Can I Speak to Jane?

By Jessica and Carmen. A paper originally written for the Chicago Metro History Fair by two Chicago grade school students.(Spring 2002)

Organizing Jane

In 1968 a woman named Heather Booth was contacted by a friend of her brothers who desperately needed an abortion. Heather had involved in other political stands and issues before but never before had she dealt with the matter of abortion. At this time abortion was illegal. However, Heather managed to find a doctor who was willing to perform abortions for women and she referred him to her brother's friend. At this time any question of the illegality of abortion was viewed as a medical issue. However the more Heather thought about it the more she realized that abortion was not a medical issue. It was a feminist issue. It was a matter of a woman's right to have control over her own body. A few months later another woman contacted Heather for an abortion referral. Through word of mouth women were being referred to Heather to find abortion help. Heather was eager to help these women and realized that something must be done for them. However more and more women were calling a day. She realized that if she was going to provide the appropriate amount of help for them than she was going to have to organize a group. She invited some women that she knew to her house and they brought some people that they knew as well. These women were in their twenties and thirties, many filled with a love for feminist issues and politics. When they were all there Heather explained what was going on with the politics of abortion and why it was so important that-it be an option for women who, for whatever reason, felt that they needed one. Many of the women there had illegal abortions themselves and were in complete agreement with Heather. She explained how she had been referring women to doctors willing to perform abortions and asked the women that were there if they would be willing in setting up an organization that did this.

At the next meeting she arranged the turnout was somewhat smaller but there were about a dozen women who were interested in being part of helping women find abortion. They called themselves the Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation. However, they needed a code name that they could use to talk to women about the group. They needed a name that would not be construed as anything sinister. One woman recalls that when someone said, "It's like we're creating a monster." Another woman said, 'Then I like my monsters to have happy names like Fluffy or Jane.' In the end they settled on Jane. Jane seemed like a very average woman's name and no one in the group was called Jane. Whenever a woman called she would ask I& Jane and whenever a member called back for a woman she spoke as the alias name. Under the name of Jane the group was allowed to get a telephone number and an answering service.

The Way the Service Worked

Because they were doing something that was illegal, the members of Jane had to keep a very low profile. They could not advertise their service much either. Information was mainly passed on by word of mouth. They did publish an add in a newspaper that simply stated, 'Pregnant? Don't went to be, call Jane. 643-3844'. This also helped to publicize their service. Some doctors who knew of them and were sympathetic would refer women to Jane as well.

At first there were only a few women calling a day for Jane. The women kept track of each woman by a card catalogue. On the card there was the women's name, age, address, and phone number. They also wrote down the status of her pregnancy and medical information about he such as any previous abortions or problems. Every meeting that the women would have the cards were passed around and a woman from the service would pick women that they would counsel. Each woman was given a counselor that would help her deal with any emotional problems and take them to the abortions. One woman that they called "Big Jane" handled the phones and would organize the cards. Women who left messages for Jane had to be called back as well. When a member of Jane called they would say that they were 'Jane" calling. They did have a few problems with people answering phones and demanding who 'Jane' was. At one time a man on the other end of the line even asked what 'Jane's' last name was. Thinking fast the counselor said 'Jane Howe' because 'Jane would show you how.' Therefore at that time in the telephone book a Jane Howe was listed with Jane's number. Not many women looked for them in the phone book though.

A counselor would never steer a woman towards getting an abortion. While these women were pro choice they were not pro-abortion. They were also not allowed to question a woman's reason for receiving abortion. Some women were anxious to talk about their situation and others wanted not to think about it. Counselors would also make sure that a woman was positive that she wanted an abortion. They did not want any woman to have an abortion that she did not want. There were a few times when terrified teens had come to Jane because of bullying by parents or boyfriends. Many times it was plainly obvious that women really wanted to keep their babies but felt for whatever reason that they would not be allowed to. In these cases counselors would not perform abortions on the women and would often spend time talking with the women's parents if necessary to convince them to allow their daughter to have a child.

