Before abortion was legalized in 1973, women had few if any safe alternatives in which to obtain the dangerous medical procedure. A group of women, officially known as the “Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation,” formed a secret Chicago based woman’s health group, run solely by women volunteers, with the purpose of providing women with safe and affordable abortion services. It was this group, which ran from 1969-1973, that was able to provide abortion services to over 11,000 scared and desperate pregnant women.
These women, who became known as “Janes” began to provide medical services (abortions) to women with no official medical backgrounds to rely on. These women also acted as the “go between” for pregnant women and the limited doctors that were willing to perform abortions. The Jane’s united together to form a group that, through perseverance and dedication, educated themselves with the skill and knowledge to ultimately perform lifesaving, and in some cases, life altering abortion services.
Though the term “illegal abortion” may be closely associated with the idea of unsterile and an unsafe environment, the Jane’s provided nothing of the sort. Instead, the services that were provided included extreme sanitation, cautionary and supportive counseling, and follow up care if necessary.
When abortion became legal in New York in 1970, the Jane’s were suddenly faced with a situation that involved an overwhelming amount of women that still required the abortion services, however, the clientele began to come from lower socioeconomic status. Fortunately for the women needing services, the Jane’s were not driven by monetary success. Instead they were driven by the need for services, and the fact that a woman should ultimately be in control of her own autonomy.
The success of Jane depended on referrals by word of mouth, which came from “word-of-mouth, cryptic advertisements, and even by members of Chicago’s police, clergy, and medical establishment.” Though the Jane’s ran a virtually untouchable abortion service for women from all walks of life, it would eventually have to come to an end. On May 13, 1972 the beginning of the end of Jane would occur. What would later become known as the “Abortion 7 Bust” temporarily restricted the Jane’s from performing abortions.
It was soon after this bust that the Roe vs Wade decision of 1973 would be made, which essentially made abortion legal for women. The Jane’s services were no longer considered a necessity, and therefore their services were dismantled and discontinued. This did not happen without having a significant impact of the lives of women in Chicago, and an impact on the greater autonomy of women as a whole.