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These Women Provided Illegal Abortions Before Roe v. Wade. Will Activists Have to Go Underground Again?

Web ExclusiveMay 31, 2019
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As Roe v. Wade faces unprecedented attacks across the country, we look at the history of a radical underground feminist organization called Jane that provided safe abortions for women despite the procedure being illegal. The story begins in 1969, when a group of women in Chicago set up a hotline to offer counseling and provide abortion services to women in need. To reach the underground feminist abortion service, all you had to do was call a phone number and ask for Jane. The group went on to provide at least 11,000 women with abortions before Roe was decided in 1973. In Part 2 of our discussion, we speak with two former members of Jane: Laura Kaplan and Alice Fox. Laura Kaplan is the author of “The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. “Ask for Jane.” Those were the magic words that provided thousands of women access to safe abortions before the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion.

The story begins in 1969, when a group of women in Chicago set up a hotline to offer counseling and provide abortion services to women in need. To reach the underground feminist abortion service, all you had to do was call a phone number and ask for Jane.

This is Sunny Chapman, in the documentary Jane: An Abortion Service, speaking about how she found Jane after learning she was pregnant.

SUNNY CHAPMAN: Pregnancy was such a terrifying thing then that when I did get pregnant, my mind went blank. I was just in a state of terror. I did not want to have a baby. I was 19 years old. I would rather die than have a baby. And I was so freaked out.

I started doing all kinds of crazy stuff, like running up and down stairs, jumping off tables—I jumped off somebody’s garage roof about 10 times—and taking burning hot baths and everything everybody told me to try to abort myself. I got a hold of some quinine and got myself really, really sick.

And somebody gave me a number of this guy, who was actually named Vinnie. And I called him up, and he sounded just so ignorant on the phone that I couldn’t do that. I would rather kill myself than let Vinnie kill me. He wanted $600. And back then, my rent was about $80 a month, and $600 was a fortune, beyond belief. I couldn’t imagine getting that much money together.

And then I was flipping through a newspaper one day, and I saw this ad: “Pregnant? Need help? Call Jane.” Click.

UNIDENTIFIED: When it was the woman’s turn, they would come in, and we would have already cleaned the room and put alcohol on the sheets and all the stuff, sterilize the instruments, and then she would be told to undress. We would give her a shot of Ergotrate, which would prevent hemorrhaging following the procedure. And then we would begin the abortion. And generally, there would be someone to hold her hand. We would start with introducing the speculum and then giving four shots of Xylocaine, a local anesthetic, and then do the D&C.

SUNNY CHAPMAN: I think I almost broke the one counselor’s fingers. I was squeezing her hand so hard, because, god, it just hurt so much. They did give us antibiotics, and they gave us ergo to shrink the uterus. And they gave us instructions for after care. And I didn’t have any physical problems from the abortion at all, I mean, which was really amazing considering the circumstances under which it was performed and how far pregnant I was.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the documentary Jane: An Abortion Service, directed by Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy, distributed by Women Make Movies.

We are bringing you Part 2 now with two former members of Jane: Alice Fox and Laura Kaplan, or, as they called it, two members of the Service. Laura Kaplan has also written the book The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, which was recently reprinted. As we continue our discussion, I mean, this is so chilling, what we see Sunny describing. And, Laura, I was wondering if you can talk about, again, the circumstances under which these women, who are so terrified of what they face—this is when there’s no Roe v. Wade, which we conceivably could be facing today. I mean the fact of the matter is, we talk about what would a post-Roe America look like; it’s what a lot of America looks like today. In the vast majority of counties in the United States, there is no abortion or women’s health clinic that provides abortion, for example.

LAURA KAPLAN: Absolutely. And this has been going on for quite a long time since Roe. Starting with the Hyde Amendment in 1975, which banned federal Medicaid dollars from paying for poor women’s abortions, we have seen a steady chipping away at the rights that Roe supposedly provided to American women. Now things are really heating up because of the circumstances around the Supreme Court and the current administration and their policies. It’s chilling. Nobody wants to go back. I mean, we, in Jane, were pretty arrogant, and we really felt we did the best abortions that anyone could get anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, explain how you came to Jane. You did not get an abortion.