Women would be given the address of an apartment or a hotel room. A nurse would blindfold them so that they could not see the doctor and then the abortion would be performed. On other occasions women would wait on corners wearing something that was symbolic and someone would pick them up and take them to wherever the abortion was to be performed. Places were always very covert and women had to be very secretive about where they were going. The whole experience was often very frightening for women when the service was still young and new. 


The first issue that the women of Jane had to deal with was finding doctors who would give women safe, illegal abortions. Most doctors who would perform abortions would charge at least $500 and the women who came to Jane for help did not normally have the means to round up that kind of money. This lead to a lot of bargaining and pleading with the doctors that Jane dealt with. The problem was that the members of Jane had no medical experience and did not know how to pick a good doctor to perform their abortions. Medical experts were always telling terrifying stories about back-alley abortionists being butchers who left women bleeding and sick. The women of Jane had experiences with rude or inexperienced doctors. Some of the doctors that they referred women to berated the women for getting pregnant or even harassed the women sexually. Jane knew of a few good doctors but some women would call Jane beck telling of awful experiences in which doctors treated them horribly and left the feeling even worse about what they had just done.

The problem was that the doctors were always in control. Some of them charged enormous amounts of money and others had conditions that many women could not meet. The women of Jane felt that it was bad enough going through an abortion without having to be waft on an unpleasant street comer to be taken blindfolded to an apartment where a stranger performed the abortion. Some doctors had women waft on street comers to be picked up by someone to take them to the doctor. This could be strangely conspicuous when someone saw a Latino woman in an all white neighborhood waiting with a red carnation.

Jane came in contact with one doctor that became their main source. His name was Mike and he was very pleasant to the women he treated and he did not seem inexperienced at all. The problem was that he charged $500 dollars and to protect his identity he would not meet directly with any member of Jane and the women who he worked on had to be blindfolded. He had a nurse who would escort the women to him and he sent a middleman to do the talking for him. He was willing to come down on the price now and then as long as Jane could guarantee him more business. This was no trouble seeing as Jane was receiving calls from ten to fifteen women a day. There were rarely any side effects with the women he treated and he was always friendly and warm with them as well. He was their best bet even though Jane wanted to have more control over the situation.

At one point when a crazed husband burst into the hotel room where the abortion was taking place Mike had to run for it. He called a member of Jane to come and pick him up at a gas station. However, when he got into her car the Jane member realized that it was the middleman that the doctor had sent to them. This blew Nicks cover. There was no middleman. Mike was the middleman. He still wished to maintain the secrecy that he had before but now Jane women began pushing to let counselors go in with their counselees, and sit with them while the abortion was taking place. Mike resisted but eventually he allowed two or three Jane members that he had met be present during the abortions. Jane now realized that slowly they were taking control over the abortion process. They still respected Mike's wish for secrecy but their ultimate goal was to be in total control over every aspect of the abortions.


Jane had to maintain a great amount of secrecy to prevent the police from arresting them. This was always a danger to the members in the service and many precautions had to be taken as a result. However one thing that Jane found was that police, like everyone else at the time, had conflicting views on abortion. While it was illegal some police officers who were sympathetic even sent women to Jane for abortions. At one point a police officer even asked or him sister to be given an abortion. This was always difficult for Jane because the women sent in for abortions could possibly be working for the police however, the women of Jane would always tell the woman `Now don't rat on us because if you do, you'd be telling on a sister." The women brought in by the police were always very earnest in their claims that they were not working to get Jane arrested and they never had any problems with the Chicago Police department. Jane was a group that was not in it for the money like so many other illegal abortionists. They were in it because they wanted to help women. They were not an organization for profit. They never hurt any of the women they were treated. There were little or no complications with women who received abortions and they were friendly and careful with the women they helped. For these reasons the police had no real grudge against them and no reason to hassle them.

