'Ask for Jane': How all-female vigilante group 'The Jane Collective' secretly conducted over 12,000 abortions in the 70s

At a time when abortions were illegal, this group of firebrand feminists took it upon themselves to provide safe abortions to underprivileged women in the society.


                            'Ask for Jane': How all-female vigilante group 'The Jane Collective' secretly conducted over 12,000 abortions in the 70s

Prior to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, back-alley abortionists held the monopoly on terminating unwanted pregnancies. While some of them were real doctors, most of them were self-awarding butchers who had no medical training and used dangerous and unsanitary methods that resulted in severe medical complications, including death.

'Ask for Jane' is an American historical drama that brings us the story of a vigilante group of women in the late 1960s who secretly offered safe abortions.

'Ask for Jane' is an American historical drama that brings us the story of a vigilante group of women in the late 1960s who secretly offered safe abortions. (IMDb)

 

Jane Collective was an underground organization in Chicago, Illinois, that provided abortion services to helpless women who barely had any legitimate options to choose from. Formally called the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, the group aspired to drastically reduce the number of unsafe and expensive abortions being performed by unqualified providers.

Jane was founded in Hyde Park back in 1969. This was a neighborhood where progressive ideas were not simply brushed off. 

The collective constituted women from all walks of life, especially those who gleaned inspiration from the civil rights movement that required rebels to defy unjust laws, while others who joined were simply bored of empty political promises that were never realized.

Members of the collective, roughly 20 strong, quickly found that some of the abortionists were tolerated by police officers for one major reason -- undesired pregnancies also occurred in police families. Nonetheless, authorities almost always ridiculed the group for their outlaw status despite their selfless work.

Considering several clients hailed from poor neighborhoods, they couldn't afford the going market rate for an abortion. Furthermore, it was generally assumed that the abortion market was controlled by the mafia, making things harder for the do-gooders who were looking to reduce rates.

Pro-choice activists (L) argue with Pro-life activists (R) on abortion issues in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 23, 2006 in Washington, DC. (Getty)

 

Attempting different ways and means to get better prices, Jane's members tried to sell volume to abortionists in return for discounts. However, they soon realized that many "abortionists" had self-awarded titles, because the medical system was not equipped to verify their credentials.

They ultimately concluded that these "doctors" would do more harm than good to their future prospects, often dreaming if they could cut them out of the equation and conduct the surgeries themselves.

Eventually, one of the women in the collective befriended a certain West Coast gynecologist who had learned to perform abortions. She went on to become his nurse and trained the other members to conduct the procedure. That said, the mysterious gentleman had allegedly risked his medical license to continue to do post-operative checkups with patients of the Collective.

The fire burning within made sure it barely took time for them to set the ball rolling. Soon, they were providing abortion services to as many as 60 women a week.

'Ask for Jane' is an American historical drama that brings us the story of a vigilante group of women in the late 1960s who secretly offered safe abortions. (IMDb)

 

Opinions on the autonomous group were mixed, to say the least. Many women still preferred medical offices and white coat uniforms to reassure themselves they were getting reliable medical attention. Others saw the Jane Collective as a counterculture operation that had somehow conjured a health care system that denounced male authority and judgment over a woman's personal decisions.

However, their dreams wouldn't last forever. Jane's operation came to a complete standstill when their hidden facilities were raided by the police in 1973.

The officers who apprehended these feminists were shocked to learn they were performing abortions. They wanted to applaud their rebellious efforts, but were bound by law to repudiate them. The Jane Seven, as they were later dubbed, were indicted by a grand jury. They were prepared for the consequences well beforehand and knew they would mostly go to prison for their actions.



 

 

But then a miracle occurred.

The Supreme Court legalized abortion after the pathbreaking Roe v. Wade trial in 1973 - just in time to spare them trials.

The firebrands let out a collective sigh of relief. However, the latest law would make it impossible for them to conduct abortions without a medical license - leading to the inevitable dissolution of one of the greatest underground movements that battled an unjust system and brought real change to society.

Historians estimate the Jane Collective provided nearly twelve thousand abortions between 1969 and 1973.

The movie directed by Rachel Carey stars Cody Horn, Chloe Levine, Sarah Steele, Alison Wright and Sarah Ramos among others.

'Ask for Jane' hits theaters on May 17.