LAURA KAPLAN: No. So, Alice had—after Alice’s abortion, she came to my apartment—I can picture the scene—on Armitage Avenue, where I lived. And she was so excited by this experience that she was almost bouncing off the walls. And I thought, “This is pretty cool.” I was all of 24 at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Alice, again, your experience, it’s not the actual physical abortion itself, but it’s what you experienced in—

ALICE FOX: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, here, abortion was illegal.

ALICE FOX: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in Chicago.


AMY GOODMAN: But you were able to find a safe way to have an abortion. These weren’t doctors, these women who were giving you this.

ALICE FOX: No. We didn’t know that at the time, or I didn’t know that at the time. I don’t think it would have made much of a difference.

LAURA KAPLAN: Mike did your abortion.


LAURA KAPLAN: So it wasn’t the—

ALICE FOX: It wasn’t the women, but he also—

LAURA KAPLAN: Yeah, it was—yeah.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, in Part 1 of our discussion, you described getting an abortion, again, in Chicago.


AMY GOODMAN: What year was this?


AMY GOODMAN: 1971. In New York, it was legal.

ALICE FOX: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: But not in Chicago.


AMY GOODMAN: You were blindfolded on your way?

ALICE FOX: Not on the way. I was blindfolded at the—the during the procedure.

AMY GOODMAN: Why blindfolded?

ALICE FOX: So that I couldn’t—to protect the—so that I wouldn’t be able to testify, I think, about who was performing the procedure.

LAURA KAPLAN: This is when we were at a transition point and still using the guy. And when he did abortions, he required that the women be blindfolded just when he came into the room.


LAURA KAPLAN: So, the setup and all of the—

AMY GOODMAN: And was he a doctor?

LAURA KAPLAN: He was not. And that’s the transition point that was talked about in the documentary clip you showed.


LAURA KAPLAN: So that when it was revealed to the group—and I put it in the passive tense deliberately because nobody remembered how this went down—that our guy was not a doctor, the room exploded. I mean, you can imagine. Women felt like, “Oh, we’re no better than the back alleys. We’ve got to disband.” And calmer heads prevailed and said, “Who did”—you know, first, “Who did you think would be working with us so closely?” And second of all, we had a year-and-a-half experience with this guy, and all the reports came back so excellent.

And one woman in that meeting said, “Well, if he can do it and he’s not a doctor, then we can do it, too, and we can charge a whole lot less.” And the truth is, I believe, that Jody, in the film clip, was already learning, and she felt that for the group to accept that we could do it ourselves, first they had to accept that not a doctor could do it. So they had to accept that our guy was not a doctor, and then they can move to the next step, which is, then we can do it, too.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn back to Heather Booth for a minute, the first person to—right?—put out a number and say—she was what? In her college dorm at University of Chicago. And the number said, “Ask for Jane.” But this goes—

LAURA KAPLAN: It was the dorm number in those days. It wasn’t Jane’s number.


LAURA KAPLAN: The group did not exist at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. It just said, “Ask for Jane.” And then she would come to the phone.

LAURA KAPLAN: Right. Right, I guess. I mean, when I think about that, I think, “Did everybody in the dorm know if you get a call for Jane, you get Heather?” I don’t know, on that floor of the dorm. But she was just doing it ad hoc, on her own. And because she was an outspoken representative of both the student movement and the antiwar movement and the nascent women’s movement, she became—and she went around talking at various college campuses—she became the then-contact person. People thought, “Oh, let’s reach out to her to find out about.”

AMY GOODMAN: And this goes to this issue of Jane growing out of the various movements of the time—


ALICE FOX: Exactly right.

AMY GOODMAN: —the civil rights movement, the student movement, the antiwar movement. This is what Heather Booth talks about in this clip from the documentary Heather Booth: Changing the World. It was directed by Lilly Rivlin. Heather Booth, founder of Jane, talking about meeting civil rights leader and abortion provider T.R.M. Howard, the origins of the underground service before it grew and came to be known as Jane.

