Proposed legislation in Kentucky this week would reportedly make abortion punishable by up to five years in prison.

State Rep. Robert Goforth (R) prefiled a bill on Thursday that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, according to WAVE, an NBC affiliate.

Under the terms of the measure, abortion providers would be required to check for a heartbeat before performing the procedure. If they detect a fetal heartbeat, it would then become a Class D felony to go through with the abortion unless it’s deemed a medical emergency.

In Kentucky, Class D felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison.

“My proposal recognizes that everyone has a right to life,” Goforth said in a statement, according to Kentucky Today. “My personal belief is that life begins at conception and ends at natural death. A heartbeat proves that there’s life that deserves protection under law — if a heart is beating, a baby needs to be protected and given an opportunity to live.”

Anti-abortion groups and lawmakers have been emboldened by the Trump administration and changes to the makeup of the Supreme Court, ramping up their push for restrictions on abortion as part of a strategy to get the Supreme Court to re-examine Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion.

“We’re talking about viable babies,” Goforth said. “This is the most pro-life piece of the legislation that has ever been filed in the Kentucky Legislature.”

Goforth added that he knows his proposal might face legal challenges if it becomes law but said it is worth the trouble.

“I look forward to the day our laws and our court system give unborn children the legal right to life that they deserve so they can grow and live happy and productive lives,” he said.

The bill will reportedly be considered in the Kentucky General Assembly’s next session, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 8.

Similar bills, dubbed “heartbeat” bills, have been voted on by lawmakers in Ohio and Iowa earlier this year.

Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) has reportedly vowed to veto that legislation if it makes it to his desk. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) has not indicated whether she will sign the measure.

Planned Parenthood staff members Kelana Love, left, and Monica Encalada answer phone calls at the Nashville clinic. A Nashville synagogue will host a fundraiser for the group that the Gordon Jewish Community Center backed out of agreeing to hold at its facilities. Shelley Mays / The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The only remaining abortion clinic in Tennessee’s capital has ceased offering abortions, instead referring patients to clinics 200 miles away in Knoxville and Memphis.

Officials with Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, which operates the north Nashville clinic, could not say when its clinic would resume abortions. The organization has a shortage of physicians to do the procedure, a spokeswoman said.

The clinic is also “undergoing a period of quality improvement and will return with these services soon,” a statement said. It is the second clinic in Nashville to stop abortions this year.

The Women’s Center closed in August after the sale of its building, and its operators said they hoped to reopen. No target date was set, and its reopening has not happened yet.

► Dec. 10: Supreme Court won’t consider state efforts to defund Planned Parenthood
► Nov. 20: Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban overturned by federal judge
► Oct. 26: Fight over abortion comes to Oregon as GOP targets reproductive rights

The suspension of abortion services at Nashville’s only abortion clinic comes at a time when the number of abortion providers in Tennessee and throughout the Southeast continues to dwindle.

Tennessee now has six abortion providers, down from 16 in 2000 but more than in any other neighboring state except North Carolina.

Also Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Republican-led states’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. The court let stand federal appeals court rulings that allowed the reproductive health organization’s patients to contest laws in Louisiana and Kansas that stripped its Medicaid money.

In Tennessee, more than 9,700 abortions were performed in 2016, up from about 9,100 in 2015, according to the Tennessee Department of Health’s most recent data.

Nashville’s Planned Parenthood clinic was the largest provider of abortions in the state, serving women in rural Middle Tennessee counties as well as neighboring as Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi.

► Oct. 25: Abortion cases offer test for the Supreme Court
► Oct. 10: Pope Francis compares abortion to hiring a hit man to solve problems

Some women now will have to travel even further to obtain an abortion. And under Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting-period law, they will have to make the trip twice.

The law, enacted in 2015, requires two trips to an abortion clinic with a two-day wait between the first appointment to obtain counseling and then a subsequent office visit to undergo the procedure.

Tennessee Right to Life, which advocates against abortions, already is seeing a spike in women callers who could not obtain abortion appointments in Nashville, said Brian Harris, the organization’s president. The organization advertises services for women who are pregnant and need help but does not perform abortions or refer women to abortion clinics.

Instead, the organization provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. It also offers to connect women to services intended to assist them in continuing their pregnancies to term.

“The phone has been very busy here with women calling and looking for abortion referrals – busier than they’ve ever been,” Harris said.

► Sept. 28: Federal judge strikes down Kentucky restriction on abortion clinics
► June 29: 72-hour wait for abortions struck down by Iowa Supreme Court

On Monday, the Nashville Planned Parenthood clinic was open for other women’s medical services including birth control and sexually transmitted disease testing, but its waiting room was empty. Operators at the organization’s scheduling line are referring callers who want abortions to other locations.

“As of right now we’re only scheduling for other locations,” said an operator who answered the phone at the clinic’s line. The woman, who did not give her name, said abortion services were suspended “indefinitely.”

The Women’s Center, along with other abortion providers in Tennessee, are still fighting to overturn the 48-hour waiting period rule in federal court.

“This bill would ensure that our State Department maintains its vital role as an international watchdog and protector of women’s rights,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA).

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill Monday that would require the State Department to again include a subsection on reproductive health in its annual human rights report.

The State Department is responsible for producing a report each year detailing human rights abuses in each country receiving U.S. foreign aid. Starting under the Obama administration, reproductive health information such as systemic international issues with access to contraception and abortion care was included in the report. That practice ended this year under the Trump administration.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Lois Frankel (D-FL), was filed on International Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would require the State Department to recognize reproductive rights in its annual human rights report.

