Monday, September 18, 2006

Book Review: The Story of Jane

I just finished The Story of Jane, a history of the "Jane" organization formed by Chicago activist to refer women to trusted underground abortion providers. The group formed in 1969 and worked until the Roe V Wade decision in 1973. Kaplan's work tells the story of the organization's founding, which arose out of a perceived need for women to have more organized and reliable access to trusted abortion providers. The women of Jane began by simply referring women to abortionists and providing abortion counseling services. A few members began observing and assisting with abortions performed by one doctor who regularly served Jane's clients; when it was revealed that the abortionist was not a physician, the women were inspired to learn the procedure themselves and began to offer D&Cs, and later, induced miscarriages.

Although the organizational history is interesting, the broader picture of illegal abortion in America is likely of greater interest to modern readers. Jane's illegal and controversial actions are grounded in the realities the women of the time faced, and the text paints a picture of these women that challenges stereotypes of the "typical" abortion-seeker. The women Jane served represented a broad swath of society, each woman with her own circumstances and concerns. The text also makes it clear that women will still seek out abortions when it is illegal, but wealthy women have options for safe procedures via travel that are not available to women with more limited means. As such, the text is interesting both as a historical portrait of pre-Roe America, but as a consideration of how women's lives may be affected in a post-Roe nation.

Kaplan L. The story of Jane: the legendary underground feminist abortion service. New York: Pantheon Books; 1995.

Update: Check out tons of Jane-related information from the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. This includes articles about the group, original brochures, stories from participants, video, and links to additional sources.

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