HEATHER BOOTH: I made my way through the Medical Committee for Human Rights, the medical arm of the civil rights movement, and asked: Was there anyone they knew who might perform an abortion? I was directed to a doctor, Dr. T.R.M. Howard. He was so extraordinary. He was a black leader of the civil rights movement in Mississippi who came to Chicago when his name appeared on a Klan death list. And he started a women’s clinic in Chicago on 63rd Street called Friendship Clinic. I contacted him by phone. We actually never met. So already something’s remarkable, that he would trust a white woman on the phone talking about abortion at a time when it was a felony. Word spread. And a few months later, someone else called. And then someone else called. And I realized this is a real problem, and we need to do something about it and need more of a system.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Heather Booth from the film Heather Booth: Changing the World, directed by Lilly Rivlin. So, continue, Laura Kaplan. You wrote the book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service. You and Alice Fox were involved with Jane. You’re careful here to say it’s not called the Jane Collective. And we’ll talk about that in a minute. A sociologist later coined that term. But talk about the movements you grew out of and where women fit into those movements. After all—right?—it was men who were being drafted in the Vietnam War. Men often dominated or were the spokespeople for these movements.

LAURA KAPLAN: Yeah, more than often. Women usually were relegated to support roles of running the mimeograph machine—I use that term, and I think most of your listeners probably don’t even know what a mimeograph machine is—and other supportive roles. And I think the women’s—I know the women’s liberation movement grew out of the frustrations of women in those left movements, in the progressive movements of the day, of their secondary—being pushed into a secondary position.

I have to say, I knew Heather in college. You know, I went to the University of Chicago. So did Alice. That’s how we met. Heather was never a shrinking violet.

But there was this sense that the men were the leaders and the women were—you know, would get the coffee, so to speak. And I think a lot of women were frustrated. And the first women’s liberation group, the West Side Group, in Chicago, started out from those women who came out of a left movement. And even in the Service, those of us in Jane, for the most part, came out of very strong left backgrounds. So we weren’t—

AMY GOODMAN: And when you say “the Service,” you’re not talking about the military.

LAURA KAPLAN: No, I’m talking about Jane. Maybe it’s easier to just call us Jane then. We called ourselves the Service. And I joke—as if there was only one Service. But a lot of us came out of the left, and so we had that mindset coming in to work with the women’s liberation movement and certainly with Jane.

And, you know, one of the things Heather doesn’t talk about, that she talked to me about, was that one of her first calls came from somebody she met in Mississippi, so that she very quickly connected that this wasn’t a problem of just some women—these women, and not these women. This was something that connected women of all economic, socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, age differences.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, actually, talk about how the—who the clientele for the Service changed over time.

LAURA KAPLAN: OK, yeah. From the beginning—so, Heather was doing it on her own. And then, at some point in '68, she just said, “This is getting too big, and I can't do this.” And she also wanted to do other work. And I think she was pregnant also. She was married and pregnant. And it was like…

But, meanwhile, she had been going around. She had been at all these various left conferences. And there was always, at these conferences, at that point, one workshop on “women’s issues,” and Heather was usually running those. And she would send around the legal pads with various headings, like “child care,” “abortion,” “equal pay,” whatever. And people signed up. So, at some point, she gathered all the—which is how, as an organizer, I can tell you, this is how you always do it. She called those people up and got them together and explained what she had been doing. And this small group decided to take it on.

And once she organized the group and gave them a real political sense of what they were doing—I mean, we did this pamphlet, which I didn’t bring with me, A Woman’s Decision, Abortion: A Woman’s Decision, that’s very political. And Jody, who you saw in the film, said it was like our final exam, before she would turn over her contacts. This was, you know, used—was given out to women who sought our services. And then she was gone, once this group was organized. And it was like four or five women, starting out, and knowing very little. And—

AMY GOODMAN: So, the women who were able to get abortions—started off extremely expensive, I mean, when you had not the women doing the abortions.

LAURA KAPLAN: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: And then who—how that clientele changed?

LAURA KAPLAN: OK. And what really changed for us was New York legalizing abortion. Before that time, all kinds of women came through, and we always said “through,” Jane, as a process, not as a place, and so white women, black women, young women, old women, poor women, middle-class women, women with money—you know, all kinds of women.

Once New York legalized in the summer of 1970, for the most part, those white college students felt comfortable getting on a plane and flying to New York. And for around $300, including airfare, you could fly to New York, get an abortion, fly back the same day.

So that left us with who? Very poor women, women who could not in their wildest imaginations see themselves—I mean, air travel has become very sort of like Trailways now, but it wasn’t back then—couldn’t see themselves getting on a plane and flying to New York City—they maybe never left their neighborhood—a lot of very young women and also women who, because of the circumstances of their relationship, could not leave the city. You know, this is before the battered women’s movement, before any talk about sexual assault or incest. And we saw it all, because those were the women who were left to us. So our demographics changed.

We came—we wound up serving way more poor women of color who had no healthcare. And so, we learned how to do bimanual pelvic exams. We learned how to take Pap smears. Because we were seeing women who had literally no medical care. And we were fortunate that we had the first Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Birth Control Handbook to give to women.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Alice Fox, I mean, before abortion became legal, Jane, the Service, performed something like 11,000 abortions. You weren’t doctors. Were you afraid someone would die, would be hurt, would be maimed?

ALICE FOX: Well, I think there’s always that concern. But at the time, I don’t remember it being a main concern, because we felt like we knew what we were doing. We were being very careful. And, you know, looking back now, some medical professionals—I wound up as a medical professional myself—that—

AMY GOODMAN: What did you end up doing?

ALICE FOX: I wound up as a physician assistant doing women’s health. I worked in HIV for many years and ended up doing a lot of pelvic exams on women with HIV. So, you know, looking back at the fact that we were doing a surgical procedure that certainly had risks, there were a lot of safety things that were in—you know, that already were—people were getting antibiotics. People were slow and careful, in ways that maybe trained medical professionals were less so. So I think there was a lot of care and attention to—

AMY GOODMAN: But if something were to happen, did you discuss—well, could you bring a woman to a hospital? You write about this, Laura.




LAURA KAPLAN: Well, we would not go in with her, because that was too dangerous. But you have to also remember that in those days people assumed that women were stupid. And so, we would say to women, “We’re going to take you to the door of the hospital. We’re not going in with you. Tell them you don’t know what happened. And they’ll buy it, because they think we’re all stupid, ignorant.” So we would—that’s as far as we got.

And I very clearly remember one infection that I dealt with, where I said to the woman—we had antibiotics. We had caches of drugs around the cities that we could get our hands on quickly. And I got the instructions of how much to give her and—you know, when she called me and was running a fever. And I said, “If this doesn’t work, you’re going to have to go to the hospital immediately.”

But I have to say, it really did take its toll. Martha Scott, who is Julie in my book, talks about how, suddenly, when she was one of our lead abortionists, that she was getting cavities for the first time in her life. So, you know, it’s—there is a price to pay when you cross a line. And I don’t want to be—sound sort of, “Oh, no, this is all so terrific.” You have to be aware that there is a price to pay. So, I think it was stressful. I think part of what protected us—most of us, not all of us—we’re sort of white, middle-class, college-educated women who didn’t really believe anything bad could happen to us, because we were in this privileged position. But, certainly, bad things could have happened. And I think we were extremely lucky that somebody’s watching over us, that we—when we folded, nothing really bad had happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, actually, I want to talk about the women who were arrested—right?—the Abortion 7, the Jane 7, the Jane activists who the police moved in on. This, again, is a clip from the documentary Jane: An Abortion Service.

MADELINE SCHWENK: This was May 2nd, 1972. And we were expecting the guy, the maintenance guy, to come and do our screens that day. And the doorbell rang, and I said to Diane—I said, “Could you please answer the door?” You know, we were in the middle of breaking somebody’s water bag. And the next thing I knew, there was this large, gray man in the doorway. You know, it’s like—I heard somebody say, “Don’t let him in. Don’t let him in.” And I thought, “Why would you not want to let the guys from the screens in?”

JUDITH ARCANA: These guys, who are so—you know, it’s like a neon light: “Cop! Cop! Cop! These are the police!” Practically like that. White guys, six feet tall, in trench coats, shiny black shoes.

JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY: I opened the door, and there were the tallest men I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know what they said. I don’t remember what they said. But I turned around, walked back into the living room and said—maybe they said they were the police—”These are the police. You don’t have to say anything.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jeanne Galatzer-Levy in a clip from the documentary Jane: An Abortion Service, directed by Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy. So that was the bust. You, Laura, were part of Jane before the bust. You, Alice, joined after the bust, after the Abortion 7, as they came to be known, the Jane 7.


AMY GOODMAN: What kind—was that what brought you into the group?

ALICE FOX: Well, I think my experience is what brought me into the group, ultimately, although in the year—I guess it was about a year between my abortion and the bust.

LAURA KAPLAN: Year and a half.

ALICE FOX: A year and a half. I was just involved with my life in other ways, although Laura was involved, so I was still aware. I think the very first meeting, I was told, you know, that I could be trained as a counselor. This was after my abortion. And I planned to go to the meeting and—


ALICE FOX: —told Laura about it: “Let’s go. Let’s be trained as counselors. Fantastic.” And I don’t know why, but I didn’t show up, and Laura wound up going herself and being involved. I think the bust was an inspiration for me, a political call. But I think it was my experience itself, even however delayed it was, that decided that now was the time, that it was important.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Laura, you joined before. So, what kind of effect did the police arrest of seven women have on the group?

LAURA KAPLAN: Major, as you can imagine. First of all, some of our most trained people were gone, because they had been arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: And they weren’t going to continue doing it while they were awaiting trial.

LAURA KAPLAN: At that point, right away. But later on, many of them came back, even before anything was resolved in the courts.

AMY GOODMAN: Really? When they were—even though they were indicted—


AMY GOODMAN: —awaiting trial, they continued to perform abortions?

LAURA KAPLAN: Right. They didn’t at first, but then we found out—they found out, from the lawyer they hired, that if—because we thought they’re out to get us, so we didn’t do anything for a couple of weeks. And Ruth Surgal, who you saw in the clip—Jody was in a psych ward at the time. She called Jodi and said, “I think you’ve had enough vacation. I think it’s time for you to—we need you now.” So, Jody told her doctor, you know, her psychiatrist, “I’m signing myself out.” And he said, “I hope this doesn’t have anything to do with what I’ve read in the news.” But it did, of course.

Ruth, meanwhile, got on the phone and arranged with legal clinics in both New York and D.C. to do our women—because we had about 250 women waiting each week at that point for abortions—to do our women, if we could get them there. So we had this whole system set up with meeting women at O’Hare and paying their airfare to get them to D.C. and New York. And in the documentary, there is a clip about one of those women, a young black woman, who calls herself Maria in the documentary.

So, what was going on in my life was my dad had been diagnosed in February of that year with cancer, metastatic cancer, that he was going to die from the following October. And I was doing what was called “Callback Jane,” I think, at that point, where I was two weeks on and two weeks off. And so, with my two weeks off, I was in New York, and that’s when we got busted. I got a phone call saying we got busted.

And so, when I came back to Chicago, I went to Ruth’s house immediately and said, “When are we working?” And she said, “There are taps they have now on your phone where they can listen to all the conversation in the room.” So I just went home. And seems like just a few days later Jody showed up with—we had a green vinyl suitcase that had all our equipment in it—with the suitcase, gave me cards for five women, said, “You’re going to pick them up on this street corner, you’re going to counsel them in my house, and then we’re going to do the abortion.” So that’s how we first started working, and that’s how I started assisting, in fact, was, right after the bust, working with Jody.

Then we found out that the bust was a fluke. The lawyer said that she had found out that if a certain higher-up in the police force had been on—not on vacation, the bust would have never happened. So then we realized they weren’t out to get us, and we went back to business as usual. And that’s when, I believe, four of the seven decided to come back to the group.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I want to go to this issue of the surveillance you’re under. I mean, you know, people listen today, and you say they figured out that you could wiretap the room by wiretapping the phone.


AMY GOODMAN: In the documentary, called Jane, in that documentary, they talk about the phones being tapped of the women who were providing abortions. Can you talk about that experience?

