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Forgotten Foremothers: The Army of Three

Kathryn S. Gardiner | Published on 5/13/2022

Forgotten Foremothers
Profiles of Lesser-Known Heroines in the Fight for Women's Rights


The Army of Three

Pat_McGinnis_in_1968_by_Don_W_Jones


Pat Maginnis, 1968. Photographer Don. W. Jones

 

The following letters were sent in the late 1960’s to three specific women in California’s Bay Area.


“I received your name and address from my reverend in Santa Monica. I’ve seen him recently to discuss my problem in detail and have concluded that an abortion is the only answer right now. I am married, but my husband has just been called for jungle training in Korea for a period of active duty for 18 months. I will be self-supporting…”

“A young lady that I’ve been dating has become pregnant. While we enjoy each other’s company, neither of us wishes to be forced into marriage. I don’t want her to have to go through a pregnancy, even if she gets all proper medical care. I feel a pregnancy is for those who intend having children with their husbands. The girl is about two and half months pregnant, so there are no pills that will help. Where can we get an abortion? ... Please help.”

“I’m eighteen years old, single, and three months pregnant by a married man. I need the name of a doctor, for I’m in a desperate situation and I want an abortion. I have 200 dollars in the bank and can get another hundred if I tried. Please help me because if you don’t, I’m going to have to kill myself. I read your article in The Free Press of L.A. [an underground newspaper] and you are my last resort.”

“I’m a married woman with four children and I’ve just discovered I’m pregnant again. My husband and I agreed that having this child would tax our resources—financial, physical, and emotional—to the point of no return. Of course, that’s understating our reason for seeking an abortion, but I think you will agree they are sound reasons. The problem, of course, is that abortion is illegal, and I have no desire to attempt to do anything myself, so in my futile search in the local area for a duly licensed physician with a liberal outlook on such matters, I ran into someone who suggested I write to you for help.”

“...Due to circumstances and my strong belief against forced marriage, I am unable to bear the child and give it a name. I am a college graduate and established in a retailing business and face loss of my job should this information get out and I attempt to bear this child out of wedlock. I am also aware of the increasing difficulty of placing children for adoption. I cannot rescind my actions but must save all those close to me from the consequences of my actions and have concluded that an abortion is the only answer. My doctor has informed me that for my own safety and health, I must obtain an abortion at the earliest possible time and can wait no longer than a month. I need contacts very badly. As for my own area, Seattle, I am at a loss and fear falling into the hands of a quack. Enclosed is a self-address stamped envelope. Also, a contribution to your association and its great work. I appreciate any and all help you might provide.”

“I need your help very badly. Please get in touch with me as soon as you can.”


“I am another unfortunate woman who’s come to face the hypocrisy and injustice of a country that leads in technology and sadly fails in humanism. I seek your assistance for the first time, but this will not be the first time that I have needed help. Believe me, for it was a matter of ignorance. As you say, nothing is foolproof and some people have all the luck. Ironically, I stood by a good friend only a month ago, encouraging her with the experience that I had had, and I commend you, for your information dealt with everything possible and that is good. There are so many doubts. I’m three weeks pregnant. You’ve given hope and I will try in some way to strengthen the cause.”


“Your organization has been recommended to me by a local physician who suggests that you might be of assistance. I’ve been widowed for six years and have a 9-year-old son. To have an illegitimate child now I feel would be unfair to my son. Granted, I should have considered this five weeks ago, but I didn’t and there’s no point in recrimination at this late date. I am nearly five weeks pregnant and understand that you can supply me with the names of doctors in San Juan who will perform a legal, hospitalized operation. Naturally, I am interested in having the full details. ... I would not pursue the matter further if I thought there were any danger to my life. I would rather have the child than jeopardize my life, leaving my son alone at this age. Statistics prove how many butchers perform operations and I want your reassurance that your organization will direct me to approved doctors and sterilized hospital conditions. If all my doctor tells me of your group is accurate, I can only add that, in my opinion, you are saving lives, not taking them. ... How proud you must be of your work. If only more women knew about you.”