“Documenting and reporting human rights violations is a major part of eradicating their existence,” said Clark in a statement. “This bill would ensure that our State Department maintains its vital role as an international watchdog and protector of women’s rights no matter the ideology of our White House.”

The bill currently has the support of 45 reproductive rights and social justice advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Reproductive health care is health care, and health care is a basic human right,” said Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “The Trump-Pence administration’s erasure of reproductive rights from the State Department’s human rights report is an attack on women around the world, and the communities that depend on them.”

In October of this year, 129 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding the State Department again include the removed subsection. The bill comes as the Trump administration nominated former Fox News anchor and current State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert to become ambassador to the United Nations. Nauert defended the department’s decision to exclude reproductive health information from the State Department human rights reports.

According to a January Politico report, Nauert said in a statement that the way the department “presents the report’s material has changed from time to time,” and that “this year we are better focusing some sections of the report for clarity.” She added that the department was not “downgrading coverage of LGBT or women’s issues.” The subsection of the report was renamed from “Reproductive Rights” to “Coercion in Population Control,” a move which left advocates concerned.

“This erasure puts real lives in danger,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement Monday. “Using backdoor tactics to erase all mention of reproductive rights—including abortion, contraception, and maternal mortality—from vital reports and resources in order to push an extreme, ideological agenda is a true testament to just how dangerous and corrupt this administration is.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit in early December against the State Department over a failure to produce records regarding exclusion of the reproductive rights subsection requested under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. “This erasure is tantamount to an outright rejection of the basic principle that reproductive rights are human rights,” said Stephanie Schmid, U.S. foreign policy counsel for CRR, in a statement regarding the suit. “The Center will continue to use the power of the law to hold this administration accountable in order to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States promotes, rather than hinders, women and girls’ access to basic health care like contraception, safe abortion, and maternal health care in order for them to achieve economic, social, and political empowerment.”

This isn’t the first time the State Department has moved against international reproductive health access. The Trump administration reinstituted the “Mexico City Policy”, otherwise known as the Global Gag Rule, immediately after taking office in January 2017. Administered by the State Department, the rule prevents foreign aid from going to organizations which perform, make referrals for, or counsel about abortion care for patients. It has already had a negative effect for pregnant people worldwide.


‘Change is coming,’ writes Health Minister Simon Harris following the passing of abortion legislation through the Dáil.

SIX MONTHS AGO, 1.42 million people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment and to care for women in crisis pregnancies in this country.

Many of them had waited 35 years to cast their vote. Many others voted with the weight of their own personal experiences upon them.

It took three decades to build the revolution. For that brave minority of campaigners, it may have seemed a tireless and fruitless exercise.

However, every time those men and women stood up against this injustice, the walls of oppression and resistance began to fall.

Their perseverance resulted in the galvanisation of a generation eager to break free from the shackles of the past and shape the society it wanted to live in.

As Minister for Health, it is my responsibility to act on the mandate given to me by the Irish people and today, we move one step closer to achieving that aim.

The Dáil has now passed the Termination of Pregnancy Bill by and the Seanad will now consider the legislation.

As outlined prior to the referendum, the Bill allows for access to abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with no restriction to reason.

Beyond that terminations will only be permitted when a woman’s life or health is at risk. Abortions will also be accessible when there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

As legislators, it is our job to scrutinise the Bill before us, but we must remind ourselves of the realities still facing women in crisis pregnancies daily.

Since the people voted, over 2,300 women have found themselves in crisis and despite the overwhelming referendum result, the State has been unable to offer them the care they need.

I have listened to hours of debate in the Oireachtas over the past number of weeks. Many of the TDs have raised genuine issues of concern and I have always sought to engage constructively with them.

But there were others who obstructed and delayed this legislation. Some TDs wanted to rerun the referendum and blatantly disregard the will of the people.

With respect to the genuinely held feelings of the minority, we have a duty to the principles of the majority decision to provide women the right to safe and compassionate care in their own country.

Introduction of abortion services

In the aftermath of the referendum, I asked for abortion services to be introduced in this country in January. This is not a political deadline, as some commentators have suggested but an acknowledgement that women have waited too long for these services and without a deadline, their wait will continue.

There has been lots of discussion over the past number of days about the introduction of the services and again, most people are raising genuine questions. But there is a small minority trying to create a fictional crisis, aided by some aspects of the media.

So, let me clear about the work that is underway by the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and Dr Peter Boylan to provide this service in January.

An agreement has been reached between the Irish Medical Organisation and the Department of Health on a fee for GPs providing the service. Each GP has been written to, expressions of interest in providing the service have been sought and details of the level of participation should be known over the coming weeks.

The HSE has also been working closely with the Irish Family Planning Association and the Well Woman Centre to ensure they are able to provide the service from January.

Hospitals have provided a plan for the rollout of termination services from January. These are currently being examined by Dr Boylan and the Women and Infants Programme.

For the service user, there will be a 24-hour helpline. It will offer the information, non-directive counselling, and if required, free face to face counselling. Crucially, it will direct the woman to her nearest provider willing to provide the service.

When the legislation is enacted, the HSE will run radio advertisements and digital advertisements informing the public of this phone line.

The HSE will also have new content on abortion services ready to go live on sexualwellbeing.iewhen the legislation is enacted.

Posters and leaflets for the counselling line, along with a new leaflet on contraception, will be delivered to GP surgeries and acute hospitals.

This is all matched by significant resources allocated in Budget 2019.

