Heather Booth, a Jewish lady, received a call from a friend in 1965, asking if she could assist the friend’s sister in getting an abortion. Booth had a history of activism and was a vocal advocate for voting rights, but this was uncharted terrain for her.
Booth determined that although though what she was doing was illegal in the United States, she was doing the right thing when she learned that her friend’s sister was on the edge of suicide. She knew her actions would save the woman’s life, as she later stated. Booth was soon bombarded with requests for assistance, pushing her to organize an underground abortion network.
Prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, most individuals did not have access to safe abortions, so they would use wire hangers or throw themselves down flights of stairs to end their pregnancies. Abortion opponents did not and still do not want to provide access to a safe technique, despite the fact that abortion has a lower fatality rate than delivery.
Abortion opponents, whether consciously or subconsciously, are more concerned with controlling the bodies of everyone who has the potential to become pregnant than with safety. This is the world we may be returning to, as well as the one in which Heather Booth lived.
Between 1969 and 1973, Booth formed the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation — more often known as the Jane Collective (or Jane for short) – a Chicago-based organization. The Jane Collective was a covert network of women — some married, some single, some with and without children — who assisted women in getting safe abortions.
The procedure was both complex and straightforward. The ads read: “Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane,” a phone number was also left.
When women contacted the number, they were connected with a member of the group who would inquire what she could do for them – the rule was that they had to specifically request an abortion because Jane’s goal was not to promote abortion, but to assist those who were determined to have one do so safely.
The Jane member would take clinical records during this initial phone contact and then advise the caller that a counselor will call them back in a few days to explain the rest of the procedure. The first item on the list during the counseling sessions was to ensure that a lady was totally certain about her decision to terminate her pregnancy.
If she was certain, the next step was to describe how the operation would go on the day of the procedure and what to expect during the procedure. (At the time, women’s health received significantly less attention, and many women had little knowledge of their own bodies.) Jane used information to empower these women, which helped to reduce their apprehension of the operation.)
If a woman was able and willing, Jane would send her to either London, where abortions were allowed, or to Puerto Rico or Mexico, where they knew doctors who conducted illegal abortions in hospitals and clinics under safer settings. Because most of the women who contacted Jane couldn’t afford to leave the city, they had to rely on the city’s small network of doctors who were willing to conduct the treatment.
Doctors eventually began to raise charges for their services, and the expense became exorbitant. Jane’s women did not let this deter them. They were well aware that they were saving people’s lives and livelihoods. Instead, they took matters into their own hands and had a physician train them how to do the procedure, after which they began performing abortions on their own, at a low cost. Jane’s services were never denied to a woman who couldn’t afford a surgery.
The Jane Collective’s courageous work not only provided women with choices and opportunities, but also played an important role in their thriving and well-being.