jane on stage

The Green Highway Theater press release

Put out in September of 1999, this is a good introduction to how the play was written and produced. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS OPENING: Saturday, September 18, 1999
Green Highway Theater at Chopin Studio Theater

“We’re supposed to help each other give birth. We’re supposed to help each other abort if it becomes necessary. We’re supposed to help each other die. We’re supposed to help each other live. And we’re supposed to have the knowledge and the strength to do this. And that’s what I learned in the Service.”
• from interview with Judith, Jane: Abortion and the Underground

“We are women whose ultimate goal is the liberation of women in society. One important way we are working toward that goal is by helping any woman who wants an abortion to get one as safely and cheaply as possible under existing conditions.”
• Jane pamphlet, 1969-1973


CHICAGO – Green Highway Theater announces the long-awaited official premiere of the newly revised feminist drama Jane: Abortion and the Undergroundby Paula Kamen. This two-act play explores “the best kept secret in Chicago,” Jane, an underground abortion service run by Hyde Park women from 1969 to 1973. Unlike most plays that address abortion, Jane: Abortion and the Underground is not an “issue play”; it does not feature debates about abortion’s morality far removed from the reality of women’s lives. Instead, it dramatizes the lives of the women who had abortions and the women who performed abortions through Jane.

Jane: Abortion and the Underground combines scenes detailing the growth of Jane and of Chicago’s women’s movement with the compelling words of the women who actually went through Jane, drawn from interviews and research conducted by Kamen, a nationally respected scholar of women’s sexuality. The story of Jane is the story of the struggle to create access to abortion by a diverse group of women, ranging from a radical student to a happy homemaker to a young black woman who was a dedicated member of both the Chicago Seven defense team and the Girl Scouts. Jane, which was run by a feminist collective of mostly middle-class housewives and students based in Hyde Park, was the one safe alternative for over 11,000 Chicago women of all backgrounds in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade. In all the years of its existence, Jane, which boasted no fatalities and operated in private apartments throughout the city, was well trusted by and commonly received referrals from police, social workers, clergy and hospital staff.

Jane: Abortion and the Underground presents an important piece of both Chicago and women’s history in a way that focuses on telling women’s stories rather than preaching politics.

Jane: Abortion and the Underground opens on Saturday, September 18 at 8 pm at the Chopin Studio Theater, 1543 West Division with an additional show on Sunday, September 19 at 7 pm. Jane: Abortion and the Underground runs Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm through October 23. Tickets are $15, $12 students and seniors. Please call 773/334-6032 for reservations, press passes and more information.


Jane: Abortion and the Underground is presented by Green Highway Theater, a five-year-old non-profit that focuses on showcasing women’s voices and telling truths about women’s lives. Green Highway has presented the Chicago premieres of shows such as Clair Chafee’s Why We Have a Body and Carolyn Gage’s Louisa May Incest and Calamity Jane Sends a Message to her Daughter. Green Highway Theater’s production of A Book of Ruth was featured in the 1998 New York International Fringe Festival.

Paula Kamen (playwright) is a respected journalist who published Feminist Fatale, a book on young women and feminism in 1991. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post and Might Magazine, among many others, and was anthologized in Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other Essays. Her second book Her Way, on young women’s sexual attitudes, will be published in next spring by New York University Press. The research Kamen conducted in the course of writing Jane: Abortion and the Underground was used by the makers of the documentary of Jane: An Abortion Service, quoted in the 1997 book When Abortion Was a Crime, and is on file with the Special Collections Department of the Northwestern University Library.

Janel Winter (director) directed Paula Kamen’s critically acclaimed comedy Seven Dates with Seven Writers for Bathsheba Productions at Chicago Dramatists and ImprovOlympic last fall and winter. She has directed several Green Highway productions, including A Book of Ruth, Softcops and the Chicago premiere of Why We Have a Body. She is a University of Chicago graduate, giving her a special interest in the Hyde Park angle of Jane. She is the president of the Board of Directors of the Women’s Theatre Alliance.

Jane: Abortion and the Underground features Belinda Berdes, Marilyn Bielby, Ariel Brenner, Mike Cooney, Johnny Kastl, Karine Koret, Czarina Mirani, Jennifer Ostrega, Pat Parks, Anita Parlor, Jennifer Savarirayan, and Andy Whelan. Sets are designed by Brian Thompson.


Research for the writing of Jane: Abortion and the Underground includes a detailed, original investigation into its past and dozens of interviews with those who were on the scene. This includes clients from various stages of Jane’s development and the major leaders. The drama is stitched from original interview transcripts, fictionalized reenactments of conversations, and historical documents such as newspaper coverage of “The Abortion Seven”, documents produced by Jane, and a script for abortion-rights street theater by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Kamen began her research in 1992 and has been revising the script since 1993.


In its compelling drama and occasional dark humor, this play tells an important story in both the history of Chicago and of reproductive rights history. In the ongoing abortion rights discussion, the play presents the much-needed and often overlooked point of view of women, facing the real threat to their lives and human dignity when abortion is illegal. The play also connects the group to its roots in the New Left, civil rights and women’s health movements. Many characters were involved in all these movements, such as Micki, a black civil rights worker who was a legal aide in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial and let Jane use her Kenwood apartment for the procedures. The play also explores connections to the underground Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, run by E. Spencer Parsons, former dean of Rockefeller Chapel and the University of Chicago, interviewed for the play.

Jane: Abortion and the Underground is also about the power of collective action to make changes in women’s lives. By cooperating under stressful circumstances, Jane made a normally traumatic and “criminal” situation into an empowering one, where in which women often learned for the first time vital information about their own bodies and feminism. Especially in later years, the collective gave personal treatment to clients, giving them health information and, often, copies of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as emotional support through the process. Jane was also radical in demystifying and taking control of the abortion process, which was considered the domain of the overwhelmingly male medical establishment.

Yet, while addressing politics (which are inextricable from the characters’ lives) the play is more about telling stories than preaching politics. The play explores many complexities of the abortion issue, as well as of the personalities involved. In this play, the complexities of abortion rights are revealed in twists and turns of the plot. Nothing is as it seems on the surface: a minister and pregnant women are abortion rights activists; a policewoman knocking on the door of the Service is seeking and abortion, not an arrest; and the abortion doctor is revealed to be not a doctor at all.

Jane was started by Heather Booth (founder of the Midwest Academy and later a leader in the Democratic National Committee), then a leader of campus activism at the University of Chicago, who is credited with forming more early feminist groups than anyone else. Because of her contacts in the civil rights movement, a friend asked her to find a doctor to help his sister. Soon, the word spread throughout the activist communities of her connection to a doctor, and she found herself setting up a counseling and referral service. When returning calls to women, she used the code name “Jane.” When the demand for abortions overwhelmed her, she sought the help of other activists, many of whom were drawn to the emerging women’s liberation movement. Eventually, Jane officially became a part of the greater women’s movement by affiliating with the Chicago Women’s Liberation Movement, a groundbreaking socialist-feminist umbrella organization founded in 1969.

Gradually, the women of Jane (or “the Service”) began assisting the abortionists and learning the procedures on their own. Meanwhile, they found out the abortionists they were using were not real “doctors” as promised. In 1969, they took over performing the abortions themselves, charging less than $100 apiece and serving the poorest women in the city. After a long period of surveillance, in 1972 the police finally busted the Service. But before the much-publicized “Abortion Seven” could go on trial, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision released them from charges and Jane dissolved.

Jane in the Theater

Selected by author Paula Kamen.
(Editors note: The complete script is available from Paula at PaulaK2289[at]aol.com.) 
From Jane: Abortion and the Underground


(In the present, an interview with/oral history of a woman whose friend used "The Service" -- tracked down by playwright in 1992 with an ad in the Defender.)

