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The Jane Collective or Jane, officially known as the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, was an underground service in Chicago, Illinois affiliated with the Chicago Women's Liberation Union that operated from 1969 to 1973, a time when abortion was illegal in the United States. The collective was started by activists in the women's liberation movement in an effort to address the increasing number of unsafe abortions being performed by untrained providers. Since illegal abortions were not only dangerous but very expensive, the founding members of the collective believed that they could provide women with safer and more affordable access to abortions. In an informational brochure distributed by Jane in 1969 they characterized abortion as a social problem that mirrored the oppression of women in social and political arenas. During the years which Jane operated, the collective performed more than 11,000 abortions. The collective disbanded after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal throughout the United States in 1973.
The collective originated in 1969 with University of Chicago student Heather Booth, who helped her friend's sister find an abortion provider. The founders of Jane initially focused their attention on providing women access to competent physicians willing to provide abortion services. They found a physician they called "Mike" who was willing to work with them. After creating a close relationship with Mike they found out that he actually wasn't really a physician and some Jane activists have characterized him as a "con man." However, many of the techniques he used were safe and effective. The women of Jane then decided to cut out the middleman and perform the abortions themselves. Mike taught the women his technique, and from then on the women performed the abortions themselves. The women were taught several methods, such as the cannula method for early stage abortions, and the super coil method used in later stage abortions which caused the women to miscarry, but the most widely used was the D&C (dilation and curettage) method. The D&C method involved the opening of the cervix and the insertion of a curette that was used to scrape the walls of the uterus to extract the fetus and placenta.
The Jane Collective was a member organization and work group within the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.
During the time of the Jane Collective, abortion was illegal in Illinois, as indeed in most other states. Although patients could be prosecuted, primary focus was placed on prosecuting those that were performing the abortions. Throughout the four years that Jane operated, the group was raided once by the police in 1972. No patients were arrested, but seven of the women working for Jane were arrested. While in the police van, one woman removed a stack of index cards from her purse that had the contact information of their patients. They ripped the names and addresses off of the index cards and swallowed them to protect the information. However, the Roe v. Wade judgement occurred soon afterwards, so their case was dismissed.
The services offered by Jane took place in two apartment homes in Chicago. The first apartment was used as a reception and waiting area. Here women were checked in, received abortion counseling, and waited to be transported for their procedures. The second apartment used by Jane was where the abortions were actually performed. Women were taken in groups by car, from the first apartment to the second apartment where the actual abortions would be performed. The reception area was often filled with children and other friends and family members of the women receiving the abortion, and Jane provided an informative yet welcoming environment for all. The women working in the reception room provided snacks for their guests as well as childcare for those women who did not have anyone to watch their children while they were having the procedure.
Patients discovered the services of Jane by word of mouth. No advertisements for their services were ever released. Abortions were performed for about $100.00 per procedure. However, most women could not afford this and were either asked to give whatever they could afford, or were given a no interest loan funded through the collective. Upon arrival, the woman in need of an abortion was assigned a counselor who would lead them through the process. Women were briefed on the procedure, as well as how to prepare for it, and what to expect when it was over. Abortion counseling for each woman was a major focus of Jane. They provided counseling before the abortions; they also sought out women who had had abortions after they had returned home, but they were not always successful. Many women wished only to forget about that part of their life; other women were unable to be contacted at all. The patients of Jane were originally from all backgrounds and social classes, with differing opinions on abortion. As abortion became legal in other states such as New York, Jane's more affluent clientele disappeared and the majority of the women they served were poor.
After the success of Roe v. Wade the Jane Collective was disbanded. Their goal of Jane had been realized. Women now had access to safe, more affordable abortions. The women of the Jane Collective discontinued their services in fear of being prosecuted for performing abortions without licenses to practice medicine.
In popular culture
- Ask for Jane, a 2018 historical drama film about the Jane Collective. Judith Arcana, a writer, activist, and a real-life member of the Jane Collective is a consulting producer on the film, in addition to making a cameo appearance.
- Jane: An Abortion Service, a 1995 documentary about the Jane Collective
- Jane: Documents from Chicago's Clandestine Abortion Service (1968-1973) [Pamphlet]. Baltimore, MD: Firestarter Press, 2004. Retrieved from Interference Archive Pamphlets.
- Bart, Pauline B. (2002). Historical and Multicultural Encyclopedia of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States. Westport, CT [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. pp. 119–121. ISBN 978-0-313-30644-0.
- Baumgardner, Jennifer (2008). Abortion & Life. New York: Akashic Books. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-933354-59-0.
- Jane: Documents from Chicago's Clandestine Abortion Service 1968-1971 Firestarter Press, 2004
- The Story of Jane: the Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service Laura Kaplan, University of Chicago Press, 1995.
- Manning, Kate (22 April 2017). "The Amateur Abortionists". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Bart, Pauline B. "Seizing the Means of Reproduction: An Illegal Feminist Abortion Collective—How and Why It Worked," Qualitative Sociology 10 4 (Winter 1987): 339-357.
- Kaplan, Laura. (1995) The Story of Jane: The Legendary Feminist Abortion Service, New York. ISBN 978-0-226-42421-7
- Schlesinger, Melinda Bart; Bart, Pauline B. (1983). "Collective Work and Self-Identity: The Effect of Working in a Feminist Illegal Abortion Collective". Feminist Frontiers. Menlo Park. pp. 337–345. ISBN 978-0-07-319608-4.