The introduction of any new service will bring challenges and difficulties but none of these issues should delay the introduction of the service.

The women of Ireland have demanded political leadership and I believe the majority of the Oireachtas has delivered upon that instruction.

We now require clinical leadership and I know the medical profession will respond.

I accept there is more work to be done in this area. I am committed to introducing safe access zones to assist medical professionals willing to provide this service and to protect women from harassment and discrimination. Work is underway by the Department and the Attorney General in drafting a Bill for publication in 2019.

There is significant work still to be done in reducing the number of crisis pregnancies. Work is ongoing to explore all the issues associated with enhancing access to contraception, including associated costs.

The chief medical officer in my Department Dr Tony Holohan has been working extraordinarily hard in this area and I look forward to progressing proposals in this regard in 2019.

We will also proceed with a Women’s Health Action Plan next year.

‘Change is coming’

The journey has been long but we have at the end been given a clear direction by the people and we will not be diverted from the path.

I know there are many women reading this article who have experienced crisis pregnancies and who have had to travel abroad for assistance. I want you to know I am committed to ensuring women will not have to endure similar journeys.

I know there are doctors, midwives and nurses working tirelessly to play their part in the provision of services. Your dedication to providing care to women in crisis will not be forgotten and will be matched by government resources.

I know there are medical professionals reading this who have a conscientious objection to providing this service. I want your rights to be respected and upheld.

I also know there are people who are engaged in conscientious obstruction and I want you to know your efforts will not succeed. You will not deter me or my colleagues in ensuring a safe, woman-centred service is in place in January.

Change is coming. You will not alter its inevitably or change its character.

This is the beginning of a new era for women’s health ushered in by a prevailing spirit of solidarity, inclusivity and equality.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected appeals by Louisiana and Kansas seeking to end their public funding to women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood through the Medicaid program, with President Donald Trump’s appointee Brett Kavanaugh among the justices who rebuffed the states.

The justices left intact lower court rulings that prevented Louisiana and Kansas from stripping government healthcare funding from local Planned Parenthood affiliates. The case was one of a number of disputes working their way up to the Supreme Court over the legality of state-imposed restrictions involving abortion.

Three conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – dissented from the decision by the nine-member conservative-majority court, saying it should have heard the appeals by the states.

At least four justices must vote to grant review for the court to hear an appeal. Along with the four liberal justices, Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts – the court’s two other conservative justices – opposed taking up the matter.

Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in Louisiana do not perform abortions, but some in Kansas do. Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income Americans, pays for abortions only in limited circumstances such as when a woman’s life is in danger.

It marked the first-known vote by Kavanaugh in a case since he joined the court in October after a fierce confirmation fight in the Senate. Kavanaugh was named by Trump to replace the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who sometimes sided with the court’s liberals on social issues like abortion.

Some Kavanaugh opponents feared he would back legal efforts to overturn or further restrict the legal right to abortion.

Thomas suggested the justices who rejected the appeals put politics over the law.

“So what explains the court’s refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood,'” Thomas wrote in dissent.

“Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty,” Thomas added.

Louisiana and Kansas announced Republican-backed plans to terminate funding for Planned Parenthood through Medicaid after an anti-abortion group released videos in 2015 purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives negotiating the for-profit sale of fetal tissue and body parts. Planned Parenthood denied the allegations and called the videos heavily edited and misleading.

The organization’s affiliates in each state, as well as several patients, sued in federal court to maintain the funding.

“We regret today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that it fell one vote short of taking our case against Planned Parenthood,” Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer, a Republican, said in a statement.


Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the court’s action, saying in a statement: “Every person has a fundamental right to healthcare, no matter who they are, where they live or how much they earn.”

Legal battles over other laws from Republican-led states could reach the court in the next year or two. Some seek to ban abortions in early pregnancy, including Iowa’s prohibition after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Others impose difficult-to-meet regulations on abortion providers such as having formal ties, called admitting privileges, at a local hospital.

The cases from Kansas and Louisiana did not challenge the constitutionality of abortion itself.

Many social and religious conservatives in the United States have argued against government funding of Planned Parenthood, and Republican politicians have made efforts at the state and federal level to eliminate public funding for abortion services.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 blocked Louisiana’s Medicaid cuts, saying the action would harm patients. The 5th Circuit said no one disputed that Planned Parenthood was actually qualified to provide the medical services it offers and the state was seeking to cut funding “for reasons unrelated to its qualifications.”

In February, the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Kansas could not block funding because states “may not terminate providers from their Medicaid program for any reason they see fit.”


That’s partly because Catholic institutions may not want it known.

A 2005 study found that 54.9 percent of Catholic hospitals do not provide emergency contraception for any reason, compared with 42.2 percent of non-Catholic hospitals. 

As Catholic health systems that restrict care on religious grounds have expanded, Maryam Guiahi had what she thought was a simple question. Guiahi, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, wanted to know what happens to patients who are denied reproductive health care by Catholic institutions.

So she and fellow researchers trawled through thousands of papers dating back to at least the 1960s in scientific databases, looking for data on patient outcomes.

They found one study. It happened to be one Guiahi had written.

“We don’t know, when patients get denied a service, do most of them figure out a way to get it in some other way?” Guiahi told Rewire.News. “Or do most of them end up having outcomes that they were not hoping for?”

