ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-9-18):
JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH: My goal is to be a great justice for all Americans.
NARRATION: With a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court, abortion is once again at the forefront of American politics.
PROTESTOR: Life yes, abortion no!
PROTESTOR: My own daughters face more restrictions in most states than I faced over 30 years ago.
NARRATION: Drawing attention to a little known chapter of American history, an underground organization that operated outside the law.
LAURA KAPLAN: Our code name was Jane.
NARRATION: In the 1960s, abortion was largely illegal in the United States.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, “ABORTION AND THE LAW,” 1965):
WALTER CRONKITE: Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women, unmindful of what may happen to them, secretly and fearfully seek abortions. For them, there is a wide gulf between what the law commands and what they feel they must do.
NARRATION: That was the situation for Sunny Chapman, who was 19 years old when she realized she was pregnant.
SUNNY CHAPMAN: I didn’t want to have a baby at all. So I started looking for a way to not be pregnant. The options were: get married; leave the country for an abortion, which the rich girls did; go to an unwed mothers home and put your baby up to for adoption, which is what working class girls like myself did; or have what we called ‘back-alley’ abortions, which was a terrifying idea.
HEATHER BOOTH (FOUNDER OF JANE): There were stories of women using coat hangers, taking lye. Stories of women jumping off of buildings to try and damage themselves.
NARRATION: Dangers like these motivated a group of women in Chicago to form the abortion counseling service … a feminist group whose mission was to arrange illegal, but safe abortions.
They became known as Jane.
LAURA KAPLAN (MEMBER OF JANE, AUTHOR, “THE STORY OF JANE”): Nobody in the group was named Jane. It was a every-woman name. But we wanted to have a name, because that way, when we called somebody back, we could leave a message for them that Jane called without giving anything away.
LESLIE J. REAGAN (PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, AUTHOR, “WHEN ABORTION WAS A CRIME”): Most of the women in Jane were housewives. They were college students. And they were running an illegal abortion underground service and they were risking being arrested and prosecuted and going to prison for several years or more.
JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY (MEMBER OF JANE): Did I know it was illegal and did I consider that? Yes, I did, and I thought that this was an act of civil disobedience.
LAURA KAPLAN: We put up signs in phone booths, in student centers, in any number of places.
SHEILA SMITH (MEMBER OF JANE): Well, it’s kind of interesting when you’re running a clandestine service that you have to make sure you’re, that the people who want to use it can find. So, we actually had an ad in the alternate paper.
SUNNY CHAPMAN: The ad said something like, ‘Pregnant. Need Help. Call Jane,’ and then there was a phone number. I called Jane. Then someone called me back. They gave me an appointment to meet with a woman who lived in my neighborhood.
LAURA KAPLAN: Then the person would go to her counselor’s house and have everything explained, not just what an abortion was, but exactly what they would experience that day. And that was really important to us, because we knew that people got scared from the unknown. Our practice was that we had one apartment that we called ‘the Front’ – we were not very creative with names – which was a front. And it was the address we gave out.
JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY: And then the driver would drive just the women who were having abortions to ‘the Place.’ That was where the abortion took place.
NARRATION: It was all part of a system designed to keep their operation – and the identity of the abortion provider – a secret.
SUNNY CHAPMAN: I was blindfolded and helped onto the bed. He didn’t want to do my procedure because I was a little further along than he liked. I was in the second trimester by this time and he didn’t want to do it. The counselors talked him into doing it. They held my hand and we got through it.
NARRATION: One provider did most of the procedures. And then they learned more about him.
LAURA KAPLAN: It was revealed to the group that our doctor was not in fact a doctor. People flipped out. Women in the group, some of them, I heard, were crying and saying, “We’re no better than the back alleys. We’ve got to stop doing this.” Lots of people left the group at that point. They just couldn’t cope with that.
NARRATION: But the women who remained made a decision.
LAURA KAPLAN: And one woman said, ