National Press Club

Women choose abortions for economic reasons, clinic director says

January 19, 2012 | By Vija Udenans | vudenans@press.org

Merle Hoffman, owner of the nation’s oldest and largest abortion clinic, Choices Women’s Medical Center in New York, said that abortion is “not politics, but necessity" at a Jan. 17 Newsmaker.

"It is an issue of survival," said Hoffman, a pro-choice activist. “American women are placed in a Kafkaesque no-win situation. Poor, young, disenfranchised feel it the heaviest. As the economy worsens, as job loss worsens, more women will attempt to prevent pregnancy."

Yet they face far more challenges in accessing birth control that ever before and as a result more and more will experience unwanted pregnancies, according to Hoffman.

"As more and more funding for social services declines, more and more women will make the only viable option they can…which is to have an abortion,” she said.

As the economy turns downward, unemployment increases, and wages shrink, the newly published study, "Abortionomics: When Choice is a Necessity, The impact of Recession on Abortion," finds that abortion rates, especially among poor women, are rising.

“Many women have said even if the service is illegal, that it is still going to be the only choice that they see as a viable option,” Robin Pugh Yi, who conducted the study, told the Newsmaker audience.

“Many women have said even if the service is illegal, that it is still going to be the only choice that they see as a viable option,” she said.

The report’s findings are consistent with previous research that a woman’s economic circumstances to be central to choosing abortion, according to Hoffman.

“Birth rates are falling. Demand for birth control and vasectomies are rising. Isn’t it interesting, but not surprising, that the rate of abortions, particularly for poor women, is rising?” Hoffman said.

She said the report shows that 73 percent of women say they can to afford to have a baby.

Hoffman, who recounts her 40 years on the frontlines of one of the nation's most controversial issues in the just published "Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman who Brought Abortion back from the Back Alley to the Boardroom," discussed the first patient to walk into her clinic, which she opened two years before the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Her client was a young, white, married woman from New Jersey with one child, who could not afford to have another child. She had traveled from a state where abortion was still illegal.

Hoffman said she fears that the country is heading back into that time when people “come in droves” to a state where abortion is legal. The new Abortionomics study reports that 87 percent of U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider in 2008.

Hoffman asserted that there's a “dim future” for abortion rights if any current Republican candidate occupies the Oval Office.

“They are jumping over themselves like kangaroos to show who is more anti-pro-choice than the previous one," she said. "It is extraordinary. Each and every candidate has specified unequivocally that they would overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Hoffman had an abortion herself in 1982 “because I had committed myself to my work, my medical center, Choices, and did not want to not give the kind of love, attention and support I knew I would want to give,” she said.

When the time was right for her, at age 58, she chose to adopt a daughter from Siberia. It was “my time to be a mother” she says placing a hand on her heart.