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The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,180 ratings  ·  153 reviews
"In the four years before the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, most women determined to get abortions had to subject themselves to the power of illegal, unregulated abortionists...But a Chicago woman who happened to stumble across a secret organization code-named 'Jane' had an alternative. Laura Kaplan, who joined Jane in 1971, has pieced together the histories ...more
Paperback, 334 pages
Published June 9th 1997 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1996)
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Wealhtheow
Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A study of the Chicago abortion underground in the 1960s and 70s, written by an actual member of Jane. Jane started in the 60s as a referral service. A loose collection of women referred desperate women to abortionists that had better reputations than most: less likely to require sex or to accidentally kill you. As word about Jane grew and they kept getting calls, the group became more organized. They allowed other women to join them, they split into specialized roles (although everyone rotated) ...more
Jen
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: pro-choicers, feminists, people who want to know what the pre-Roe days were like
SO good. A great account of the often silent (or at least quiet) history of the incredible Chicago-based group that provided illegal/extralegal abortions in the few years before Roe.
A little lacking in the critique of the "other part" of the choice debates (i.e. the forced/coerced sterilizations of w.o.c.); Kaplan had the perfect opportunity to address this when she discussed the post-abortion check-ups that the women received - where the women were offered birth control methods, both temporary
...more
Siria
Jane was an underground abortion network made up of women’s liberation activists which was active in the Chicago area in the years immediately prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. The Story of Jane is an examination of this amazing example of grassroots organising, written by one of the women involved. More than once I was astounded by the things the members of Jane were willing to do in order to make safe abortions available to as many women as possible, and by their logistical savvy. This is ess ...more
Charlie
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a student at the U of Chicago in the 1960s and as a participant in The Movement, I was acquainted with several of the women who worked in Jane. It was necessary that as few people as possible know any details, so I knew no details of this wonderful organization until I read this book in late middle age.

The most important lesson of this book is articulated in the last paragraph: "We in Jane learned that social change is not a gift given by leaders and heroes, but is accomplished by ordinary p
...more
HeavyReader
This book blew me away.

I got it at the Spring '09 Friends of the Library booksale, but I didn't start reading it until the day Dr. George Tiller (RIP) was murdered (May 31, 2009).

This book tell the story of Jane, the underground, feminist abortion service that happened in Chicago in the years prior to Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in Illinois (and most other states). It was written by a woman who was actually involved in the service.

The service started as a way to help women get i
...more
Sivananthi T
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Before Roe vs Wade, abortion services were largely unavailable to women except through underground services. Jane was a network set up by women, for women seeking access to abortion. Laura Kaplan takes us through the dynamics of setting up such a service, and how in the early years, women having and making decisions around termination of pregnancies was an empowering experience. A must-read!
Ashley
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
To love this book like I did, you must be down with its politics: women have the right to access abortion. Full stop. The women profiled in "The Story of Jane" took on an incredible amount of risk to help women exert control over their lives at a time when both law and culture prevented them from accessing abortion. I fully support that, so I loved this book. It's an inspiring. moving, and terrifying account of how a group of dedicated women came together to challenge laws by arranging and perfo ...more
stellajames
What these women did when they saw a need is one of the most astounding stories of courage and brilliance I've come across. The care they took, the lengths they went to, how they evolved—stunning. Jane, a core groups of about 25 - 30 women, existed for just four years, and in that time it's estimated that Jane changed for the better the lives of over 11,000 women while at the same time literally saving their lives—from the hands of butchers in a time with abortion was illegal—and how they actual ...more
Tom
Jun 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An exciting and informative read from start to finish, Jane is the story of an underground feminist abortion referral service which moved to providing abortions themselves four years before Roe v Wade. The book is based on interviews with many people who participated in the group, all woven into an engaging story. The way the book was written made me invested in the people and what they were doing - from running from a police raid to the excitement and tension of moving from a referral to an abo ...more
Kelly
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I wish all of us born after Roe v. Wade & the publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves could read these vivid descriptions of life without legal birth control, basic knowledge of the reproductive system & safe, affordable abortions.

The Story of Jane tells how the underground organization in Chicago code named "Jane" developed from a service that brokered abortions to becoming a group of lay-women performing abortions to cut costs & control the experience. It details how they hid their illegal activ
...more
l.
"Control was the key. It was a lesson Jenny had learned from her own struggle to get the sterilization and abortion she desperately needed. She had come out of her own abortion with loose, unchanneled anger, and the discussions Claire led had given her a framework through which to understand it. But she took what she learned from Claire one step further. It wasn’t enough to locate and refer women to competent doctors willing to perform abortions. The group had to be able to call the shots and ma ...more
Jennie
Oct 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I've been looking for a book like this for a while--something that could connect me to some of the woman-centered organizing that was happening in the late 60s/early 70s. I had so many emotional reactions to this book--hope, sadness, anger, empowerment. I was impressed by how the book connected to other woman's rights/feminist movements that were happening simultaneously, as well as how it addressed the ways in which this particular group could be very Eurocentric, c ...more
Shana
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Let me tell you, this book was… WOW. As the title suggests, Jane is the name for the underground abortion service in Chicago that served thousands of women before abortion became legal in 1973. Jane members risked going to jail (and some did get in some legal trouble at one point) in order to provide abortions to desperate women who might otherwise resort to terrifyingly dangerous means to end their pregnancies. Jane counselors took the time to explain the entire procedure with women during a ti ...more
Amanda
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
(I tried posting this shortly after I read it but it came up as a comment, not a review. So - I'm reposting it here.)

