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(Editor's Note: Dana Simpson was a sophomore student at Oak Park-River
Forest High School when she wrote this. She was inspired by the Jane
play and by meeting several former "Janes".)
are women whose ultimate goal is the liberation of women in society.
One important way we are working toward that goal is by helping any
woman who wants an abortion to get one as safely and cheaply as possible
under existing conditions.
opening paragraph of Janes pamphlet, their statement of purpose.
the four years before the United States Supreme court decision in Roe
vs. Wade, the Abortion Counseling Service of Womens Liberation
was providing for women what the professional medical profession refused
to give them. Jane, the contact name of the organization, was providing
safe, inexpensive and confidential abortions for women of all races
and social classes. The members of Jane answered a desperate cry from
women seeking a vital service that was denied to almost all. The other
illegal abortions operating at that time were horribly degrading and
dangerous. Jane wanted to provide an alternative.
the womens liberation movement it was part of, grew out of the
social and political upheavals of the 1960s. At the time, men
still exerted control over a womens bodies. Many women were ignorant
of their own reproduction physiology. After a Jane member showed one
woman her cervix with a mirror before an abortion procedure, she was
shocked to discover it was pink and clean. All up until that moment,
her doctors and her culture had led her to believe anything in her private
area was dirty and diseased. In addition to simply denying knowledge,
women werent allowed total control over their own reproduction.
In some places, contraceptives where difficult to obtain up to the early
70s, especially if you were single. Women would by cheap wedding
rings to convince their doctors they were married in order to obtain
birth control. Abortions were denied unless continuing the pregnancy
would gravely endanger the health of the mother. Some women sought out
psychiatrists and claimed they would commit suicide if not given an
states in 1969, the law was modified to include severe damage to the
fetus or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Even with
those additions, it was estimated that fewer than 5% of women who wanted
abortions actually got them.
same society that denies a woman the decision not to have a child
refuses to provide humane alternatives for women who do have children,
such as child care facilities to permit the mother to work, or role
flexibility so that men can share in the raising of children. The
same society that insists that women should and do find their basic
fulfillment in motherhood will condemn the unwed mother and her fatherless
child. (Jane Brochure)
needed abortions were denied by professional medicine, women sought
out dangerous illegal abortions. Jane members wanted to find alternatives
for the sometimes fatal back alley abortions. Women were dying of botched
surgery and infection because the professionals refused to give them
in a clean and reliable environment. Those who went in were treated
badly, made to feel guilty that they needed abortions. A few male practioners
of illegal abortion demanded sexual favors in return for their services.
Sometimes women who couldnt afford expensive abortions tried to
abort themselves using poisons and dangerous instruments such as quinine
or knitting needles. Jane was out to save the lives of the women that
were pushed into these dangerous situations. But it wasnt a charity
mission. They were trying to liberate women from the control of others.
All of the abortion providers were male and controlling, legal or illegal.
that soon came to be know as Jane began in 1969 to screen providers
of illegal abortion. It was their goal to direct women toward the best
of the doctors, and provide counseling and backup. They chose an unintimidating
contact name, and sought to appear as unlike the rough back-alley abortionists
as possible. Their charge was to be as low as possible, and their mortality
rate at zero. Accomplishing these goals was difficult, as they had very
little control of the exorbitant prices charged by the doctors. Sometimes
the cost of an illegal abortion would total as much as the doctor and
hospital costs for having a baby.
of being arrested was always there, but providing help and comfort to
women with unwanted pregnancy was more important. These were mostly
white middle class women, and in the words of one woman Were
such nice people, we do such good work. Well never get busted.
As with the civil rights movement of the last decade, Jane sought to
undermine unjust and even dangerous laws even if it put them in a bad
position with the law. But unlike the civil rights movement, the Jane
service was still almost completely white. A few black women joined,
but they didnt feel very comfortable in a somewhat alien environment.
This was how the racial makeup ran through the womens movement.
It was targeted mostly toward the white and middle class. But those
who were helped by the efforts of Jane were of all races and classes.
In fact, once their rates were lowered sufficiently, most of their clients
were poor, black women.
the aim of these dedicated women was not to provide abortions themselves.
