From 1969 until the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, Jane counseled women about abortion and helped gain access to underground abortion providers. Jane initially sought to screen abortionists and find competent providers but felt that so long as women are dependent on providers they remain powerless.
Officially known as The Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation and operating in Chicago, the collective counseled women of every class, race, and ethnicity and offered services at little to no cost and no one was turned away for lack of payment. The members of Jane believed reproductive control was essential for their liberation, therefore it was critical that every woman who came to Jane must understand the active role she was taking in her life. To do that, she must be in control of the procedure. The members of Jane realized the only way this could successfully be accomplished was for Jane to control every step of the procedure. Every woman who came to Jane for an abortion was included and in control. She was not a passive recipient of a procedure, but an active participant. In a situation where many women feel powerless, Jane sought to give each woman a sense of her own power, in hopes that she could take back her body, and by extension, her life.
Following in the footsteps of the Underground Railroad and the sit-ins at lunch counters throughout the south, the group members deliberately and actively broke the law to set others free. Because simply providing information about abortion was illegal, Jane was the code name for the group and its members. Few, if any, records were kept, and the collective even chose not to record the minutes of meetings.
At a time when 5,000 women died each year from complications relating to illegal abortions, not a single woman who was served by Jane died. More than 12,000 abortions were performed for roughly $25 each, and again, no one who couldn’t pay was turned away.
In her memoir, The Story of Jane, Laura Kaplan, a member of Jane wrote,
Those of us who were members of Jane were remarkable only because we chose to act with womens’ needs as our guide. In doing so we transformed illegal abortion from a dangerous sordid experience into one that was life affirming and powerful.
In May of 1972, Jane was raided and 7 of its members arrested. In 1973, after Roe became effective in Illinois the charges would be dropped and their records expunged. The collective disbanded shortly thereafter. It is this sort of history that we must keep talking about, keep sharing with each other and our children, lest each new generation comes to believe our freedoms have been given to us by 9 men in black robes. Emma Goldman said, “Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to liberty.”