Finally finished this. I'm so glad to be a part of this pro-choice book club.

This book is about an abortion service known as Jane in the years before Roe v Wade which was entirely operated by women. Women even learned to provide the abortions themselves.

Being someone who works somewhat closely to abortion services, I found the dynamic between the abortion providers and the women
...more
Kate
Mar 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
This is an incredibly interesting book, particularly because all the questions that Jane faced as a radical feminist organization are the same questions feminists are asking today. Can a group get things done efficiently without relying on hierarchies? Are power struggles inevitable? How do personality conflicts between members affect the work?

Theoretically I am 100% behind Jane's actions. But I still felt uneasy reading about women with limited medical training providing abortions. Uneasy and a
...more
Anne
Jan 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the history of feminism or reproductive rights
Kaplan, a former Jane member, tells the story of the Chicago group's formation in 1969 through the time Roe v. Wade was implemented in 1973. The group started out as an abortion referral service, offering counseling to the women they helped, but by 1973 they had advanced to the point of having some members perform abortions and induce miscarriages themselves, instead of relying on outside sources.

As someone who grew up long after this fight was being fought, this was a very good memoir-style boo
...more
Sarah
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because I am politically pro-choice and was interested in how women obtained abortions pre-Roe, however, the most striking take-away for me was how the women of Jane were empowered to organize, lead, and provide medical service and fill a need that was so needed in their community. These women worked themselves to exhaustion, at great legal risk - and ultimately I was more captivated by why each women participated and served.
Lirpa
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't really sure what I was going to get out of this book, since (as a radical feminist) I didn't need to be won over to the necessity of access to abortion. But I couldn't put this book down! The writing was a little dry and a little optimistic, but still: the story of women coming together to take control of their lives and their bodies, the power dynamics of any large group, and how these women dealt with men and the law was really fascinating.
Melissa
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was the feminist kick-in-the-pants I needed this week. It is both inspiring and cautionary. And beware, because when you finish you may start googling menstrual extraction workshops or pregnancy release options or how to obtain ulcer drugs without a prescription. Or maybe sign up as a clinic defender for your local PP, because Goddamnit! we deserve access to basic healthcare that is affordable and compassionate and competent.
Eve
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. A little slow to begin with (or maybe I was just sleepy that day), but once it got going was hard to put down. Important reading for anyone involved with reproductive freedom and/or feminism.
Samantha
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For anybody who needs a reason to reminded why abortion should always be legal this is the book. A reminder of what could be again.
Jai
After years of wanting to read this book I finally got the chance. This book makes me so proud and has made a profound impact on my life. The whole time I was reading this I felt so compelled and in awe at what these women did for 4 years pre Roe v Wade. It was truly legendary and groundbreaking. The organization just started out as finding women who needed an abortion safe access. The members of the organization knew how dangerous it was for women to go to certain abortionists who may put them ...more
Lisa Thomas
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Two books that should be required reading for women are A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan. In the first book we learn about the life and times of early New England settler Martha Ballard who acted as a midwife in her small town in the years 1785-1812. Ulrich fills in details gathered from sparse diary entries that resemble shopping lists and cursory documentation to reveal a story of women’s lives and struggles in early America. Ballard, by the proc ...more
Alexandria
Disclaimer: Nasty comments will be reported and deleted. Anti-Choice propaganda is also not welcome in the comments, no matter the tone. This is a book review, not a political discussion board despite the political nature of this book and its core topic.

Sometimes books land on your "currently reading" list with eerily perfect timing. And this is one such book. I finished it in November 2020. Less than a month ago the Republican party confirmed a Supreme Court Justice that called the passage of R
...more
Ayesha Hasan
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would recommend this book to everyone I know, especially those that do not believe that abortion should be legal. The reality has always been that abortions will happen whether they are legal and available but only safe abortions will occur if abortion is legalized. A woman’s ability to control her reproduction is akin to having the ability to manage her life and destiny. Many people who disagree with abortion overlook how legislation at preventing abortions has an oversized impact on women of ...more
Amanda
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Story of Jane is such an important piece of feminist history and has much to teach us about abortion rights. The message to take away from this book isn't that we should be grateful that we now live in a time where abortion is legal in several countries, it's that women have always fought to protect their reproductive rights and haven't waited for permission from authority figures like doctors or legislatures to do so. It also shows that legalization was not the panacea that women hoped for ...more
Nadine
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a read. Things have changed so much and become so much more polarized since this time. I am struck by gratification these women received from helping others and their commitment to the women who came through the service. I was also struck by the involvement of clergy, and in particular Baptist clergy, in counseling women who were seeking an abortion and even making recommendations for "providers". At the time, supporting the self determination of these women and meeting their needs was seen ...more
Alexandra
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not necessarily a page turner but it made me want to start another Jane.
Kendal
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing read! We can critique second wave feminism all day, and those critiques are valid and important. Still, as a woman of the third wave I can't believe how much of our own feminist history has been left out of my political education. Reading The Story of Jane was a strong reminder that we stand on the shoulders of our 70s era elders.
Ashley
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: next-project
An important and yet vastly underreported part of American history.
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