LAURA KAPLAN: Oh, well, we—

AMY GOODMAN: People would pick up their phones, and there wouldn’t be a dial tone. They’d hear people talking. They’d say, “Can you hang up? I got to call my mother. Please get off this line for just a few minutes.”

LAURA KAPLAN: And weird clicks and things like that. But what’s really interesting is that I spent—I got access to the Red Squad files in Chicago. So, when I was working on the book, I spent at least a day in this dusty basement going through the files, and I found—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the Red Squad is.

LAURA KAPLAN: I was going to say, “Do I need to explain?” So, back in the '60s and early ’70s, various city police departments had special squads to target radicals, and these were called the Red Squads. And so, one of the women in the group, who's in the documentary, remembers being at an antiwar demonstration, and some Red Squad cops called out to her, “Hey, Jane!”

So I went through the files to find out what they knew about us. And I looked at Heather’s. I looked at all the central people in the group, and there was not a mention of Jane. So, I don’t know why that was. But, you know, we got a lot of referrals from police—not only their wives and girlfriends, but—because we always asked everybody who called us, “How did you hear about us?” So, can I tell a little story? One of my favorite stories around this. And we weren’t friends with the police, by any means. We had no relationship with the police. We had created our own world, our own reality. And it had very little to do with men and the police and the establishment, in any way.

But, anyway, my dear friend Eileen, who lived on a side street, and her entrance to her apartment was on the side. So, one day, one of the people she’s going to counsel, a young black woman—and this was a white neighborhood—is walking up and down the street. You can’t find the entrance because it’s a side entrance. And a police car pulls up and says, “If you’re looking for Eileen, she’s in the side entrance.” So the woman thinks, “Oh, of course, they’re illegal. They have connections with the police.” She didn’t think anything of it. But she goes in and tells Eileen. And Eileen’s like, “Uh-oh, they know who I am. They know where I live. They know what I’m doing.” But she didn’t get arrested. So, how much did they know?

I think we served as a safety valve for the city of Chicago, because as long as women were coming to us, they weren’t going to wind up in an alleyway bleeding to death. They weren’t going to wind up on that ward at Cook County Hospital that was set up just for women suffering the ill effects of botched abortions. There was a whole ward at Cook County Hospital. So I think we served a purpose for the city of Chicago, as well. But who knows?

AMY GOODMAN: There’s even a scene in the documentary about Jane. It was, I think, some kind of antiwar protest, some kind of protest in the streets of Chicago. And one of the police officers said to one of the women, “Hey, Jane!” And that’s when she understood. I mean, her name wasn’t actually Jane.


AMY GOODMAN: She’s saying, “Why is a police officer referring to me in this way?”

LAURA KAPLAN: Right, right. But, like I said, I went through those Red Squad files. I went through Heather’s. You’d think I would have found some notation. So, it was odd to me. So, who knows what was going on in the city of Chicago at that time? We didn’t worry about it too much, because we had our work cut out for us. And like I said, when we got busted, we had like 250 women waiting for abortions. So this was a lot of work to get people taken care of.

And, you know, one thing I want to say, a lot of us, like me and Alice, we were very young. I was 24 when I joined Jane. Our youngest member was 19. Our oldest members were in their late forties. But the bulk of the members were early twenties or housewives and mothers in their late twenties and early thirties. So there was the single crew and then the housewives and mothers, like Alice as counselor with her two small kids.

We had work to do, so that we didn’t pay a lot of attention. We didn’t even know about the upcoming Supreme Court case. It was the attorney—

AMY GOODMAN: That would be Roe v. Wade.

LAURA KAPLAN: The attorney for the seven people busted said to them, “There is a case before the Supreme Court, and I think it’s going to fall your way. And if it does, then you’re out.”

AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember January 22nd, 1973, the day Roe v. Wade decision came down from the Supreme Court?


AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

LAURA KAPLAN: We had a party. Jane had a party.

AMY GOODMAN: In Chicago.

LAURA KAPLAN: In Chicago. I think it was in Martha Scott’s house. I have this recollection of trays of cheese on the floor. And we got together to celebrate. But, you know, it was—we read the decision, and the decision is framed in, really, doctors’ rights and not so much in women’s rights. So we—

AMY GOODMAN: It’s based on the right to privacy.