Guiahi and her fellow researchers—who published their review in the latest issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology—found just 27 studies on reproductive health care at Catholic institutions, which now account for one in six acute-care beds in the United States. While these facilities follow religious directives that ban an array of reproductive care, most studies focused on the availability of birth control, sterilization, or emergency contraception. Two focused on abortion care. One looked at miscarriage management and one at infertility care.

Part of the reason for this lack of information is that Catholic institutions may not want it known, according to Guiahi, who has been thwarted in her research.

“At one institution, I just wanted to survey women to understand what they thought they could get at this institution—like did they think they could get a birth control pill?” Guiahi said. “And the response I got was: We prefer not to make our patients aware of what we don’t offer.”

This secrecy seems to be working. More than a third of women who rely on a Catholic hospital for reproductive services don’t realize it’s Catholic. One in five of these institutions don’t disclose their religious identity on their website, Guiahi found in another study.

Another barrier is that researchers within Catholic institutions may fear retaliation if they report on reproductive care, Guiahi said. That could explain why only two studies have been conducted by researchers within these facilities, meaning the bulk of the research comes from outsiders who don’t have access to patient information. Providers who have found ways to get around the rules and provide reproductive care at Catholic hospitals may also want to avoid publicizing the workarounds, lest the Catholic bishops find out and stop them.

But Guiahi’s lone study on patient outcomes is enough to raise concerns.

That study, from 2011, looked at what happened when the Catholic Loyola University Medical Center restricted access to injectable contraception for patients who had just given birth. Pregnancy rates over the ensuing year increased, particularly for young women of color. Overall, women of color are more likely to give birth in Catholic institutions.

Other research excluded from Guiahi’s review points to the devastating effect of reproductive health-care denial, showing, for example, that women who are denied abortions and carry unwanted pregnancies to term are more likely to suffer serious medical complications and mental health issues, or to stay with abusive partners. Their children fare worse than their peers and are more likely to live in poverty.

The lack of data on Catholic hospitals hampers meaningful public dialogue about how to regulate these hospitals, which receive billions in public funding through Medicare and Medicaid, and deprives patients of the ability to make informed choices about where to seek care. Mergers, hospital closures, and insurance policies that dictate where patients seek care have made Catholic institutions the only accessible option for many people.

There is one obvious conclusion that emerges from the research on Catholic hospitals. The availability of reproductive care in these institutions—as in secular institutions—can vary widely. A 2005 study, for example, found that 54.9 percent of Catholic hospitals do not provide emergency contraception for any reason, compared with 42.2 percent of non-Catholic hospitals. But another from 1999 found 82 percent of Catholic emergency departments do not provide emergency contraception, even for rape.

Even within the same Catholic system, religious rules around sterilization and contraception can differ.

That makes it seem a tall order for patients to understand how these directives can impact their lives, especially when not even researchers have the answer.


A decade before Roe, Pat Maginnis’ radical activism—and righteous rage—changed the abortion debate forever.

There was nothing remarkable about the small woman carrying a box of leaflets—certainly nothing to justify the clutch of reporters waiting for her across from San Francisco’s Federal Building on a July morning in 1966. Still, there they were. She arrived at exactly 9 a.m., greeted them, and began distributing fliers to anyone who passed. There were two of them: One was a yellow slip of paper titled “Classes in Abortion,” listing topics like female anatomy, foreign abortion specialists, and police questioning. The other—which she gave only to the assembled journalists and the five women who signed up for her class that Wednesday evening—described two techniques for DIY abortions. “I am attempting to show women an alternative to knitting needles, coat hangers, and household cleaning agents,” she told the reporters, adding that she had notified San Francisco police of her whereabouts and plans.

The woman was Patricia Maginnis, a laboratory technician and founder of the Society for Humane Abortion, an organization that she ran out of the front room of her small apartment in San Francisco. She’d started the SHA in 1962 (back then, it was called the Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws). Arguably the first organization of its kind in America, its mandate was radical: The SHA sought to repeal abortion laws, endorse elective abortions, and offer women any resources it could in the meantime. These resources would come to include “the List,” an up-to-date directory of safe abortion specialists outside the country, classes on DIY abortions, and symposia where sympathetic doctors could confer with each other about the safest and best abortion techniques. SHA would eventually formalize its legal strategy with a branch called the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL, which would form the basis for NARAL), specifically devoted to challenging legislation.

But on this particular day, and on this particular mission, Maginnis claimed she was acting alone, outside of her organization. The leaflets were her 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.” The violation was the point: Maginnis had politely informed the police of her every move in advance. The aim was to goad the legal apparatus into an ugly confrontation that it preferred to keep as merely a threat; she wanted to make the system own the consequences of its laws. “I could get arrested for soliciting women to undergo a felony,” Maginnis told the alt-weekly Berkeley Barb, “but I feel it is necessary at this point to have a test case.” To get a law thrown out, you first need to go to court. And to get to court, you must be arrested.

Then it happened. While the reporters watched, a documentarian named Gary Bentley interviewed Maginnis for 10 minutes with a camera crew. Content with his footage, he asked his cameraman to film as he walked up to Maginnis. Here’s Hooper describing what happened next:

With microphone in hand and cameraman turned on, he said, “I’m placing you under citizen’s arrest for violating Section 188 of the Municipal Police Code. What do you think of that?”

“Excuse me, please,” Pat Maginnis said, and she hurried after one more woman to give her a leaflet.

When the police arrived in response to Bentley’s citizen’s arrest, they did so unwillingly. They tried to argue that they weren’t the ones arresting her even as they helped Maginnis into a cop car. It didn’t matter. Maginnis’ “test case” paid off. San Francisco’s Section 188 would be declared unconstitutional, and the case against her would be thrown out in court. It was the first of her many legal victories.