“I’ve taken your address from the files of the Planned Parenthood Association here. We have a sad case through our church responsibilities in which a 17-year-old girl was raped and has become pregnant, five weeks now. Sadder still is the present attitude of Illinois law. Any information you can send us will be appreciated. We would like to have any leads on someone our area, if possible. Also, I understand you may have some literature on inducing a miscarriage. Don’t know whether you can send that through the mail. If so, please do. We’d like names here, or in Canada; last, Mexico.”


“I am in the necessity of writing you to ask for advice about the following problem. I am a foreign, single, graduate student over 21 years old, at Oregon State University, and am facing the problem of being pregnant for about one and half months. Due to a circumstance, to begin with, the fact that it is not possible that I marry the man who would be the father of the baby and other strong reasons I cannot want to have the baby and have decided that an abortion is the only way of avoiding this problem to become even more unhappy. I have gone to doctor here, but he told me that abortion is not legalized and that he did not know about the possibility of doing it. Now, I have been told of your association, so I am asking advice as to how I can have an abortion done soon. I would be very grateful of hearing from you as soon as possible. You can call me collect.”


“I have, by my own ignorance, brought myself into a very unfortunate and unwanted pregnancy. I’m fully aware of the responsibilities when I wish to obtain an abortion. To me, this is no easy way out, but it is the way which will bring less unhappiness to less people. Once I have reached this decision, I wish there was a decent and proper way I could go about it, and I shall be very grateful to receive your help.”


“I heard you talk on the radio this last Sunday. I need your help. ... All that my boyfriend and I can get together is 150 dollars. Will they possibly do it for this amount? ... My boyfriend is afraid I’ll be hurt by a doctor, but didn’t you say it was relatively safe? ... I hope you can help me. My parents would be heartbroken. You see, I have a little brother who just turned five who is dying of a brain tumor. All they need to just about kill them would be to find out about me. They’ve been looking forward for my going to college and I don’t want to disappoint them. Please help me and I’ll help you. Thank you for your time. Please don’t put a return address on your envelope when you answer me. Thank you.”


“Several months ago, I telephoned you to offer, quietly, my services as a gynecologist. I’m deeply concerned with the problems of today, but I cannot serve, except discreetly. If I’m found out, I have a great deal to lose, so I’m available until then, or until our laws change.”


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Rowena_right_PatMaginnis_left
Pat Maginnis on Left, Rowena Gurner on Right

 

“I’m in desperate need of help. I’m a married woman, 38 years old, and a mother of three boys ranging in age from 14 years old to the youngest, who was just three years old in February. Yesterday, I was informed by my doctor that I’m apparently seven weeks pregnant, and I feel despaired and lost over the impending thought of undergoing another pregnancy and birth. After much thought and discussion with my husband, we both emphatically agree to have this pregnancy terminated as soon as possible, and not knowing whom to consult in this matter, we discussed it with our doctor, who in turn referred us to your organization, which he says he learned about on a local TV show ... We urgently request your help in this matter and will be happy and grateful to cooperate with your organization in any way possible. ... You may call us collect any time and we will be happy to answer or do anything you require.”


“A friend gave me your name and address in hopes that you might be able to help me or get me some information on getting an abortion. I’m 10 weeks along now and haven’t much time, so it’s urgent that I know as soon as possible. Due to financial problems, because I work, I’ve been unable to go out of town and hope that you might know of someone in San Diego or the general area to help me. There is a doctor here that I have been to already who said legitimately he could help me if I were to start spotting or bleeding, so all I need would be someone to start me and the rest could be done in the hospital where my medical insurance would cover the charges of having a miscarriage. I would appreciate it, anything that you can do for me, and please do not post-return this address or letter as I live with my family and they know nothing about it.”


“My wife became pregnant, despite our precautions, about four weeks ago. We don’t want this baby because we already have three small children and four would be too many for us to care for properly. My wife is in good health, and our doctor refuses to perform an abortion. We were told you could inform us on how to obtain an abortion in Mexico. We would appreciate this information, or of course, any other information that might help us.”


