is a truly authentic narrative of my life.
8. What was the hardest part of running an abortion clinic?
Operating Choices is really like operating a midsize hospital–we see around 40,000 patients per year for a variety of services including pre-natal care–so the challenges are similar–hiring the best staff–meeting the stringent requirement for the regulators and the accreditations-insuring financial viability-insuring that each woman receives compassion and support for her reproductive choices–BUT doing all of this in a WAR ZONE–with constant demonstrators–death threats bomb threats–landlords that are attempting to evict you by not providing services–etc.etc
9. What is the most important thing you want to say to young feminist activists today?
Be Bold–Have Courage–engage joyfully in the struggle to change the world from what is to what should be.
10. What are your hopes for the world Sasha will live in when she is your age?
I hope it will be easier for her to live an actualized meaningful life as a woman–and I know that she will find that large part of that meaning in the struggle to achieve that for others–because the world changes very slowly.
Check out my review of Merle Hoffman’s new memoir, Intimate Wars, at my blog.