Patricia Maginnis died August 30. She was 93 and had lived a long life of fighting for every woman’s right to control her own body and her own destiny. Also known as Patricia, God The Mother, Pat was the quintessential sacrilegious anti-catholic. She wanted more than reform, she wanted a whole system overhaul. Pat was a laboratory technician and one of the founders of the Society for Humane Abortion (SHA) in 1962 in San Francisco. Lana Phelan and Rowena Gurner were the other members of the “Army of Three.”
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. More than that, the SHA was 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 gatekeeping protocols, the committees and evaluations and red tape, the only question anyone should ask prior to approving an abortion was a simple one: whether the woman wanted it or not.
In her 20’s, Pat joined the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina until she was spotted walking with a black soldier: The captain told her she was setting a bad example for other young white women and 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 she was assigned to the pediatrics and obstetrics wards. 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,” Pat said in an interview with Slate in 2018. “And I wasn’t at all happy with it.”
In 1967, the DA of San Mateo County threatened to arrest anyone disseminating information about abortion so the “Army of Three” immediately scheduled classes on abortion rights. Pat and Rowena were arrested, convicted and sent to jail. Their conviction was overturned in 1973.
Alternative newspapers called her “the Che Guevara of abortion reformers.” Her ideas certainly went beyond the calls for incremental reform made by establishment groups like Planned Parenthood.
Once the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women had a constitutional right to abortion, Pat rechanneled her activism to other issues, including gay rights and animal welfare. She also staged regular protests against the Catholic Church, criticizing its anti-abortion policies and demanding accountability in cases of sexual abuse by priests. Kate remembers seeing Pat, already in her 80’s, standing in front of the Cathedral of the Light in Oakland handing out pamphlets with her own funny and slightly lewd cartoons.
Tory says, “I remember doing abortion clinic defense in Oakland with Pat God The Mother Maginnis in the 1990’s. One particular time I took a flying leap spectacularly breaking my wrist, in an effort to defend someone trying to access the clinic from an evil anti abortion fanatic. Ever after that when I ran into Pat for many years, she always inquired after my wrist, fussing over me, treating me with revered respect for being a fallen soldier in the battle to save abortion.”
Barbara Hoke, an old friend of Pat said, “A precious friend and Feminist icon is gone. Patricia T Maginnis gave her all in the fight for women’s freedom, worked in the trenches protecting animals, fought racism and homophobia, lived a consistently righteous life with humor that brought the haters to their knees. The world is less friendly without you, Pat.”