“Some months ago, I saw and heard you on television. I was completely in full accord with you and all your views regarding legalized abortion. Such courage is rare, to speak out as you do. Now I find myself in the unhappy position of an unwanted pregnancy. We have two children and cannot afford a third. My husband and I are not the happiest married couple on Earth, and this is the last thing that is needed in this family. I have just started my second daughter in school and am now employed for the first time in eight and a half years of marriage. I love my job and don’t want to give it up, and I will have to if my pregnancy cannot be discontinued. A very good friend gave me the San Francisco address to contact you. I hope you can help me locate a doctor who will perform the abortion for me.”


“I’ve been informed that your association might be able to help people that are in drastic trouble. I find myself pregnant, am unwed and have two children, ages 13 and 14, by my ex-husband. Since I am the sole support of my family, I am obliged to work for a living and this pregnancy would have dire consequences on my well-being and the well-being of my two children. If there is some help available, I implore speedy action since I am, at this writing, two and a half weeks overdue.”


“I find it very difficult to know where to start. I am six weeks pregnant and am just about out of my mind. I’m 43 years of age, a happily married woman with three teenage children; I have a part-time job, which has given me a new lease on life, and now this. I’m desperate. ... I’m so desperate because of dreading what is in store for me and also my husband is in a denial state about it. We have no one to turn to. Please, I beg of you to help me. Please don’t turn your back on me, as I can’t go through with this. Please.”


"I may find myself in a most serious predicament within the next few weeks and need your assistance. The girl I’m going steady with, who’s 19, suspects she’s pregnant. If she is, things could be very bad, to say the least. Although we intend to marry eventually, marriage now and out of wedlock would be absolutely out of the question, due to the extreme emotional, social, and educational problems that would arise. I decided to waste no time in taking steps now to avert a catastrophe in the event our fears are realized. An abortion by a medical doctor would be the only workable solution. Not knowing where to begin looking, I just happened to notice your article in this month’s Playboy magazine. Upon reading it, I was somewhat relieved to find that there are people both concerned and kind enough to help those in this desperate situation. I decided to write to you immediately in the hope that you could help us as we would have no one else to turn to.”


“I know you probably don’t have time to answer all of your mail personally, but there are a few things I have to ask you. Perhaps they’ll be answered by the information you send me, but anyway... I live in L.A., but I go to school up here. When I came back from Christmas break, I found I had a real problem. The thing is, I can’t get away from school until the 8th of March, by which time I’ll be two months pregnant. Is that too late? Also, how much will it cost? And can you send me the name of a trusted physician in Oregon, or should I go to L.A. right afterward and see one there? Finally, could you please send the information in a plain envelope? I live in a sorority house and we haven’t got private mailboxes. I sure would appreciate it if you could help me. I’ve always thought it was a good thing what you’re doing, but now I really appreciate it.”


“Please rush, by special delivery airmail, your packet of information regarding abortion sources. My daughter, age 21, is eight weeks pregnant. Date of last menstruation period was December 20th, cycle varied from 28 to 35 days. The pregnancy test was positive. She is a junior in college. She feels this [is] the best answer to this problem and she wishes to continue her education. She does not want to get married. I have let her make her own decision. Thank you for helping. I will let you know about our experience in Mexico in the near future.”


“I’m afraid that I find myself in need of your services. The doctor has fairly conclusively proved that my girlfriend is pregnant. I’m a senior in college and she is a sophomore. We are planning be married when she completes college, but find that, financially and emotionally, neither of us are yet prepared for giving a child the attention and love he deserves. We are fully aware that going through the experience of an abortion may well endanger our relationship, but we are both convinced that marriage and parenthood, before we felt ourselves adequately able to prepare for these experiences, would be equally disastrous. Although, of course, it would be preferable to obtain the services of a physician in the Los Angeles area—much preferable—we understand your sources are only in Mexico, and so we will try to equip ourselves for such a trip, insomuch as it is, regrettably, the only course of action for us. We very dearly appreciate whatever information you can give us. Thank you.”


