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The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,082 ratings  ·  278 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 January 13th 1996)
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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
May 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: woman-authored
As we perilously look into a future abyss caused by the Supreme Court overturning the reproductive rights granted to women in 1973 with Roe v. Wade I thought it important to take a trip back to a pre-Roe world and to hear the stories of the women who ran one of the largest extralegal, underground abortion clinics in the country. The Story of Jane tells this story.

Started by a few middle-class white women in Chicago in the 1960s, Jane was an organization that connected women who needed abortion w
An Unvarnished Homage

Laura Kaplan’s ethnography of “Jane,” Chicago’s underground abortion service (circa 1969 - 1973), is not a book of propaganda. She by no means idealizes the service which, in the beginning, had some serious faults. The women themselves were a mixed lot and Kaplan is candid and forthright about their shortcomings as well as their contributions to the cause.

My only qualm with Kaplan is her affinity for graphic surgical detail. If I, for instance, were recounting the exploits
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Jun 24, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction, adult
”The power to act had to be in the hands of each woman. Her decision about an abortion needed to be underscored as an active choice about her life.”

Oh the terrible, horrible, agonizing irony that the day I finish this book, Roe vs. Wade was overturned in the United States. The Supreme Court case that guaranteed women nation-wide access the right to have a safe abortion was put back in the hands of the states, with an expected 26 states now set to either completely ban abortion or place sever
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
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!
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
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
Sep 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fantastic, a raw and honest portrayal of the secret illegal abortion group operating in Chicago in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade. This one will stay with me.
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
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
Jul 24, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

This is an enlightening, thought-provoking, and at times, graphic history of an underground service that arose to fulfill a need, and which will most likely end up being resurrected in some form in the new millennium.

Enough time has passed and new generations born that we have forgotten the time when even birth control remained an out-of-reach mystery to a large proportion of women. This book will shock and sadden readers, but it will al
Jul 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This is a great look at what the world, or at least Chicago, was like for women Pre-Roe. As we enter an era Post-Roe, I thought it would be important to see what might lie ahead. The struggles they faced were enormous, but the solutions they found were incredibly powerful, as well. The first-hand accounts of women who ran Jane, an underground abortion service, were powerful as well as chilling. This book was incredibly informative, there's so much that's different and the same about these two er ...more
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
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
May 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This was phenomenal. A story of how normal women created an essential service for women, by women. The refrain from the women who used the service was that it made them feel empowered. Utterly inspiring, especially in a time where it feels like regular folks have little power.

At the same time, it shows a heartbreaking vision of what women’s health could have been - caring, supporting, personal - rather than what it has, in general, become (sterile, impersonal, not listening). I was also saddene
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
"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
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
Jul 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The duality of man is when the author said that one of the members wrote a song for the Jane Closing Party, I thought "oh brother, let's not do that" and then I read/heard the lyrics and started tearing up.
Feminism... Women's Liberation... Incredible.
Aug 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This step by step exploration of the formation of a group of women committed to helping other women obtain fundamental control of their own bodies was fascinating. Jane operated in Chicago as abortion law was in turmoil, and this account shows how committed women did the incredible logistical and physical work to help thousands of women obtain the healthcare they so desperately needed. Written by a member of Jane, it's incredible to read about the tedious, mundane work of answering phones, creat ...more
Jen Beaudry
Nov 25, 2022 rated it really liked it
This is a 3.5 rounded up to 4. Interesting little know history surrounding abortion rights and the women’s movement in the late 60s and 70s. It’s a bit bittersweet with the current situation of Roe v Wade being overturned. Feels like history is not quiet repeating, more like moving in reverse.
Claire Ryan
Dec 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One of the best things I have read in a long time
Shannon Whitney
May 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
I learned a ton about the organization and also the state of women's health care in the late 60s and early 70s. This gave me compassion for the individuals who seek abortions and the courage of the women who organized and provided them. ...more
Jessica Freedman
Aug 18, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of Jane - an underground abortion network pre-Roe v Wade - is important history to know. Some of the points that really struck a chord with me:

- Women’s bodies were long misunderstood by the medical profession and also by women themselves. Sadly, this is likely still true.
- When there is an issue that needs to be addressed, never underestimate the power of strong, organized women.
- Sex education that is factually based is an absolutely essential. Once again this is sadly lacking for ma
Feb 06, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible
3.5 stars but I will round up. I had no idea there were two movies being made of this organization that were just presented at Sundance, looking forward to seeing those soon. While the narrator was not my favorite, the subject material was compelling and eye-opening. I just adore learning about unique underground slices of history. Story drags a bit in parts but I quite love this idea - “if something needs to be done, you just do it.” Committed, “ordinary” women (and their varying personal narra ...more
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
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“The clergy spoke with the moral force of religion. The American Baptist Convention’s tradition encouraged individual freedoms in theology, church practice and morality. In an article on abortion that he wrote in 1967, Howard Moody stated: “It is a violation of every Protestant ethical stance to support with civil law any matter of personal morality….” 0 likes
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