CRYSTAL: I was a sophomore in high school and I attended Rezin-Orr High School on the West Side. R-E-Z-I-N. Orr. It was located on Augusta and Keeler. It's on Pulaski and Chicago Avenue now. One of my high school chums came to me and told me that she was pregnant .

And she said she had to get an abortion. It wasn't like thinking that maybe she should put it up for adoption or what have you. She said that she had to get an abortion. And I was a virgin, you know, so I was just supportive. So I said, OK, I would support her. What happened was she did all the contacting. I don't know how she found the organization, but she came to school one day and said, "I found someone to give me an abortion - and I have an appointment set up."

So, I think that we even took public transportation to this house. And we went to this apartment and there was a couple, a white couple and (with some confusion) ...I believe it was the South Side....

Well, they started to describe what the procedure would be like, but I'm sure the first thing they did was find out how pregnant she was, what her age was, trying to determine, you know, if she was a good candidate. And so I think we asked how much or something and they said there's no set fee, but whatever you have. She had $15. I remember that. And so she gave them the money, or however the arrangement, I don't know. (nods head) But I know she had $15.

But we started crying at some point while she was talking to us because we were so young. We asked if I would be able to go with her, and that's when they told us that they had a place that I could go to while the procedure was taking place.

Well, I remember her, you know, saying that in terms of when it happened, that it was painful. You know, that she cried and that whole thing because she went through that alone. I don't know if she ever told (her parents), but I know it was very traumatic, and it stayed with me. I don't know how this woman could forget.


DR. C: $1,000 a piece. That's it.

JODY: No way.

DR. C: Don't worry, honey. Women will pay it.

JODY: We deal with a lot of poor women.

DR. C: It don't matter. Listen to me. No matter how poor they are, they find a way to get the money. Suddenly, poof, out of thin air, there it is. It ain't-It isn't an issue.

(YVONNE gives JODY a look of urgency.)

JODY: (reading her mind) But we charge according to sliding scales.

DR. C: What? A sliding scale? For an abortion?

JODY: That's why we're able to bring you so much business. We're from the- they call it "the women's movement." An entirely different set up.

DR. C: What? I don't get it. Why are we even talking?-

JODY: That's a part of our system. That's why we're doing this.

DR. C: OK, then. I get it. I'll give you a cut.

JODY: Then how about considering the cut in the base price. We need it much lower.

DR. C: (incredulous) A sliding scale? You want a sliding scale. For, for this? Listen, if you want a discount, go to the Marshall Field's white sale. FYI, I'm a... What in the hell do you think this is, a charity? The fucking United Way? I have never heard of - Why am I even?- ? I don't negotiate, ever. And don't even thinking about asking again if you can come into the room with me. And the blindfolds stick.

JODY: Don't worry. We know about your rules. But, when you're making your price, remember that we're saving you hassles. You just keep in contact with me. I screen the women. I collect the money for you. I'm like your girl Friday.

DR. C: But I already got my nurse and driver.

JODY: But they don't send all that sweet business your way. How about $500 each?

DR. C: No one has ever-no one negotiates with me. I don't have time for, for conversation.

JODY: That's how we work.

DR. C: What about how I work?

(JODY stays silent.)

How about for every ten you send me at $1,000, I'll do one for $500.

JODY: Hold on, ten is a lot. If we send you ten, we want all of them done for $1,200. Total. I guarantee you. It's still a sweetheart of a deal.

DR. C: What?

(DR. C retreats and scene resumes.)

HEATHER: (counting cash and ignoring the others) $500. A bargain, yes. But we only have $500 in our loan fund. That will hardly cover one.

YVONNE (pseudonym): And all these poor girls pouring in-.What do we tell them?

JODY: Well, we can't just let them in for free.

YVONNE: But some of them can't afford anything.

HEATHER: I agree. But it's a big decision, and we have to make them pay something, no matter how small.

(PATIENT ONE, a poor teenager, and YVONNE, a counselor, walk to the front of the stage from different sides, upstage from JODY. They share spotlight.)