“I am hoping that you can and will help me. Please bear with me while I explain the situation. First, I am pregnant and would like an abortion. I cannot find access to such a service in Minneapolis. Secondly, my mother was, for some time, institutionalized for schizophrenia. Although released, she is still on drugs, and I fear a setback in the event that she should have to find out about my situation. She has had a very, truly terrible life, and I quite frankly just as soon burn in hell for eternity than make her suffer any more. She is very isolated, and I am very important to her. Thirdly, I feel totally defeated by the situation. Neither I, nor the fellow involved, are ready for marriage, and I feel incapable of going through with this pregnancy. So much for the details. Could you please tell me where I could get an abortion, and approximately how much it would cost? ... Are there any possibilities in the Midwest? The matter is urgent, of course, and I would appreciate hearing from you as soon as possible. If you can and will comply with my request you will help prevent what will be, in my estimation, a tragic situation.”


“Last weekend, I drove down to Santa Barbara and saw Dr. Lee at the clinic there with a pregnant girl. She is two and a half months along now, and I’d hoped to get an abortion for her. He said that, in his present position, a D and C [Dilation and curettage] would be difficult and that I should contact you. We drove back up to Palo Alto and phoned you Saturday evening and Sunday, but you were not home. So we drove back up to Oregon and school. The net result of the 2,000-mile trip was your name. Paula and I are both students with no real emotional interest in each other and the pregnancy is the result of intercourse that surprised both of us. Conception took place January 24th. We are desperate not to have this unwanted child. There is no chance of marriage, only an unwanted child. And I believe she might keep the baby if she ever has it, ruining her ability to finish school and creating a most unfortunate situation for both of them. Paula and I are putting ourselves through school. The drive down to Santa Barbara and back cost us 75 dollars and we still are nowhere. We’ve borrowed money from friends and relatives and can pay not too much. Could you please help us?”


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Lana Clarke Phelan
Lana Clarke Phelan


From 1966 through 1973, thousands more letters like this were sent from all over North America, from California, Wisconsin, Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, British Columbia...


Patricia Theresa Maginnis, who would go by Pat, was born June 9, 1928, to devoutly Catholic parents. She and her six siblings grew up in Oklahoma in extreme poverty during the era of the Dust Bowl when severe droughts rendered much of the Midwest useless for farming. To marry her Catholic father, Pat’s mother converted and was then, by the church, denied access to birth control.


“She had constant ‘female trouble.’ I don’t know what that meant, but she had constant problems,” Pat said in a 2018 article in Slate magazine, recalling that her mother continued to bear children even after her doctor advised against it. Her father’s mother had been a promising opera singer—but unmarried—when he was born. “My grandma was on her way to be a star, but she got pregnant. And apparently pregnancy was just a killer of dreams. [My father] was a good soul, but forever tortured because he had been conceived out of wedlock.” This inner torment showed up in his daily life as intense physical abuse, aimed most intensely at Pat’s brothers.


The family home looked out upon the highway and from her window, 14-year-old Pat could see the convoys of soldiers passing to serve in World War II. Dating was prohibited for the Maginnis girls, but Pat still liked the look of a young man in uniform. “I was bursting with hormones,” she said. To counter this, her parents sent her to a convent school.


After school, Pat did not follow her siblings into college. Instead, she began working and funded a trip to the Netherlands to meet a longtime pen pal. She and the man had, in their letters, considered marriage, but Pat quickly accepted that such a life did not appeal to her. “I knew that the intimacy required and the responsibilities and the thought of children I couldn’t face. I decided that marriage was not for me,” she said.


Returning to the U.S., she joined the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. This post ended abruptly when Pat was observed walking with a Black soldier. Such interracial friendships were prohibited. “The captain called me in and scolded me. She said, ‘You’re setting a bad example for young white women who might join the military.’” As punishment, Pat was deployed to Panama.


She spent two years in Central America where she was trained as a surgical technician. Despite this training, she was limited to “the realm of women,” namely obstetrics and pediatrics. There she saw what she would call “a general overview of the status of women”—those seeking care after botched abortions, others forced to give birth to unwanted children or infants with severe health issues—"and I wasn’t at all happy with it.”


