Jane: Abortion and the Underground:
the Green Highway Theater Press Release
(Editors note: This is the original press release for the play.)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS OPENING: Saturday, September 18, 1999
Green Highway Theater at Chopin Studio Theater
supposed to help each other give birth. Were supposed to help
each other abort if it becomes necessary. Were supposed to
help each other die. Were supposed to help each other live.
And were supposed to have the knowledge and the strength to
do this. And thats what I learned in the Service.
from interview with Judith, Jane: Abortion and the Underground
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.
Jane pamphlet, 1969-1973
JANE: ABORTION AND THE UNDERGROUND
MAKES OFFICIAL WORLD PREMIERE
CHICAGO Green Highway Theater announces the long-awaited
official premiere of the newly revised feminist drama Jane: Abortion
and the Underground by Paula Kamen. This two-act play explores
the best kept secret in Chicago, Jane, an underground
abortion service run by Hyde Park women from 1969 to 1973. Unlike
most plays that address abortion, Jane: Abortion and the Underground
is not an issue play; it does not feature debates about
abortions morality far removed from the reality of womens
lives. Instead, it dramatizes the lives of the women who had abortions
and the women who performed abortions through Jane.
Abortion and the Underground combines scenes detailing the growth
of Jane and of Chicagos womens movement with the compelling
words of the women who actually went through Jane, drawn from interviews
and research conducted by Kamen, a nationally respected scholar
of womens sexuality. The story of Jane is the story of the
struggle to create access to abortion by a diverse group of women,
ranging from a radical student to a happy homemaker to a young black
woman who was a dedicated member of both the Chicago Seven defense
team and the Girl Scouts. Jane, which was run by a feminist collective
of mostly middle-class housewives and students based in Hyde Park,
was the one safe alternative for over 11,000 Chicago women of all
backgrounds in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade. In all the years
of its existence, Jane, which boasted no fatalities and operated
in private apartments throughout the city, was well trusted by and
commonly received referrals from police, social workers, clergy
and hospital staff.
Abortion and the Underground presents an important piece of
both Chicago and womens history in a way that focuses on telling
womens stories rather than preaching politics.
Abortion and the Underground opens on Saturday, September 18
at 8 pm at the Chopin Studio Theater, 1543 West Division with an
additional show on Sunday, September 19 at 7 pm. Jane: Abortion
and the Underground runs Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm through October
23. Tickets are $15, $12 students and seniors. Please call 773/334-6032
for reservations, press passes and more information.
Abortion and the Underground is presented by Green Highway Theater,
a five-year-old non-profit that focuses on showcasing womens
voices and telling truths about womens lives. Green Highway
has presented the Chicago premieres of shows such as Clair Chafees
Why We Have a Body and Carolyn Gages Louisa May
Incest and Calamity Jane Sends a Message to her Daughter.
Green Highway Theaters production of A Book of Ruth
was featured in the 1998 New York International Fringe Festival.
Kamen (playwright) is a respected journalist who published Feminist
Fatale, a book on young women and feminism in 1991. Her work has
appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post
and Might Magazine, among many others, and was anthologized
in Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other
Essays. Her second book Her Way, on young womens
sexual attitudes, will be published in next spring by New York University
Press. The research Kamen conducted in the course of writing Jane:
Abortion and the Underground was used by the makers of the documentary
of Jane: An Abortion Service, quoted in the 1997 book When
Abortion Was a Crime, and is on file with the Special Collections
Department of the Northwestern University Library.
Janel Winter (director) directed Paula Kamens critically acclaimed
comedy Seven Dates with Seven Writers for Bathsheba Productions
at Chicago Dramatists and ImprovOlympic last fall and winter. She
has directed several Green Highway productions, including A Book
of Ruth, Softcops and the Chicago premiere of Why
We Have a Body. She is a University of Chicago graduate, giving
her a special interest in the Hyde Park angle of Jane. She is the
president of the Board of Directors of the Womens Theatre
Jane: Abortion and the Underground features Belinda Berdes,
Marilyn Bielby, Ariel Brenner, Mike Cooney, Johnny Kastl, Karine
Koret, Czarina Mirani, Jennifer Ostrega, Pat Parks, Anita Parlor,
Jennifer Savarirayan, and Andy Whelan. Sets are designed by Brian
Research for the writing of Jane: Abortion and the Underground
includes a detailed, original investigation into its past and dozens
of interviews with those who were on the scene. This includes clients
from various stages of Janes development and the major leaders.
The drama is stitched from original interview transcripts, fictionalized
reenactments of conversations, and historical documents such as
newspaper coverage of The Abortion Seven, documents
produced by Jane, and a script for abortion-rights street theater
by the Chicago Womens Liberation Union. Kamen began her research
in 1992 and has been revising the script since 1993.
THE STORY: BEYOND THE SURFACE AND THE RHETORIC
In its compelling drama and occasional dark humor, this play tells
an important story in both the history of Chicago and of reproductive
rights history. In the ongoing abortion rights discussion, the play
presents the much-needed and often overlooked point of view of women,
facing the real threat to their lives and human dignity when abortion
is illegal. The play also connects the group to its roots in the
New Left, civil rights and womens health movements. Many characters
were involved in all these movements, such as Micki, a black civil
rights worker who was a legal aide in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial
and let Jane use her Kenwood apartment for the procedures. The play
also explores connections to the underground Clergy Consultation
Service on Abortion, run by E. Spencer Parsons, former dean of Rockefeller
Chapel and the University of Chicago, interviewed for the play.
Jane: Abortion and the Underground is also about the power
of collective action to make changes in womens lives. By cooperating
under stressful circumstances, Jane made a normally traumatic and
criminal situation into an empowering one, where in
which women often learned for the first time vital information about
their own bodies and feminism. Especially in later years, the collective
gave personal treatment to clients, giving them health information
and, often, copies of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves,
as well as emotional support through the process. Jane was also
radical in demystifying and taking control of the abortion process,
which was considered the domain of the overwhelmingly male medical
Yet, while addressing politics (which are inextricable from the
characters lives) the play is more about telling stories than
preaching politics. The play explores many complexities of the abortion
issue, as well as of the personalities involved. In this play, the
complexities of abortion rights are revealed in twists and turns
of the plot. Nothing is as it seems on the surface: a minister and
pregnant women are abortion rights activists; a policewoman knocking
on the door of the Service is seeking and abortion, not an arrest;
and the abortion doctor is revealed to be not a doctor at all.
Jane was started by Heather Booth (founder of the Midwest Academy
and later a leader in the Democratic National Committee), then a
leader of campus activism at the University of Chicago, who is credited
with forming more early feminist groups than anyone else. Because
of her contacts in the civil rights movement, a friend asked her
to find a doctor to help his sister. Soon, the word spread throughout
the activist communities of her connection to a doctor, and she
found herself setting up a counseling and referral service. When
returning calls to women, she used the code name Jane.
When the demand for abortions overwhelmed her, she sought the help
of other activists, many of whom were drawn to the emerging womens
liberation movement. Eventually, Jane officially became a part of
the greater womens movement by affiliating with the Chicago
Womens Liberation Movement, a groundbreaking socialist-feminist
umbrella organization founded in 1969.
Gradually, the women of Jane (or the Service) began
assisting the abortionists and learning the procedures on their
own. Meanwhile, they found out the abortionists they were using
were not real doctors as promised. In 1969, they took
over performing the abortions themselves, charging less than $100
apiece and serving the poorest women in the city. After a long period
of surveillance, in 1972 the police finally busted the Service.
But before the much-publicized Abortion Seven could
go on trial, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision released them from charges
and Jane dissolved.