PATIENT ONE: I don't have any money.

YVONNE: "Do you have a record player?

PATIENT ONE: How will I listen to my records then?"

YVONNE: Well, you might consider selling your records, too, because you can always get more records. This is a decision that you won't be able to reconsider.

(On letting "The Service" use her apartment for abortions)

MICKI: We had plenty of room. It was a big apartment. And so they could perform the procedure in one room. People could rest in another room until it was time to go back. And, you know, it was like it was perfect, and then we could be in the dining room or the kitchen or the backout of the way.-And, yeah, I remember thinking, "Well, I could go to jail for that," but I had done a lot of things that I could have gone to jail for. I mean you could get arrested and go to jail for demonstrating against the war. And I did those things because I believe that what I was doing was right and necessary.

I was going to do what I could to promote that so that there would be no more back-street stuff.

And there was part of me that was interested,I mean, you know I wanted to be.in on the action, and you know, to make sure my actions and beliefs aligned. Because it's pretty safe just to be a front house. It's another thing all together to actually have abortions taking place on your premises, you know, in your apartment.And I knew every time we had it there, and it was only like twice a month, every other week, that it was in our house, that I could, you know, that any day the door could, the bell could ring, and it was the cops busting us. But when they called, I never said no. Never said no.

You have to understand. People were getting killed. You didn't trust anybody or anything. You knew people who had been in the Black Panther party who had been killed. You knew people in SDS or any number of other organizations that had just been offed or killed or just disappeared. I remember Chuck Canavan was on his way home from the Conspiracy Trial thing one time, and he crashed his car. He fell asleep in his Volkswagen at the wheel, and he died. Life was just tragic most of the time. It was like what do you have to lose? You didn't expect to live that long. I didn't expect to live past age 33.


JUDITH ARCANA: You know, we are brought up to believe that what is unusual and frightening is to take responsibility for human life. For your own and the lives of the other people you care for. So, that's what it's really about. It's not about some super macho and Wonder Woman kind of shit. It's about understanding that it's what we're supposed to be doing. That this is the way we're supposed to live. We're supposed help each other give birth. We're supposed to help each other abort if it becomes necessary. We're supposed to help each other die. We're supposed to help each other live. We're supposed to do this. And we're supposed to have the knowledge and the strength to do this. And that's what I learned in the Service.

“We are women whose ultimate goal is the liberation of women in society. One important way we are working toward that goal is by helping any woman who wants an abortion to get one as safely and cheaply as possible under existing conditions.”
-- Jane pamphlet, 1969-1973

Abortion and the Underground

by Cheryl terHor (This article about the play originally appeared in the September 1999 Chicago Tribune Online.)

(This originally appeared in the WomanNews section of the Chicago Tribune Online in September 1999)

In 1971, Susan was 21, in a dead-end job and a dead-end relationship, and she had just discovered her IUD birth control had failed her.

Although she wanted children eventually, she knew it wasn't a good time to have a baby.

So she called Jane in Hyde Park.

From 1969 to 1973, before the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion in the United States, thousands of women did just what Susan did. Jane, officially known as the Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, arranged and participated in more than 11,000 illegal abortions in Chicago and the suburbs in those turbulent years.

Some members of Jane, many of whom were college students, housewives and mothers, eventually learned how to perform abortions themselves--despite having no formal medical training--and did them in the bedrooms of various secret apartments around the city. The idea was to decrease the cost and increase the availability and safety of the procedure for otherwise desperate women.

Chicago author and freelance writer Paula Kamen became fascinated when she heard of Jane at a women's rights panel several years ago. The result is her play, "Jane: Abortion and the Underground," which opens this Saturday as a Green Highway Theater Co. production. In recent years, Jane also has been the subject of a book, "The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service" by Laura Kaplan, herself a member of Jane, and a documentary, "Jane: An Abortion Service," that aired on PBS in 1998.