When she returned to the United States to attend San José State University, she got pregnant despite using a diaphragm and contraceptive foam. Even until old age, the memories of that time provoked intense emotion. “I was not in the family-ing business, and a child coming from me was not going to happen,” she told Slate. “I simply thought my parents were ruthlessly forced into parenthood, and they … took it. They accepted it. My mother would tell you she enjoyed having children. I didn’t go through childhood with that impression.” Pat traveled to Mexico for an abortion and vowed she would never again leave the United States for medical care.


Decades later, in her late 80s, Pat could not pinpoint a singular incident that cemented her resolve for the need for bodily autonomy. She said, “What I saw was law, medicine, and religion were largely at fault for our problems.” Over the course of her life, she would combat all three.


When, in 1959, Pat induced her own abortion, she was investigated by homicide detectives while she was still recovering in the hospital. They asked her if she’d given herself an abortion. She replied, “Sure I did. Want me to demonstrate how in court?”


Pat founded the Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws in 1962 at San José State University when she was 32 years old. Pat, driven by her medical knowledge from her time in Panama and personal experiences, shouted words that were still whispered. “The word abortion was taboo, and I thought: That’s crazy. People won’t talk about abortion!” she said. “They’re afraid to. I’m going to talk about abortion! Abortion! Women weren’t talking about it. They were afraid to talk about it.” She passed out leaflets containing information about reproductive anatomy, the names of physicians in other countries who would perform abortions, and how to handle police questioning.


Pat targeted medical events where panels of mostly male physicians were deciding the medical freedoms of people with uteruses. She handed her information leaflets to passersby, attendees, and to the doctors themselves—Pat recalled that the doctors “twittered like a bunch of schoolgirls” at the leaflet’s title, Am I Pregnant? “I am attempting to show women an alternative to knitting needles, coat hangers, and household cleaning agents,” she told reporters at the time. All Pat’s methods, while safer and effective, were far more laborious and painful than a simple medical procedure with a trained physician.


Slate’s Lili Loofbourow wrote of the medical climate at the time:


“A system in which abortions were decided between the patient and her doctor or midwife would eventually give way to hospital committees, which debated on a case-by-case basis whether women deserved ‘therapeutic’ abortions. The discussions were humiliating and sometimes even coercive, particularly when they concerned lower-income women and women of color: It wasn’t uncommon for committees to approve the requested abortion if the woman agreed to be sterilized. As medical bureaucracies solidified, hospitals started reporting abortions (and attempted abortions) to police.”

Pat settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and founded the Society for Humane Abortion. In 1966, she would also establish a more underground group to work in conjunction with the public-facing SHA. She called this group the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. In ARAL, she joined forces with fellow activists Lana Phelan and Rowena Gurner, who she’d met around 1964. Together, they were more casually known as “The Army of Three.”


Rowena Gurner earned a mention in a 1962 issue of Sports Illustrated when she “made a 3,942-mile bicycle tour that took her from Manhattan to San Francisco” at age 31. Her activism began when she’d flown to Puerto Rico for an abortion and, like Pat, was furious at the lack of safe access in the United States. She sought out the SHA and brought marketing and business skills to Pat’s raw drive. Pat recalled with affection, “She was so bossy and she understood the value of image.”


Lana Phelan first met Pat on a rainy day when Pat was handing out leaflets on the sidewalk. Like Pat and Rowena, she had come to her own determined activism through personal experience. She married a dockworker at age 13 and bore her first child at 14. That pregnancy and delivery was fraught. “So [the doctor] said, ‘Don’t get pregnant—it’ll kill you,’” Lana shared in 2004. When she got pregnant again at age 16, she struggled to raise 50 dollars for her abortion (a back-room affair where a woman filled her uterus with elm bark). She hid the pain—and the pregnancy itself—from her husband and family.


