Inspiration: Pioneering Abortion-Rights Activist Patricia Maginnis

1968 photo of Patricia Maginnis, whom many people consider the first abortion-rights activist in the US. Credit: Don W. Jones

By Haoxuan Gao, Alliance Intern from Macalester College

As the battle heats up over abortion, it’s a good time to be remember Patricia Maginnis, a pioneering abortion and women’s rights activist, who died at 93 last August. Born in 1928, she had to endure laws banning abortion and, consequently, two self-conducted abortions and one performed in Mexico. She witnessed how unjust abortion laws hurt powerless women, especially women of color and low-income women. She decided to fight back.

Eleven years before Roe v. Wade, Maginnis founded the Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws in 1962. It operated a free post-abortion clinic for women and sponsored symposiums to educate medical and legal professionals on abortion. Then, in 1969, Maginnis co-founded the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL), the precursor to NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the country’s leading abortion advocacy groups.

Maginnis, co-founders Lana Phelan Kahn and Rowena Gurner and other colleagues risked their life teaching women how to DIY abortion and offering information on reputable providers abroad. They were arrested in 1967, but a California appeals court overturned their conviction in 1973. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, Maginnis continued to protest against the Catholic Church because of its anti-abortion attitude and sexual misconduct.

“As Texas and other states pass or are considering laws drastically curtailing most abortions, her life is a reminder of the single-minded commitment it took to help secure the right to abortion, and of what women faced before the procedure was legalized,” said Katherine Seelye, NYT writer.

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