"I was intrigued by these bourgeois housewives running an illicit abortion service between car-pooling to dance lessons," Kamen, 32, says. "Women of my generation have no idea--before Jane, it was just shocking what people had to go through. Cook County (Hospital) was getting hundreds of (victims of) botched abortions a month. Abortions were unsafe, they cost thousands of dollars, and many of the abortionists had mob ties."

Kamen built the play around case histories of the women involved in Jane, after interviewing dozens of Jane members and those who sought the service's help. The play originally debuted for a brief run in 1993, then was completely revised for its new run.

"Most of the work written about abortion is a debate on the issue," notes Janel Winter, producer and director of the play. "This is about women's lives and women working together to help each other."

Like other women who called Jane, Susan (who did not wish to be identified by her real name) was told an abortion would cost $300. She balked and was told that if she could scrape together $100, an abortion could be arranged.

Susan was directed to a house where a woman would counsel her on what to expect during the procedure. "While her kids were playing in the room, my counselor served me tea and told me what was going to happen," Susan remembers. "I was so impressed that someone with kids would help me have an abortion."

She was directed to go to what Jane members called "The Front," a dorm room at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, where she found a dozen other women waiting for abortions. From there, the women were driven in groups--Susan's driver was a happily pregnant woman a month away from delivery--to an apartment, where each was blindfolded as she entered the bedroom, to protect the abortionist's identity. Jane members called the apartment "The Place." (The locations of The Front and The Place changed frequently.)

"The women there were so warm, and they explained everything," Susan recalls. "Even the doctor was nice. (Susan later found out he was not a real doctor). And a counselor was with me the whole time. Afterward, I felt queasy because I hadn't eaten anything and someone made me an egg. A few days later, my counselor called to make sure I was doing OK.

"It was the best medical experience I ever had," she says.

The roots of Jane--or "the Service," as members called it--date to 1965, when a friend told Heather Booth, then a young University of Chicago student, that he was worried about his sister, who was pregnant and nearly suicidal. (The woman is now president of a college, Booth says.)

Booth, who was active in social causes and had spent the previous summer in Mississippi working in the civil rights movement, called around and found a doctor who would perform an abortion for her friend's sister.

"You see and hear about someone in need and you try to do something about it," says Booth, who went on to become a leader in the Democratic National Committee and now lives in Washington, D.C. "It's hard now to remember that that's what those times were like. You rose to protect those who needed it, even if it meant you went against the law."

Word spread that Booth could arrange abortions and demand grew. After several years, Booth knew she needed help arranging the service. She was pregnant, teaching, working on a master's degree and involved in other activism. She recruited a team. A handful of others joined the cause, and soon, Booth bowed out.

"It wasn't that we were for abortion," Booth recalls. "We were for women having the right (to) make this most personal decision."

The name Jane was selected for the group because it had an anonymous, everywoman sound to it, Kaplan writes in her book.

During that same period in the late 1960s, a group called the Chicago Women's Liberation Union formed. A few people at the organizing meeting suggested making abortion one of the union's causes.

Although some were opposed, the union agreed to make Jane a work group within the organization, Booth notes, under the premise that a woman having control of her own body was the most basic of rights.

Besides that, the members of Jane also note that women had far fewer options in those times. Single motherhood was taboo, and birth control was not widely available. It wasn't until 1965 that a Supreme Court ruling guaranteed the right of married people to use birth control, and not until 1972 that the justices affirmed that single people also could legally obtain contraceptives.

"A friend of mine at the time was raped at knifepoint and went to the university health care center, where she was told there were no gynecological services," Booth said. "And she was given a lecture on promiscuity."

"Getting pregnant in those days was a tragedy--it was the end of your life," recalls Sunny Chapman of New York City, who turned to Jane when she was pregnant at 19. "I knew people who had had botched abortions, and people died from illegal abortions. You really felt safe once you made contact with the Janes."

Jane's members grew in numbers. More than 100 women worked for the cause at one time or another during the four years it was in operation, according to Kaplan, and none of Jane's clients died as a result of the procedure.