After a gruesome and traumatic abortion, “I went back to [my doctor] and I wanted to see if I was OK, cleaned up all right. And I told him what I had done. And he said, ‘Well, I figured a smart girl like you would figure a way out of it,’” Lana said. “Now this man was supposed to take care of me—he was an ob/gyn. And with all the education, he knew how; he had the privileges—and he said, “I figured you’d find a way out of it.” But I’m not that smart, I’m scared to death.”


Despite its nightmarish qualities, Lana knew her experience had been one of the better ones. The Cuban woman who’d cared for her had been relatively knowledgeable and kind. “I just don’t want anybody—any woman to have to go through it. And yet I think how fortunate I was to have found that lady. I think of all the tales I’ve heard of the awful stories of males that unfortunately have these ladies in helpless positions. And I realize that they can’t do anything about it.”


Between Lana, Pat, and Rowena “you couldn’t find three more different women,” but their shared vision and complimentary skillsets turned them into a formidable team.


Rowena and Pat both worked full time, filling their personal time with SHA activities. On June 19, 1966, they launched a campaign to get arrested. According to Slate, “The leaflets were [Pat’s] way of knowingly violating both a city ordinance and Section 601 of the California Business and Professions Code, which declared it unlawful to distribute information about abortion. She was also flouting Penal Code 276, which made it a crime to ‘solicit[] any woman to submit to any operation, or to the use of any means whatever, to procure a miscarriage.’”


In the first week, Pat distributed 1,000 leaflets, but she still had not been arrested. The police held off, knowing full well that was her intent. So, she told the local press about her new aim: “My minimum goal is to distribute 50,000 leaflets by July 25, telling women where they can get abortions.” She finally was arrested in late July, but not by the police. Documentarian Gary Bentley interviewed her for 10 minutes, then set down his camera and placed her under citizen’s arrest. The police reluctantly followed through, and Pat’s case went to court where the local ordinance was overturned as unconstitutional.


Many feminists and organizations at the time, including Planned Parenthood, helped the pregnant and desperate to find sympathetic panels and even trained them in what to say to qualify for a “therapeutic abortion.” Their work was often quiet and behind the scenes, publicly advocating for contraception rather than abortion. The Army of Three, by contrast, wanted a total overhaul of the system. Pat took a loud, public stance in what Slate describes as her “ungainly activism.” (“We can’t thank [Margaret Sanger] enough for Planned Parenthood, but it isn’t enough,” Pat said, who expressed tremendous admiration Planned Parenthood. “We used to say we made Planned Parenthood respectable.”)


One arrest down, the Army of Three was just getting started. Pat, Rowena, and Lana continued to distribute leaflets and organize informational events. “The classes SHA organized instructed women on every aspect of an abortion: how to schedule one, how to prepare, what to expect, how it was done, how to respond to police interrogations if you had to be hospitalized, and how—if you couldn’t travel—to perform your own,” Slate reported. The campaigns to get arrested were not just to challenge the laws, but also to distribute their information as widely as possible, especially to low-income women.


In the United States, abortion providers were frequently not doctors, not trained in any way, and were sometimes even predators seeking money—or demanding sex acts—from the desperate in exchange for amateur medical care. ARAL’s Army of Three created “The List” of reliable, trained medical doctors in Japan, Sweden, and Mexico that was continuously updated. Word spread.


Pat, Lana, and Rowena began receiving thousands upon thousands of letters from all over North America, requesting and sometimes begging for The List. These individuals of all socio-economic classes needed solutions; they wanted safe, medically sound options. Many people learned Pat’s name from their own doctors. A 1968 New York Times article reported, “Some leading obstetricians say privately that when they feel they must refuse to abort a patient, they usually send her to Miss Maginnis.”


In 1967, Governor of California Ronald Reagan signed into law the Therapeutic Abortion Act. This law permitted abortion, but only when the birthing parent’s mental or physical well-being would be “gravely impair[ed],” and only before 20 weeks into the pregnancy. Even then, the pregnant people who were eligible under those parameters would still have to plea to a committee. If the pregnancy were a result of rape or incest, the district attorney had to be involved as well.