Very few of the workers had even basic medical training, and never thought
they would be able to handle the surgery themselves. The members of
Jane knew that as long as women depended completely on these male doctors,
they would be helpless. The doctors were arrogant and abusive toward
their patients even at the best. The only report they got on the reliability
of doctors was from the patients themselves, and most of these werent
good. They needed to become more involved with the process. Simply driving
the women to the selected house and providing information and comfort
After much searching they found a doctor who was willing to work closely
with them, who they could watch for themselves. The selected doctor
would even pressure Jane members watch him perform the procedure and
even asked a few to assist. He was secretive and arrogant, as most abortion
doctors were. However, he was proud of his abilities, and that was why
he was somewhat willing to share them. That was why he wanted the women
to look on. He was the most concerned of all the other doctors Jane
had screened for the womens welfare, but still made disparaging
remarks about the unintentionally pregnant women.
one knew was that this man, who called himself "Dr. Kauffman"wasnt
really a doctor. He had learned the skill from an apprenticeship to
a friends brother, but had never received a degree. This shocking
revelation, when disclosed to all members of the group, brought mixed
results. Some of the less committed women simply left. But one woman
found a new purpose. If this man, who was not a doctor, could perform
abortions, why couldnt we? This was a turning point in the history
of the Jane group. They could liberate themselves completely from male
influence and domination. The doctor began training the one member of
the inner circle of the Jane group.
realized that the experience broke the taboo surrounding the instruments.
She realized she could handle these smooth steel surgical tools. What
had been a vague idea became persistent. We can learn to do this and
we can charge a lot less. (Kaplan p 158).
of the other members thought the idea of doing it themselves was a poor
one. But gradually a few more women received limited training, until
one day the first woman performed an abortion by herself, without the
doctor there to help her. She taught more of her closest friends in
Jane how to do it. Dr. Kauffman and the other doctors were needed less
and less. They no longer help the mystic power of the doctor, not to
be questioned. Jane had realized what it started out to do. Women themselves
could provide safe and inexpensive abortions. It had taken several years,
but they had.
point, Jane had been operating for several years, and no members had
been arrested. There had been several close calls, and the police knew
of their activity, but no arrests had been made. Most of the police
force was sympathetic toward them. Officers wives had come in,
and once even a female officer. They had seen incredible luck so far.
In May of 1972, it ran out. The police found out the apartment number,
and forced their way inside. The seven Jane members were arrested. They
were released on bail with the money Jane had set away. Even after this,
these dedicated women continued. Those that had not been caught in the
raid went right back to helping the women waiting for abortions the
very next day. The size of the group was cut down considerably for a
time, but new women joined and brought membership nearer to its original
level. When someone dropped out, there always seemed to be another women
to take her place. The service members were never forced to work beyond
their burnout point. The women who were arrested werent working
other parts of the Womens Liberation, which was directed to white
upper to middle-class women, the availability of abortion touched the
lives of every woman.
current abortion laws are a symbol of the sometimes subtle, but often
blatant, oppression of women in our society. Women should have the
right to control their own bodies and lives. Only a woman who is pregnant
can determine whether she has enough resources economic, physical
and emotional at a given time to bear and rear a child.
excerpt from the Jane brochure outlines the idea behind Jane. The organization
had succeeded in its goals. They gave women control over their reproduction.
They had taken back was the medical establishment had grabbed for themselves.
Throughout history, it has been women who have been involved in pregnancy,
childbirth, and also abortion.
positive decision of the Roe vs. Wade case in 1973, abortion was made
legal. Jane still functioned in a very limited fashion a few months
after. Then they slowly dissolved, with no celebration, no official
last day. The dedicated members of Jane were just happy it was over.
Some members believed the service they gave was better than what was
being offered in hospitals. The Jane service had tried to be more personal
and helpful than any medical establishment before or after the legalization
of abortion. The service had taken up the lives of the most committed
women. It had damaged relationships and brought some otherwise law-abiding
housewives trouble with the police.
accomplished what they wanted to do. The women involved in it thought
their time with Jane difficult, sometimes enjoyable, and very necessary.
They had helped to release the stranglehold that the male medical establishment
held on womens health and contraception. As an interesting personal
connection, I learned in the course of my research that I know the women
who founded Jane, and also a few of the other women who worked in it.
1.Kaplan, Laura. Jane: The Abortion Counseling Service. New York:
Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House Inc., 1995
2.The CWLU website at www.cwluherstory.com,
3.No author listed to preserve anonymity. The Jane Brochure.
2001 by Dana Simpson. Dana is a student at Oak Park-River Forest High
School and a contributor to the Herstory Project. This article was originally
a paper written for her Women in History class taught by Heidi Lynch.