A social history of American abortion shows two things: 1) that it’s always been around, and 2) that anti-choice efforts tend to intensify in response to women’s perceived “liberation.” This was certainly true when Pat Maginnis came of age. Women had joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers during World War II, and the 1950s were engaged in the genie-rebottling project of fetishizing traditional gender roles. One result, as Leslie Reagan points out in When Abortion Was a Crime, was a sharp increase in the (medicalized) oversight of women’s choices. 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.

That this compromised women’s privacy and subjected their health care to literal policing barely registered in these discussions, which tended overwhelmingly to prioritize the physicians’perspective rather than women’s needs. Doctors worried about the semilegal status of “therapeutic” abortions, but they also didn’t like committees telling them what to do with their patients. In either case, the debate revolved around doctors’ preferences and anxieties. There were plenty of organizations trying to reform abortion laws, ranging from Planned Parenthood—which in 1955 held an “abortion conference” to address possible reform efforts—to the California Committee to Legalize Abortion. Some abortion activists also chose to work within the existing framework: steering patients toward favorable hospital committees or training women on what to say to get “therapeutic” abortions, whether by emphasizing excessive vomiting or offering up stories that would earn them permission on psychiatric grounds.

Maginnis aimed for more than reform. She wanted a total system overhaul. As a figure in feminist history, Maginnis, now 90 years old, may not loom as large as a Margaret Sanger or a Betty Friedan. But while she’s finally getting some belated recognition, she was never particularly interested in taking credit for her work. Nor was she much invested in making herself or her positions respectable or palatable to mainstream culture. This may have made her an awkward figure for a movement that was then treading delicate territory. And yet, a decade before Roe, with her ungainly activism, her proclivity for wearing clothes she’d found on the street, and her righteous, unquenchable rage, Maginnis helped to fundamentally reshape the abortion debate into the terms we’re still using today. She was the first to take a passionate, public stance arguing that the medical stranglehold over women’s reproductive lives was corrosive. And the Society for Humane Abortion was arguably the very first American organization to advocate a pro-choice position that centered the woman, instead of the legal dilemmas of the physician—specifically, her right to privacy and choice. Rejecting the finicky gatekeeping protocols, the committees and evaluations and red tape, Maginnis proposed that the only question anyone should ask prior to approving an abortion was a simple one: whether the woman wanted it.

Pat Maginnis grew up with six siblings in Okarche, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression. Her father, a veterinarian, barely scraped by. Her family’s troubles were compounded by Catholic strictures: Her mother had converted in order to marry her father and—because birth control was not an option—consequently continued having children long after the doctors advised against it. “She had constant ‘female trouble,’ ” Maginnis says, recalling her mother’s unhappiness and pain. “I don’t know what that meant, but she had constant problems.” Her father, the illegitimate son of an opera singer, was differently scarred by the vagaries of unplanned pregnancy. “My grandma was on her way to be a star,” Maginnis says, “but she got pregnant. And apparently pregnancy was just a killer of dreams.” Her father never got over the humiliating circumstances of his birth. “He was a good soul, but forever tortured because he had been conceived out of wedlock.”

It’s hard to separate Maginnis’ refusal to become a parent herself from the misery that this litany of reproductive events inflicted on her family. Maginnis says that her father was so abusive that her older brother confessed to her that growing up he’d feared for his life more than once. Her family was not, in consequence (and despite its size and religious piety), particularly close. Some years after she started the SHA, her mother sent her a letter: “Dear Patricia,” Maginnis reads now, affecting a formal, slightly prissy voice, “I was thinking you must be about 40 years old. I do think you could do something besides teaching these girls to commit murder. P.S. If you come this way, do look us up. Love, Mother.”

It was a sufficiently chilly relationship—and Maginnis was so eager to get away—that she describes her banishment to a boarding school as a relief and remembers her mother’s trip to visit her in California with some acidity. “I never talked to her about my sex life,” Maginnis says. I’d asked whether she ever discussed abortion with her mother; that her answer took this form surprised me slightly. I wouldn’t necessarily have used the phrase “sex life” (which, to me, connotes pleasure) to include abortions. But Maginnis would; in fact, that was sort of her point. Any campaign for elective abortion is, of course, at least in part aimed at granting that women, too, might find joy and delight in sex (rather than just pain, danger, and obligation). As a guilt-ridden ex-Catholic myself, I was both baffled and impressed by Maginnis’ immunity to the shame that ailed her family: How does a soft-spoken, scrupulously polite Oklahoma girl who attended Catholic schools with strict Catholic parents shed her sexual guilt to become not just sexually adventurous, but a pioneer in activist lawbreaking?

Instead of going straight to college like her sisters, she went to work in a lab at the Bureau of Mines in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and funded her own sea voyage to the Netherlands to meet a longtime pen pal and notional fiancé. They did not marry in the end. (“I knew that the intimacy required and the responsibilities and the thought of children I couldn’t face,” she says. “I decided that marriage was not for me.”) Then, partly because a friend told her the uniforms were cute, she joined the Women’s Army Corps. She was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina until she was spotted walking with a black soldier: “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.’ ” She was shipped off to Panama as punishment.

