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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 289

Records of the Society for Humane Abortion, 1962-1979 (inclusive) 1963-1975 (bulk)


Correspondence, articles of incorporation, bylaws, publications, etc., of Society for Humane Abortion, which supported the repeal of all abortion laws.


  • Creation: 1962-1979
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1963-1975


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. Originals of folders #24, 64, 67, 76, and 79-181 are closed until January 1, 2029. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by the Society for Humane Abortion is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


3.96 linear feet ((9+1/2 file boxes) plus 1 oversize folder, 6 audiotapes)

The present collection is all the record that remains of some thirteen years of work by Patricia Maginnis and Society for Humane Abortion/Association to Repeal Abortion Laws. Since the organization always remained small and highly centralized, and since it operated from Patricia Maginnis's house, few office files survive. As far as possible, Association to Repeal Abortion Laws material has been separated from Society for Humane Abortion records. The collection begins with Society for Humane Abortion's organizational papers: articles of incorporation, by-laws, publications, and the like. Society for Humane Abortion's extant office files have been arranged in alphabetical order. Almost no financial material survives. Clippings about Patricia Maginnis, Society for Humane Abortion, and Association to Repeal Abortion Laws are at the end of the collection; unrelated clippings and pamphlets were removed from the collection and filed in the Schlesinger Library's subject files.

The bulk of the collection was generated by Patricia Maginnis' Association to Repeal Abortion Laws activities. There is some material from her abortion classes, but most of the papers concern abortion specialists; these papers include several versions of the specialist kit and correspondence between Association to Repeal Abortion Laws and either other referral agencies or individual specialists.

One half of the entire Society for Humane Abortion/Association to Repeal Abortion Laws collection consists of requests for information about abortion specialists from or on behalf of pregnant women and evaluations of the abortion experience, which are useful for their candid and personal views on the subject of abortion. Because of the sensitive nature of these papers, names, street addresses and telephone numbers have been removed. The specialists and their assistants have each been given a number; the same number is used wherever a name appears: on kits, lists, correspondence, and evaluations. All requests and evaluations have been filed separately in chronological order to give a clearer indication of the number of people who contacted Association to Repeal Abortion Laws in a given period. In a visit to the Schlesinger Library in April of 1979, Patricia Maginnis said that space limitations had forced her to discard even more requests and evaluations than she was able to keep. This collection should therefore be considered a sample of the material generated by Society for Humane Abortion/Association to Repeal Abortion Laws from 1965 to 1975.

Audiotapes of a 1964 panel discussion on abortion, a speech given by Patricia Maginnis in 1965, and the 1966 Conference on Abortion and Human Rights are shelved as T-37.

For further information about Patricia Maginnis and Society for Humane Abortion/Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, see the oral interview with Patricia Maginnis conducted by Dr. Jeannette Cheek for the Schlesinger-Rockefeller Oral History Project in November 1975.


Patricia Theresa Maginnis, the founder and president of the Society for Humane Abortion, began her "elective abortion" activities in 1961 while attending San Jose State College. In 1962 she founded the Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws (CCHAL) and spoke in panel discussions and committee hearings. In 1963, Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws conducted the first of a series of public opinion polls. That same year Patricia Maginnis moved to San Francisco, taking her organization with her. Once established there, Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws actively opposed the Bielenson Bill, or "Humane Abortion Act," which became California law in 1963. After meeting Patricia Maginnis in 1963, Rowena Gurner helped organize her efforts; in 1964 they changed Citizens Committee for Humane Abortion Laws's name to the Society for Humane Abortion (SHA).

Society for Humane Abortion was incorporated in California as a non-profit educational organization in 1965. Its members endorsed "elective abortion," believing that every woman seeking an abortion is entitled to proper medical care without harassment; Society for Humane Abortion supported the repeal, rather than the reform, of all abortion laws. The Society sought to educate the public by sponsoring symposia on abortion procedures for physicians; providing speakers and literature to libraries, medical schools, physicians, family planning agencies, and individuals; and publishing a quarterly newsletter. In 1968 and 1968, Society for Humane Abortion maintained a free Post-Abortion Care Center (PACC), which was sponsored by the American Humanist Association. Society for Humane Abortion disbanded in 1975, two years after the Supreme Court voided California's 1963 "Humane Abortion Act."

In order to safeguard Society for Humane Abortion's tax-free educational status, Patricia Maginnis set up a parallel organization, the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL), in 1966 to carry on underground activities: making referrals to abortion specialists; preparing and disseminating printed material about specialists and about self-induced abortion; and holding classes on abortion-related laws, Mexican abortion specialists, and self-induced abortion techniques. For a small donation, pregnant women received a kit prepared by Association to Repeal Abortion Laws containing annotated lists of abortion specialists in Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, and other countries, instructions for going through customs, an evaluation form to be returned to Association to Repeal Abortion Laws after completion of the abortion, summaries of laws, and directions for self-induced abortion. The evaluations were used to update the list, and many specialists were visited by a member of Association to Repeal Abortion Laws before they were listed.


The collection is arranged in two series:


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 76-98, 76-124, 76-184 76-248, 76-260, 76-314, 76-360, 76-362, 76-380, 76-416, 77-M206, 78-M13

The records of the Society for Humane Abortion/Association to Repeal Abortion Laws were given to the Schlesinger Library in 1976, December 1977, and February 1978 by Patricia Maginnis and Lana Clarke Phelan.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Society for Humane Abortion Additional records, 1961-2016 (MC 935).

Interviews with Lana Clarke Phelan and Pat Maginnis are included in the Schlesinger Library's Family Planning Oral History Project (OH-1).


  1. Box 1: 1-16
  2. Box 2: 17-34
  3. Box 3: 35-55
  4. Box 4: 56-72
  5. Box 5: 73-96
  6. Box 6: 97-117
  7. Box 7: 118-136
  8. Box 8: 137-153
  9. Box 9: 154-173
  10. Box 10: 174-181

Processing Information

Processed: August 1979

By: Zephorene L. Stickney

Society for Humane Abortion. Records of the Society for Humane Abortion, 1962-1979 (inclusive), 1963-1975 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
The papers were processed under grant number 79-4 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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