One belief is that the reason that Jane was busted at all was because the police that were called were not the Chicago City police and therefore had no knowledge or relationship with Jane. The woman who called the police called her local police; the Cottage Grove district. These police not only were not familiar with Jane and the way Jane worked but were under a lot of pressure to stem the tide of abortionist groups. At that time the Roe v. Wade case was being prepared and so anti-abortionist groups were even more determined to stop all abortion services. Therefore these police, when given evidence of an abortion service, had no choice but to step in and stop it. Many of the women of Jane however, knew that while the service was running the Chicago Police had knowledge of Jane even if they didn't arrest them from the beginning.

Avoiding the Cops

Jane always was forced to use the utmost safety in avoiding the police. If they were to open about what they were doing the police would have no choice but to arrest them. After all, only a select number of the police were sympathetic and favorable to abortion. The code name Jane was one way of maintaining the privacy that they needed. Another way that they decided on was having two separate places for the women to go to. After one close call with the police Jane decided that in order to prevent the police for finding out where the abortions were taking place was to not give the woman the address of the place of abortion. They would give the women the address of what they called "The Front." The front changed from time to time and the women would be given directions to go there. From there one Jane counselor would drive a group of women over to "The Place", where the abortions were performed. Finding people's houses to use as fronts was always difficult but when they did it this way the cops would not be able to find the place as easily even if they got hold of a woman and took the address she had been given. The place changed as well at first but soon the women rented out their own apartment at 5120 Hyde Park Boulevard. This apartment ensured that they would always have a place to perform abortions. However, they preferred to move the place from home to home because it gave them a greater sense of security. However they used their apartment for abortions and they decorated it with bright lively pictures and colorful friendly sheets so that the women would feel more comfortable and relaxed than she might at a hospital.


On Wednesday May 3rd 1972 the police arrested seven Jane women at the place along with a whole group of other women who had been waiting to receive abortions. They were almost finished with all the abortions for the day and the Jane members who by this time were performing their own abortions were eager to finish. The driver that day was taking a woman who had finished with her abortion out when five huge men stopped her and the woman. They were homicide detectives and they demanded to know where the women had come from. The Jane member refused to say anything but they interrogated the terrified woman who had received an abortion so fiercely that she blurted out the apartment number. The Jane members were in the middle of an abortion when the doorbell rang. They were expecting the janitor and they were almost finished with the abortion so they opened the door. The police came bursting in and the woman who answered the door began shouting, Its the cops! It's the cops!" One woman went into the room where the women were wading and said "These are the police, you don't have to say anything.' The woman in the bedroom quickly realized what was happening and dressed the woman who had just received an abortion and hid all the medical instruments. When they came out the police were asking over and over "Where's the doctor? Where's the guy?' they couldn't understand why there was no man who might be an abortionist present. They were able to single out the Jane members and they interviewed all the women waiting for abortions. Then they arrested everybody there, about forty people in all. The Jane members still had index cards with the information about the women that they treated with them. The also had all of the money that they earned that day. Determined not to let the police find either of these things, the tore up and ate the index cards and at the Police station they flushed the money down the toilet. The Police were a bit baffled because all of the women arrested where middle class white women who looked nothing like your average illegal abortionist. They also could not understand exactly what the cost of the abortion was because all of the women treated had paid what they could afford rather than pay one specific amount. They did however keep all seven Jane members in Lock-up. By morning the press had already published the story of the arrest of the Abortion Seven.

Free the Abortion Seven

With news of the arrest the other Jane members were determined to help out those who had been arrested. Some of those in jail had called Jane members explaining what was happening. At this point Jane had a lot of money. Some of it was stored away for emergencies and others were sifting in jars in the homes of Jane members. However there was a sudden clamoring to get money in order to free the arrested members. One of the Jane members arrested had a husband who was a lawyer. He came with his partner to help them. They agreed to get that one Jane member out. The Jane refused, she didn't want to leave the other six women, however, they encouraged her to go for the good of the group. The lawyer working for her played the nursing mother card with the judge. He realized that because the Jane member was white, a lawyers wife and a nursing mother that the judge would most likely go easy on her. True enough the judge set a low bail and told her that she could go back to her children. The woman of Jane was then alarmed to see the judge swivel on two teenage girls who had been arrested and begin bellowing and berating them. The woman who saw this commented

He screwed the teenager over and they let me go. Which was a very interesting lesson for me. She was real small and she was wearing cheap cloths and had a southern accent. She was a kid and pregnant for _ sake. There's nobody there to help her and there's me with all these lawyers, nursing mother of the year. I was so ashamed. I hated that judge for that.