During those two years in Central America, she experienced a different kind of discrimination. She’d trained as a surgical technician, but instead of being allowed to work in surgery as she’d hoped, she was assigned to the pediatrics and obstetrics wards—the realm of women. There, she was exposed to women suffering from botched abortions, women being forced to give birth, infants with terrible abnormalities. What she didn’t get in surgical experience, she got in perspective. “A general overview of the status of women,” as she puts it to me. “And I wasn’t at all happy with it.” Then she went to college at San Jose State—and got pregnant. She’d been fitted for a diaphragm. Used foam. None of it worked.

She got her first abortion in Mexico and swore to herself that she would never again leave her own country to get medical care. She spent the next decade producing a list of legitimate abortion providers outside the country while also working quietly with those within it. Despite her best efforts, she would get pregnant twice more. But she would continue to have a sex life. And the horror of having to wrestle down her own fertility forged her into the formidable antagonist to the law that she became.

It helped, perhaps, that Maginnis was no longer young by the mid-1960s. She came of age long before the sexual revolution, which meant she had a particular experience of—and a particular fury about—what women had been routinely expected to tolerate. It’s hard for statistics to express just how urgent the abortion conversation was in the 1960s, or how difficult it was to even have the conversation, given the laws. In 1961, Los Angeles County Hospital admitted over 3,500 patients treated for illegal abortions. As of 1967, almost 80 percent of the women who died as a consequence of botched abortions were nonwhite.

Maginnis can’t pinpoint a single moment that turned her into an activist. She admits to once feeling great sympathy for a celebrity who was pilloried for needing an abortion, but it’s clear that there was no single precipitating incident. Her work, rather, was inspired by a slow and building rage. “What I saw was law, medicine, and religion were largely at fault for our problems,” she says.

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.”

Maginnis wasn’t. She relied on logistical help from two women, Lana Phelan and Rowena Gurner, who joined her to form the Society for Humane Abortion’s central trio, which came to be known as the “Army of Three.” Maginnis was the fire, Gurner the strategist and organizational genius, and Phelan the organization’s eloquent mouthpiece. Gurner, like Maginnis, also worked full time, professionalizing the organization in her spare hours. She spent many nights sleeping on SHA’s floor. Gurner “had polish,” Maginnis tells me, her eyes lighting up. “She gave me $20 once. Now, Patricia!” she says, mimicking her. “You go buy a new dress for this occasion, and don’t bring something that you found on the street or in the thrift store!

Gurner’s gift for strategy and Maginnis’ grit turned the leafleting plan into an all-out, accelerating assault on laws they saw as punitive or unjust—using themselves as bait. “I plan to leaflet for abortion until they get sick of me and arrest me or repeal the law,” Maginnis had announced to the Berkeley Barb when she launched her campaign on June 16, 1966. Her initial plan had been to distribute a thousand leaflets. A week later, when she hadn’t been arrested, she escalated. “My minimum goal is to distribute 50,000 leaflets by July 25, telling women where they can get abortions,” she announced through the press. When she finally was arrested (in late July, thanks to that “citizen’s arrest” by Gary Bentley), she caused the city ordinance under which she was arrested to be ruled unconstitutional. She had no intention of stopping there. “I was arrested under a local ordinance,” she told the Barb in 1966. “Now it’s the state laws that need changing.”

Abortion aftercare tips: "1) No tub baths or swimming for at least 2 weeks (preferably 4) afterwards. Showers and sponge baths permitted. 2) No sexual intercourse for one month after the abortion. 3) Avoid constipation. Do not wait until you are actually constipated to eat the stewed prunes. 4) Do not introduce Tampax nor anything else into the vagina for one month. If you wish to douche, use a mild Phisohex solution made according to directions on the package. Sterilize douche equipment each time before using by washing thoroughly with strong Phisohex solution or by boiling for 15 minutes."
Los Angeles Free Press

When the San Mateo County district attorney announced that if Maginnis and Gurner showed up, he intended to enforce California’s state law forbidding the dissemination of written matter on abortions, the pair immediately arranged a class in San Mateo that covered abortion laws and DIY abortions. As Gurner put it to the Barb: “We just want to get this law on trial. … We obviously and willingly broke the law. And we did it so that no DA could weasel out because of ‘insufficient evidence.’ ” It worked. They were arrested on Feb. 20, 1967, and faced (according to the Barb) a sentence of five to seven years in state prison if found guilty. While their hearing was in progress—in a courthouse in Redwood City—an unrepentant Gurner and Maginnis advertised that they were still looking for a place in Berkeley they could rent on Thursday nights to hold more abortion classes. (The room needed to hold 50 people, and they were willing to pay $10 a night.)

It took six years from their 1967 arrests for Maginnis and Gurner’s efforts to pay off. Initially, both women were convicted of violating Section 601 of the California Business and Professions Code—the state statute that made it unlawful to advertise abortion. But in 1973, the state Court of Appeals overturned their convictions, ruling that Section 601 was overly broad—for one thing, it “does not distinguish between abortions which are permitted and those which are not”—and thus unconstitutional.

The Army of Three hadn’t been trying to get arrested merely as a matter of strategy: They had real information to distribute, information that was hardest to obtain for women who weren’t rich. Maginnis was incensed by a medical consensus that effectively discriminated against the poor. “The medical profession’s committee idea of legalized abortion is very discriminatory,” she told the Barb. “It will help those with lots of money or contacts, not the majority of women.” Lower-income women suffered—like the third member of the Army of Three, Phelan, who struggled to collect the $50 she needed for an illegal abortion. Women in search of abortions were also easy to exploit. According to Maginnis, some parties whose phone numbers and addresses were being circulated (or sold) as abortion providers weren’t actually doctors. This discovery, and the accompanying stories of botched abortions and sexually exploitative abortionists, spurred her to create “the List.” Essentially a Yelp for abortion seekers, the List offered a continuously updated and reliable list of qualified abortion providers in Japan, Sweden, and Mexico. The Jane Collective in Chicago would follow suit a few years later, performing the abortions themselves.

