Thank You for Not Being Afraid, Pat Maginnis

Photo by Charlotte Cooper via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

You’ve almost certainly heard of Betty Friedan, and probably also of Margaret Sanger. But what about Pat Maginnis? If you don’t know about the outspoken, angry, pioneering abortion rights activist and health educator, Lili Loofbourow’s excellent profile at Slate is a good starting point.

When Maginnis launched her leaflet campaign, she chose a location that would maximize her ability to confront a medical community she saw as at best patronizing to women and at worst exploitative and controlling. The state Board of Medical Examiners had gathered at the University of San Francisco to discuss the implementation of hospital committees that would determine whether women could receive abortions. As the mostly male board debated the circumstances under which women could be forced to give birth, Maginnis was outside handing out information on how to abort without the help of the doctors within. She was shocked at how unseriously the board took their mandate. She told the Berkeley Barb that when she’d handed some board members a leaflet titled “Are you Pregnant?” with abortion information on it, they “twittered like a bunch of schoolgirls.”

This, she felt, was the collective effect of the laws and ordinances that made even talking about abortion illegal: The entire concept had become untouchable, a boogeyman. “The word abortion was taboo,” she says. “And I thought: That’s crazy. People won’t talk about abortion! They’re afraid to. I’m going to talk about abortion! ABORTION!” she yelled. “Women weren’t talking about it. They were afraid to talk about it.”

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