Meet the Heroes Who Performed 11,000 Abortions Before Roe v. Wade

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 3.04.47 PMIn the four years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the Chicago-based service collective known as Jane performed 11,000 abortions. At first Jane enlisted doctors to perform the procedure, but when the collective of women found out their chief practitioner was not a doctor after all, a subset of Jane learned to perform abortions themselves, including inducing miscarriages in women with later term pregnancies. The story of Jane—how it was organized, how it evolved, and the lives it changed—is a fascinating document of a vital movement in the history of women’s rights.

Twenty years ago, the paperback edition of The Story of Jane, by Laura Kaplan, was published. Since then, Roe v. Wade has been assaulted at all levels of government, and the book is increasingly relevant to our times. 

PATRICIA GROSSMAN: When Jane first formed, how aware were its members about women’s health issues?

Laura Kaplan: Because we had been powerless, we knew nothing. When we started Jane, there weren’t any self-help books. You couldn’t go into a bookstore and get a book about women’s health. We were barred from this information. And not only were we barred from this information about our own bodies and how they worked, but were given the message that wanting to understand was somehow creepy and unseemly. Our bodies were the purview of men, including doctors, and the doctors were pretty much all men then.