By 1969, the Society for Humane Abortion claimed to have sent 12,000 women out of the country to get abortions from reliable, trustworthy providers. To give you a sense of just how necessary the List was, here’s an excerpt from one List user’s earlier attempt to obtain an abortion domestically (as printed in a set of letters to ARAL published by the Los Angeles Free Press): “I was two weeks along then and he made me wait until I was 3 months along. Then he said it was too late to get any help from anyone but he would do it if I would sleep with him!” 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.

The classes sometimes included DIY abortion kits with items like gauze, a thermometer, cotton, and a syringe. Maginnis was by all accounts a vivid teacher. Newspapers reported that she lectured using an IUD for a pointer and that she “graphically illustrated the dangers of unsanitary abortion by holding up anal bacteria cultures and infected blood samples.” The class taught women female anatomy. It instructed them on how to calculate how many weeks pregnant they were. It instructed them on exactly how to call for an appointment (the woman, not the man, should place the call).

These classes were understood by many to be essential but legally risky. When the Los Angeles Free Press took the bold step of republishing the entire class’s contents across several pages of an October 1967 issue, the layout was anxiously peppered with editor’s notes and legal disclaimers like: “The Free Press can not and does not advise women who are not legally entitled to an abortion to follow the advice of Pat Maginnis.”

Legal disclaimer for abortion guide printed in the Los Angeles Free Press: "When we first received this article we wondered about the legality of publishing this material. We have learned that although Pat Maginnis has repeatedly and publically raised this possibility of legal conflict and asked to be arrested in order to clarify the situation, she has been permitted in California and the nation to publish, print, mail, circulate, and lecture on how to have a safe abortion. To the best of our knowledge no legal authority has asked for a halt to her propagation of the material on this page. Since for the last year anyone in California could have obtained the information on this page from the Society for Humane Abortion for the price of a five cent stamp, and since it is undoubtedly true that law enforcement agencies in the state knew of this activity without interfering with it, we feel legally as well as morally entitled to print this article."
Los Angeles Free Press

The Society for Humane Abortion didn’t interact much with the feminist movement or Planned Parenthood directly, at least at first. “It was too touchy,” Maginnis says. In the SHA’s early days, Planned Parenthood was more invested in advocating for contraception than abortion. Margaret Sanger’s theory was that abortion would become unnecessary if women had sufficient access to contraception. Maginnis disagreed. “Margaret Sanger, bless her,” she says. “We can’t thank her enough for Planned Parenthood, but it isn’t enough.” Under Maginnis’ leadership, the SHA spoke out—and in certain regards, provoked change—in ways Planned Parenthood wouldn’t. “We used to say we made Planned Parenthood respectable,” Maginnis laughs.

Her admiration of Sanger, though, is genuine. “Sanger took rotten eggs and tomatoes and rotten fruit thrown at her when she went out, and I don’t think people know that today,” she says. She understood that an organization with Planned Parenthood’s institutional heft needed to keep some distance from the SHA; Maginnis’ strategy of flagrantly flouting the law had made her something of a too-hot-to-handle legend.

"Secret Phones," a list of phone numbers for organizations including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Berkeley Police Department.
Berkeley Barb

When the Therapeutic Abortion Act was signed into law by California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1967, the Army of Three planned a program of civil disobedience. The act, an unhappy compromise between groups whose politics hadn’t yet coalesced into well-defined positions like “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” ostensibly aimed to make legal abortion more widely available. (National Review called the signing of this bill Reagan’s “darkest hour.”) Abortion at the time was only legal to save the life of the mother; the act made “therapeutic” abortion legal in cases that would “gravely impair” women’s mental as well as physical health. But it also added a draconian 20-week limitation and required that any medical committee discussion of a prospective abortion for reasons of rape or incest include the relevant district attorney. Functionally, as even some attorneys at the time argued, it meant that wealthy women (who dealt with private hospitals) would have access to abortions, whereas women in public hospitals would be bound by a more conservative take on the law: They would need to show sufficiently “severe” mental distress—like psychosis—to obtain a legal abortion. (“How much for a psychosis?” reads a political cartoon Maginnis once drew, depicting a patient asking a psychiatrist for a diagnosis that would legitimize a therapeutic abortion.)

“We’re going to instruct women in the arts of phony psychosis and false hemorrhage,” Pat Maginnis told reporters. “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.” ARAL issued a leaflet asking members of Congress whether they would request permission to get a vasectomy or treatment for venereal disease from a panel of female doctors.

It was a combative stance—and a sign of SHA’s uncompromising position on the right to choose—for a bill that Planned Parenthood, among others, now credits with being among the first to functionally legalize abortion.

The “Che Guevara of abortion reformers,” as alt-weeklies called her at the time, now seems like an unlikely avatar of female rage. When I visited her at her home this summer, I found a 90-year-old woman who laughs a lot and peppers her speech with gentle exclamations. “Oh, my goodness,” she chuckles, remembering the time she invited police to attend a class she was teaching on DIY abortions—and they asked her to pay $3 an hour for a female officer’s time. “I think a policewoman did show up, but more out of personal interest,” Maginnis says wryly. She conveys a bemused mildness I found hard to reconcile with the working-class firebrand I’d expected.