The other six women in jail relied on the money that was being gathered by the other Jane members. The courthouse was filled with feminists and Jane supporters. There were a group of lawyers who had offered to help these Jane members as well. The prosecuting attorney wanted a high bail but when the defending attorneys cited the status and situation of the-women and the bail than had been set for the one Jane member already freed the judge gave in. Bail was set at 2,500 per woman. With all the funds that had been set up to "free the abortion seven', a Jane member had brought the money to the courthouse and all seven women were let free.

Trial for the Seven

Although the "Seven" as they came to be called had be released from jail they were still going to be put on trial and realized that they had to find themselves a lawyer. They interviewed man after man, all of whom made the seven out to be a cause. They had no understanding of the group and no concern for it They were sleazy and slick and the seven soon realized that they really didn't care about Jane or the seven the way they should. Finally they found an excellent female lawyer who was direct and honest. She simply said "My job is to keep you out of jail, not fight the issue of abortion." They liked her attitude and hired her as their lawyer. She worked very hard for them and very well. She explained to them that at the time the Roe v. Way case was at the Supreme court and if they passed a law legalizing abortion the seven would not have to go to jail and the case would most likely be dismissed. This was a ray of hope for the women in Jane. They went to trial and waded nervously. They called up witness after witness to testify for them. However with the Roe v. Wade case underway there was a good chance that they would not have to deal with any more of this.

When the Roe v. Wade decision was passed legalizing abortion there was an outburst around the country. The women of Jane were shocked. This decision seemed to come out of nowhere. It did not take effect immediately in Illinois, however on March 9" the case against the seven was dismissed and their court records ordered expunged.

Jane Undone

After the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 Jane began to disband. There were many women who were not happy with the decision. They were relieved that now abortions were accessible to women but they still felt that power was still given more to a woman's doctor. Their ideal abortion law was none at all. Some women still wanted to continue Jane. They knew that hospitals would never treat women with the kindness and care that the Jane women had. The hospital doctors would distance themselves from the women and never go to such extents to make women comfortable and assured during an abortion. However they could not continue Jane as long as abortion was illegal. Then they could be accuse of stealing business away from hospitals and find themselves in even bigger trouble, Women still were calling Jane but the members soon realized that it was time to put an end to Jane and move on. Jane had served its purpose. It had provided any woman who needed an abortion for whatever price she could afford. It was an organization for women by women. It made women feel empowered and strong. It made women aware of the rights that they deserved and take their future into their own hands. Despite the fact that little was known about this group it played apart in the fight for women's rights for abortion. It showed people that abortion would always exist whether legal or not and that it could be done safely. Jane advocated choice not abortion. They reasoned that no one was pro-abortion. No one wanted abortions, Jane members merely wanted to give women the option if they felt that they needed it. The Jane members had one last get together as an end-of-Jane party. They invited everyone who had ever worked with or for Jane. They invited Mike, their former doctor, members, people who had offered their apartments as fronts, everyone and anyone who had helped them. It was now time to put Jane aside and continue on with their own lives. When Jane was over many of the women moved away and found new jobs. Little was ever known about Jane but it had an impact on many women. Jane had provided women with safe inexpensive abortions when it was illegal. It helped every women that came to them no matter her race or financial situation. Jane performed over 12,000 abortions and never once was responsible for the death of a woman. This was an amazing achievement and was part of the movement that put enough pressure on the government to make abortion an option available to women today.