Because Jane members counseled the women, told them what was going to happen, held their hands through the abortion, advised them on birth control for the future, and made the environment warm and friendly, "an abortion with Jane was a surprisingly positive experience, as many women expressed at the time," Kaplan wrote.

Most of the women in Jane were middle class and white. Those who used the service ranged from housewives to students to poor women, and ran the gamut of all races, recalls Eileen Smith, of Chicago, a member of Jane. "It was a mishmash of people in one room."

An African-American woman, one of the few who worked with Jane, recalls her race was one of the reasons she felt compelled to help out. "For African-Americans who walked in and then saw me, you could see their faces relax," says the woman, who did not want to be identified. "They had a fee structure set up, and didn't turn anyone away."

Even if she could pay only $10.

The African-American woman also had helped a roommate through an illegal abortion years earlier. "I didn't want anybody to ever have to go through that experience," she said.

Early on, the women of Jane constantly struggled to line up doctors who would perform the service and eventually almost exclusively relied on one abortionist. When they discovered in 1970 that he was not a real doctor, they continued to use him because he had proved to be well-trained (by a real doctor). The women of Jane also had persuaded him to instruct them in the procedure, and by spring of 1971, they were performing the abortions themselves, allowing them to lower the price to $100, according to Kaplan.

Although Smith didn't perform abortions, she assisted, giving the women shots of a drug to control the bleeding, and using some of the preparatory instruments.

"I felt like we (women) were all working together," Smith said. "We weren't doing this to them or for them. It was regular people making a big difference. It really shaped my life and showed me what's important."

While other services across the country referred women to practitioners for illegal abortions, Jane was unusual because it counseled the women and actually provided the abortions.

Word spread about Jane through listings in alternative newspapers--it was even listed in the phone book under "Jane Howe." There were also referrals from sympathetic doctors and even, as it turned out, from the police, who mostly looked the other way, the women say.

Smith recalls that one woman who had come to her apartment for pre-abortion counseling couldn't figure out which apartment was hers. As the woman stood out front looking confused, a police officer drove by and said she must be looking for Eileen's place. The police officer directed the woman to the apartment and drove away.

But in 1972, the police raided Jane after the sister of a Jane client lodged a complaint, and seven women were arrested. The case was continued into 1973, and dropped after the Roe vs. Wade decision. But Smith, who was baby-sitting for the child of one of the arrested women, remembers that after the bust, some argued that Jane should disband.

One of the main women insisted they continue. "We don't have a choice," Smith recalls her saying. Women needed the service.

After the Roe vs. Wade ruling, abortion clinics opened in Chicago and Jane did disband.

But nowadays, some of Jane's former members worry that abortion rights are slowly eroding, through parental consent laws, waiting periods, clinic violence and complacency, Booth says.

About 84 percent of United States counties have no abortion provider and the procedure is not taught at many medical schools, according to the National Abortion Federation, an association for abortion providers. There's general consensus that many abortion providers are near retirement age, Booth adds.

In today's political climate, Kamen says some of Jane's members told her they would be unable to do what they did in the pre-Roe days.

"Back then all we had to worry about was jail," one member said. "Now you have to fear for your life." 


"Jane: Abortion and the Underground" is no stranger to controversy, and not just because of its subject matter.

The play debuted in 1993, but its run was abbreviated because of a battle over authorship. Although the original director had claimed co-authorship with Paula Kamen, Kamen eventually was credited as sole author.

The play is back now, after being completely revised, Kamen says, and in the hands of a different theater company. Here are details:


  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday, and Thursdays through Saturdays thereafter until Oct. 23
  • Where: The Chopin Studio Theater, 1541 W. Division St. 
  • Tickets: $15
  • Contact: 773-334-6032
  • Benefit fundraiser: Oct. 10 will be a fundraiser for the Green Highway Theater Co., a non-profit group that focuses on women's voices and lives. A panel of former Jane members will speak to the audience afterward. Call for details.