The Story of Jane, by Laura Kaplan

Until very recently, I lived in a country where I and every other uterus-haver had the right to choose to have an abortion (within certain limits). This isn’t to say that some pregnant people didn’t have to face financial, legal, and logistical challenges in getting an abortion but it was legal in all 50 states. Banning abortion doesn’t mean that abortion will go away. It just means that some pregnant people will have to risk their lives and freedom to hold control over their lives. I daresay that some people might follow the example of the Jane Collective, as recounted in former member Laura Kaplan’s book The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, to help themselves and others secure safe abortions.

Between 1969 and 1973, dozens of women joined the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, better known as Jane or the Jane Collective, initially founded by Heather Booth. The Service helped to connect women with the few safe abortion providers in Chicago or in the Chicago area. Women often joined because they or someone they knew had needed an abortion and Jane had helped make that happen. Members of Jane collected money to pay for abortions, travel, and other expenses. Others investigated abortion providers to make sure that they were safe. Still others counseled women about birth control and abortion procedures. Kaplan recounts the process of obtaining an abortion through Jane more than once and so many people were in on the secret that I’m surprised that the Service was only busted by the police once and that they were only busted in 1972. (All cases were dropped after the Roe decision came down.)

The women of Jane never asked why someone needed an abortion, although they often heard about the reasons: already had children, money was tight, abusive partners, etc. Jane never judged; its members respected the people who came to them enough to let them make their own decisions. Indeed, Kaplan recounts a few examples of Jane members canceling abortions for a few pregnant people who had been coerced into the decision because of parents or partners. Even though their actions weren’t legal, I can’t help but see the Jane Collective’s actions as extraordinarily beneficial and right. I especially got a kick out of learning that the Jane Collective weren’t the only folks helping pregnant people access abortions: Baptist ministers and other clergy were also actively helping break unjust laws about abortion.

I can only hope that Americans today can harness the courage of Jane’s members and actively work to keep abortion legal and accessible.

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