Many legal and medical professionals objected to this law and noted how it would only continue to create a class divide: wealthy white people would always be able to access abortions; everyone else would be subject to committee judgement. Brian Pendelton wrote in the Hastings Law Journal, “Private hospitals will tend to liberally construe the terms of the statute to comply with the psychiatric needs of their patients, while the more conservative public hospitals will tend to adhere to the letter of the law and deny abortions for mental health reasons, except in cases of obvious psychosis.”


He also notes the law’s various contradictions, such as the disparity between the age of consent for sexual intercourse and the age eligibility for an abortion. “It is unreasonable for a state to declare girls under the age of 18 legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse but to hold them responsible for their conduct by denying them an abortion unless under the age of 15 or 16.” Further, he noted that the abortion as “crime” had proven to be in the eye of the beholder. “Tacit acceptance of this medical practice is evidenced by the almost total lack of enforcement of abortion laws when the abortionist is a reputable physician.”


What was Pat’s response to the law? “We’re going to instruct women in the arts of phony psychosis and false hemorrhage. This unbelievable piece of legislative slop must be violated to the point that the medical profession and legislature is pressured into accepting more modern abortion techniques.” In her opinion, only one question should be asked prior to pursuing an abortion: Does the pregnant person want it?


By the time they began working together, Lana had come to the same conclusion. “I’ve spent my life trying to be sympathetic and understanding to a woman who wants an abortion,” she said. “I never ask her why she wants it. There may be one here and there who has a frivolous reason, but I’m not God, and I’m not going to judge her.”

1964_godthemother

 

The Army of Three helped an estimated 12,000 pregnant people receive safe medical care before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision ruled that the United States Constitution protects the right to abortion. The national progress didn’t feel like a victory to Pat, but rather like the next obvious step forward. “For me it wasn’t a big relief,” she said. “I thought, yeah, that is a good thing. Now, let’s hope we can at least maintain the healthy ideas of it being available. We don’t have to sneak; we don’t have to beg.”


The SHA disbanded in 1975. ARAL formed the foundation for NARAL Pro-Choice America, which continues to this day.


In 2006, artist Andrea Bowers created the video “Letters to an Army of Three.” At Pat’s house for an interview, Andrea found bags and boxes of the thousands of letters sent to Pat, Lana, and Rowena in the pre-Roe years of the SHA. She recorded actors reading some of them as part of her exhibition titled Nothing is Neutral. In 2012, she presented Wall of Letters: Necessary Reminders from the Past for a Future of Choice, an art exhibition in which she painstakingly recreated every single letter in type and handwriting for display.


Lana died in 2010. The exact year of Rowena’s death is uncertain, but by the Slate 2018 interview, only Pat was still alive. She stayed politically active until the end, creating her political cartoons, advocating for gay rights and even making soup for the Occupy Oakland activists in 2011. She saw—as did many reproductive rights activists—the continual chipping away of access to abortion around the country since 1973. She died August 30, 2021, in Oakland at age 93.


When asked by Slate in 2018 what advice she has for the new—old—fight for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, Pat didn’t really have an answer, except not silence. Never silence. “Keep talking about the issue,” she said. “Sure, not everyone is a brilliant speaker, but I think people have to keep talking about it. Don’t you?”



Sources:


Slate.com: “They Called Her ‘the Che Guevara of Abortion Reformers’”

Andrea Bowers: “Letters to an Army of Three” (Vimeo)

Hastings Law Journal: The California Therapeutic Abortion Act: An Analysis

PatMagginis.com: “Lana’s Story”, “The Army of Three”

Nursing Clio: “What Feminists Did the Last Time Abortion Was illegal” 

Hollis Archives: Additional records for the Society for Humane Abortion, 1961-2016 (inclusive), 1964-1972 (bulk)

Sports Illustrated: Faces in the Crowd

Walker Art: “Letters to the Army of Three: Andrea Bowers on Abortion, Then and Now” 

Washington Post: “Patricia Maginnis, trailblazing abortion rights activist, dies at 93”

Wikipedia: Pat Maginnis

History.com: Dust Bowl