CROSSING THE BORDER FOR ABORTIONS: CALIFORNIA ACTIVISTS, MEXICAN CLINICS, AND THE CREATION OF A FEMINIST HEALTH AGENCY IN THE 1960S

Citation metadata

Date: Summer 2000
From: Feminist Studies(Vol. 26, Issue 2)
Publisher: Feminist Studies, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 10,896 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

After five years of organizing for abortion rights, Patricia Maginnis decided to break the law. In June 1966, she passed out a leaflet in San Francisco that named physicians in Mexico and Japan who performed abortions. With this daring act, Maginnis inaugurated the first open (and illegal) abortion referral service in the United States. [1] What began in protest of a new anti-abortion campaign instigated by California authorities resulted in the development of an underground feminist health agency for women's rights and women's health. The list of abortion providers took on a life of its own. As demand for the "List" soared, Maginnis and her comrades created mechanisms for regulating illegal abortion practices in order to ensure that they were sending women to safe practitioners. To carry out these illegal activities, they founded a new organization, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL).

American women were indeed desperate for abortions, but, as ARAL's success demonstrates, that did not preclude them from wielding collective clout in the underground world of illegal abortion-even across an international border. The criminal status of abortion, which left the practice open to anyone, skilled or not, and patients unprotected and fearful, made the regulation of practitioners essential. The vacuum created by the lack of state and professional regulation combined with the availability of Mexican providers contributed to the power of ARAL as a feminist, nongovernmental organization in the United States.

Although scholars acknowledge Patricia Maginnis's presence in the abortion rights movement, they tend to underestimate her political significance and overlook her health work. [2] Furthermore, historians of the 1960s neglect the rich history of healthcare activism and the rise of alternative medical institutions, of which Maginnis and ARAL are prime examples. [3] ARAL was a forerunner of the women's health movement, which by 1974 consisted of over one thousand women's health services. [4] As an early and outspoken advocate for women's right to abortion, Maginnis helped shape the feminist perspective on abortion law and practice. Moreover, ARAL's openly illegal activities contributed to the growing national awareness that the law was helpless to stop the practice of abortion. In 1969 when activists from around the country founded NARAL, the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws, they adopted ARAL's name and political perspective. [5]

As the California activists took on unanticipated bureaucratic functions, they acted in essence as a feminist health agency that combined the responsibilities of a medical licensing board and a public health office. On the one hand, ARAL educated practitioners and monitored the quality of illegal abortionists. On the other hand, it provided women with information about the prevention of pregnancy and the names of competent abortion specialists and established clinics that offered inexpensive laboratory and medical services.

Yet the feminist vision of this "agency," its opposition to century-old criminal abortion law, and its commitment to the transformation of the healthcare system, made it unlike a conventional staterun public health agency. This effort to obtain adequate medical services was embedded within a militant movement...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A76519765