LAURA KAPLAN: Yes. But if you read it, it really has more to do with the medical profession. And so we were a little like, “What is this going to mean in the future?” You know, I can’t say that—

AMY GOODMAN: But right away, was the case dropped against the Abortion 7, the Jane 7?

LAURA KAPLAN: It was that spring. It was dropped. I mean, they still could have been charged with practicing medicine without a license, but they weren’t. I think the city was like—the city had just gone through a major political trial that had turned into a circus.

AMY GOODMAN: The Chicago 7, Chicago 8. You had the riots at the Democratic convention—


AMY GOODMAN: —the police rioting.

ALICE FOX: That’s right.


LAURA KAPLAN: Yeah. So, I think the city was like, “Enough of this. Let’s get rid of this one.” So the case was dismissed. We kept in business until the 1st, because Illinois was fighting the decision, so they didn’t open clinics right away in January, and it wasn’t ’til the spring. And we had a very intense meeting deciding what we should do. And there was a feeling in the group that maybe we should continue, because what we were doing was so much more than an abortion. And so much of what our practice was, was a criticism of standard medical practice. We did things in a very, very different way.


LAURA KAPLAN: Meaning, as Alice described, our focus was on the woman. You would never have had two of us having a conversation over somebody’s head who’s lying on a bed getting an abortion, because our focus was—it was all about—we were so empowered by the steps we took, and we wanted to share that sense with every woman who came through the Service, whether they wanted it or not.

So, for instance, I’ll give you an example. When the Feminist Women’s Health Centers people, Carol Downer, came through and were sort of teaching self-help, which is where women learn to look at their own cervix, and they also were doing a sort of menstrual extraction thing, and they were contacting women’s groups around the country with their newfound stuff, and with us, in Chicago. And we thought, “Oh, well, we could show women their cervixes.” So we got these drugstore mirrors, and we had head lamps anyway because we needed them to see what we were doing. And we would say, at first, “Do you want to see your cervix?” And every woman would say no. And so we said, “Aha! We’re not asking. Here, look at your cervix.”

So we made it essential. You can’t not know. You want to come through the Service, you want to participate, you want to be our partner, we want you to be our partner in crime, so to speak. And so, this—you can’t be ignorant. We won’t let you. You’re not allowed in this world to be ignorant. And everything we did was about building that sense, that you can make difficult decisions. And that really changes your head, when you make a difficult decision.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, I wanted to ask you about today. So this is almost, and in some cases this is, 50 years later.


AMY GOODMAN: And you see state after state, the Republican-led governments in these states, whether it’s the governor or the state legislature, in more than half the states, have passed various restrictions on abortion, now one after another, increasingly restrictive bans on abortion, to make their way to the Supreme Court to possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, in a country that is overwhelmingly, including Catholics, overwhelmingly pro-choice. What do you say has to be done right now?

ALICE FOX: Well, I think whatever political action can be made to impede that has to be made. I think the fact that there were these alternatives at a time when—pre-Roe, you know, doesn’t—I don’t think it is encouraging that we could do that again. No one wants to do that again, and no one really is in a position, I don’t think, to advocate that.

But I think what Laura was saying is really the key, which is that what the Service provided was not just abortions. And it was an empowering experience for women. It was an educational experience. It was an eye-opening experience. And to that extent, I think that that was the power. Education was the power. And I still, to this day, believe that ignorance is a huge foe and that our job still is to be informing people of the human dignity issues, the political realities and the rights of each individual. So, that’s our job.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Laura, you begin your book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, with the epitaph of Emma Goldman: “Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty.”

LAURA KAPLAN: Yes. And I think the important—I think part of the message of Jane now is that in the face of cruelty and an intransigent government, we don’t need to feel hopeless or helpless. We are actors in our own lives and in other people’s lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Laura Kaplan and Alice Fox, former members of an underground abortion service called Jane. They called it the Service. Laura Kaplan is the author of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service. We want to thank you both for being with us. Go to Part 1, democracynow.org, to see Part 1 of this discussion. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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