Pat Maginnis television interview c. 1963 from "Motherhood by Choice, Not Chance"

This site, a narrative history, archive and gallery, shares the story of Pat Maginnis, the first abortion rights activist in history.

From 1959 to 1973, Pat, with her compatriots Rowena Gurner and Lana Clarke Phelan Kahn, formed “The Army of Three” in a comprehensive assault on abortion rights limitations, starting on the street corner, leading up to the Supreme Court and over the border to the back roads of Mexico.

Born in 1928, this Dust Bowl refugee from a harsh Catholic childhood went west to the Bay Area for college after a brief military detour. Deployed to Panama as punishment for fraternizing with a black soldier, the horrors she saw pregnant women endure in the Army hospital there inspired her to devote her life to destroying all barriers to women’s reproductive freedom. By 1959, she was on the street corners of San Francisco, handing out mimeographed leaflets for her  fledgling “Society for Humane Abortion,” which eventually morphed into ARAL, Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, the precursor of the largest U.S. pro-choice organization, today’s NARAL, National Abortion Rights Action League.

At a time when sending even birth control information through the U.S. mail was a crime, Pat, Rowena and Lana’s comprehensive approach reached from the boardroom to the jail cell to the street: early symposia that attracted medical and legal professionals gave way to a systematic civil disobedience campaign designed to overturn restrictive legislation. The Army also conducted underground self-abortion and contraception classes throughout the United States and created an “Underground Railroad” network with several Mexican abortion clinics to help more than 12,000 women obtain services over the border.

In 1973, when Roe v. Wade passed into law, the Army’s decades of subversive work had borne fruit. Although the Army disbanded, Pat, the surviving member at 83, has remained a fervent feminist/progressive activist and political cartoonist, volunteers in animal rescue, and is associated with the National Organization for Women and Women’s Health Specialists as well as Occupy Oakland.

Pat and I met in July 2004, at the sad occasion of the memorial gathering for Dido Hasper, founder of the Feminist Women’s Health Centers and pioneer in the women’s self-help movement.

The next weekend, I interviewed both Pat and Lana at their homes in the Bay Area. Being with these two remarkable women as they shared the thrills and victories of their long association was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Lana’s gift for storytelling and Pat’s remarkable recall, along with their mutual affection and good humor, made those dangerous, exciting early days come alive, and I felt that this history should be known to all.

Pat will drop in here from time to time, so please post your questions and comments.

—Laurie O’Connell
January 22, 2012, the 39th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

2 Responses to “About”

  1. Alex July 2, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Dear Pat,

    We very much wanted to reach out to you — being VERY familiar with the powerful work you have done over the years — about the state of abortion rights in particular, and how we might be able to get together on a project that has the potential to strike a huge blow against the whole war on women. It would be a very important contribution if you could sign a statement of support, and be a SPEAKER at a send-off rally for this project.

    In short, abortion rights are under attack all around the country, and we are calling on thousands of people to stand together to turn that around. Did you know there are 5 states that have only one abortion clinic left?? And nationwide the right wing continues to push a straight up woman-hating agenda that is setting the terms of the debate, while too many of those at the reigns of the Democratic Party continue their pattern of capitulation, and half-hearted, apologetic, ineffective lip service to this fundamental women’s right. We need a broad culture of revolt against a revolting culture that continues to justify treating women like property, and in this particular case, like the incubators of society.

    This summer’s Abortion Rights Freedom Ride has the potential to change the conversation about abortion society-wide. We are going straight into the 5 states that have only one abortion clinic left, to support the providers, confront and oppose the anti-abortion movement, collect and amplify women’s abortion stories, and galvanize and mobilize a largely silent majority of people across the nation who believe that women should have birth control and abortion rights!

    Please check this out and pass it on to whatever extent you are willing and able!

    Sign onto a statement for Abortion On Demand & Without Apology!:

    Donate money!

    See Eve Ensler’s statement of support:

    Additionally, on July 11 we will have a Fundraiser Party at the Women’s Building in the Mission from 6:30-8:30. There is a Facebook Event at: http://on.fb.me/11ZyHor. We are trying to raise $22,000 by July 21 to make this ride possible.

    July 23 there will be send-off rallies in New York and SF (ours will most likely be @ Portrero Del Sol from 5:30-7:30). We would love to see your name on this statement, and be able to talk more in person about the possibility of you speaking at this rally. We want to encourage you to specifically scrutinize the statement of support as your criteria for participating, and am very interested to hear any questions, criticisms, reservations, or further ideas you may have.

    Let me know what you think about all this. Very much looking forward to hearing back from you soon!


    • Pat Maginnis November 16, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

      Hi Alex,
      Sadly the site has been inactive but I have just reclaimed it for Pat, and we’re trying to get patmaginnis.com back up and running. In the meantime, DO contact Pat directly for any speaking opportunities — she’d love to help, though her voice is shaky, her spirit is strong as ever! Please write her @ patmaginnis1928@gmail.com — she would love to hear from you, just a word of respect is always appreciated. Thanks for your great work with stop patriarchy! I read the tumblr. Best, Laurie O’Connell

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