Book notes: The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

I read The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service as part of the San Francisco Feminist Book Club selection for July 2019.

The book tells the story of Jane, a Chicago underground abortion service ran by women between 1969 and 1973. It is part historical account and part “how to” for service-oriented grassroots groups.

Jane’s is an inspiring story. It shows the power of a motivated group to organize themselves in order to solve an unmet need and change minds and lives in the process. Over its short existence, the service performed 11,000 abortions, with success statistics similar to that of “legitimate” abortions. The story also serves as a powerful reminder that it is up to all of us to do what we believe is right, what is needed. This reminder feels especially timely given the current political situation in the US.

This book opened my eyes to the fundamentally controlling nature of abortion laws. Even Roe v Wade, the landmark “victory” in US abortion law, is formulated in terms of a doctor’s decision-making power, and not in terms of the right of a person with a uterus to control their own body.

Another eye-opener were the tidbits about the church’s changing attitudes toward abortion. I was surprised to learn that the Catholic Church was not opposed to abortion before “quickening” until sometime in the 19th century. I was shocked to read that members of the US clergy advocated for abortion and even referred women to underground abortionists in the 1970s.

All in all, this book got me wanting to learn more about the history of abortion, and how it intertwines with the modern medicalization of birth control and reproduction (which in turn is connected to capitalism and patriarchal urges to control the population in general, and women in particular). It also got me motivated to learn more about women’s health.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the history of abortion in the US, and to anyone in need of a reminder that “ordinary” folks like you and me can get it done. ✊

books, women