But there’s no real contradiction here: The woman who said “excuse me” to the man detaining her in 1966 is also the woman who faced down the San Francisco homicide squad in 1959 in the hospital while recovering from a self-induced abortion. Had she given herself an abortion? the police asked. “Sure I did,” she replied. “Want me to demonstrate how in court?”

In her 10th decade, Maginnis remains equal parts polite and independent. She lives alone in a house in the San Antonio neighborhood of East Oakland that she bought back in 1979 for a song (the owner had tried to burn it down for the insurance money). Until just a few years ago, when she gave her archives to a library, her house was filled with several decades’ worth of handwritten letters from women telling her about their abortions or asking for help.

In the ’60s, especially given the respectable caution that characterized organizations like Planned Parenthood, there was a radical politics to the matter-of-factness with which the Army of Three openly talked about their own abortions. And that matter-of-factness still feels radical today. The second time she got pregnant, Maginnis recalls, she was deeply frustrated at the prospect of being forced to leave the country again for an abortion. But by then, she says, “I had figured out, if I start just giving my uterus no rest, that fetus is going to fall out.”

Startled, I ask Maginnis to explain. She elaborates that her plan was to “squat down and take my clean, scrubbed fingers and manipulate until I could get it to rebel and kick the fetus out.”

“So you could reach your cervix?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, very easily. You probably could too.”

“Does that work?”

“I manipulated, I worked on it, and finally, at five months, the fetus went into—I went into labor. It took a long time and a lot of work.”

Five months of daily effort to induce an abortion, followed by labor and police questioning—all instead of a simple, fast, safe procedure. In telling me this story, she betrays none of the story’s weight; rather, there is a relationship between her tight understatement and her rage.

In interviews, Phelan was less circumspect and much more graphic about the horrors she endured because safe abortions weren’t easily available. After she had one child, her doctor told her another pregnancy would kill her but didn’t tell her how to avoid getting pregnant. When she did—as a woman, she once said, “you don’t know how to say no to your husband. That silly Bible says you can’t say no!”—it took her so long to gather the $50 she needed for an illegal abortion that by the time she’d saved it, she was four months pregnant. The abortionist—a woman on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida—stuffed her uterus with slippery elm bark and told her not to come back. She was at her sister-in-law’s house when she started to feel extremely ill. She’d told no one, not even her husband. As she recalled in 2004:

This is a thing you do yourself. And if you die and go to hell, it’s you that goes, not anybody else. So I excused myself to go to the bathroom because it was hurting so. When I sat down on the john and looked down, there was a little tiny hand protruding from my vagina and the blood was just flying, and I thought, “Oh my God, what do I do now?”

I didn’t take as long to think about it as Bush did the war … [laughs] I gathered up all the toilet tissue I could get in my hand and stuffed it back inside of me, pushed everything back up inside my vagina and just packed it. And got all the blood off I could and cleaned everything up. And then I went out back inside and said I had to go home because I was so sick, and that was not a lie.

She was 16. First came fear. The anger would follow. This seems to be a pattern: Restrict women’s rights, force them to suffer needlessly, blame them when they fail impossible tests, and you will eventually create unsuspected forces for change. “It seemed to me when I got involved wasn’t really when I got involved [in the abortion rights movement],” Maginnis says. “I’d been involved for years before, just not driven to do anything except be angry. In a constant rage over it. And wondering why women, in addition to myself, were in a constant upheaval.”

Was Roe v. Wade a relief when it was passed? I ask her. “For me it wasn’t a big relief,” she says. It had felt more like the expected course of events—reality inching closer to how things should be. But then she continues: “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.”

If the Federalist Society—which supplied the list of judges from which Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court—has its way, we’re in danger of returning to the times when women had to sneak and beg. Trump pledged during his campaign that Roe would be overturned “automatically” through the pro-life judges he would nominate. It probably won’t be so straightforward: The route the GOP is taking to greatly restrict women’s access to abortion has been circuitous, with progress marked by legal restrictions, by expanding definitions of fetal personhood, by permitting women to be lied to in the service of a single end goal. As my colleague Dahlia Lithwick has written, “women’s experiences, memories, and suffering don’t matter; their control over the truth of what they themselves have lived through is determined by those who win.”

Faced with a similar orthodoxy half a century ago, Maginnis and her cohort refused to let it stand.

The classes a modern-day SHA might teach would likely be different. There’s the internet, for one. The first time we met, I asked Maginnis what she thought women should be doing now, as the country seems poised once again to try to control our bodies. “I’ve thought about that,” she said then. “If I was going to reinvolve myself at this point, what would be the entry point? Kind of like setting out a map, looking for an entry.” She doesn’t quite have an answer. Yet.

It’s late afternoon on my final visit with Maginnis, and the warmth and long conversation have made the upstairs room where we sit feel especially lived-in. Her compatriots Gurner and Phelan died years ago. It’s not lost on me that I’m talking to someone who fought for reproductive freedom pre-Roe, at a moment when a Supreme Court justice has just been hand-picked to take it away again. In recent months, rage has been much on my mind. If over half of Americans stand to have a committee of men overrule their right to bodily autonomy after a mere 45 years, we can learn a lot from Pat Maginnis—about how women survived, and how they died, and how they fought. So what should we do now? I ask her again, as she raises the blinds to open the window overlooking the street below. “Keep talking about the issue,” she says. “Sure, not everyone is a brilliant speaker, but I think people have to keep talking about it.” She looks at me, her eyes bright. “Don’t you?”