Science  /  First Person

“I Called Jane” for a Pre-“Roe” Illegal Abortion

No woman should have to go through what I went through, and no woman should have to overcome barriers to obtain a safe abortion.

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade, I want to share my experience as a woman who had to turn to an illegal abortion to end a pregnancy. The experience was frightening, degrading, and painful. It was frightening because I was not sure who would be preforming the abortion. Degrading because I was blindfolded during the procedure. Painful because the abortion was performed with very little anesthesia. No woman should have to go through what I went through, and no woman should have to overcome barriers to obtain a safe abortion.

At a time when abortion was mostly illegal in the United States, I was one of the nearly 12,000 women who sought the services of the Jane Collective. The Jane Collective, familiarly referred to as “Jane,” was an underground organization in Chicago that helped women secure abortions from 1969 to 1973. It was one of the only safe alternatives to self-induced abortion or seeking a provider illegally performing abortions on one’s own.

I was a college student in Ohio in the fall of 1970 when I discovered I was pregnant. Marriage was not an option, because neither of us wanted to marry nor did we want a child. I made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Turning to my sister, who lived in Chicago at the time, I was referred to the Jane Collective. My sister had called a physician friend of hers, and he recommended the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, the formal name of the Jane Collective. Jane was mainly known through word of mouth, but it also advertised in college newspapers and underground publications.

I flew to Chicago, where my sister met me at the airport, and took me to her apartment. That evening she had guests for dinner. One of the guests was a woman approximately eight months pregnant. She was in her 30s, married, and excited about the expected arrival. I was unmarried, 19 years old, and not the least bit excited about the pregnancy. Seeing this woman, the night before my abortion, did not give me second thoughts about proceeding with the abortion. What was right for her was not right for me.

The morning of the appointment my sister drove me to, what I now know, was called the “front.” This was an apartment where women would wait to be taken to what was known as the “place” where the abortion was performed. At the “front,” women would be counseled by members of the collective. The woman counseling me asked me about the reason I was seeking an abortion. Was I comfortable with my decision? Was anyone coercing, or pressuring me to have an abortion? She advised me that an abortion was not a method of birth control and following the procedure I should seek some type of birth control if I had not used birth control before. I had.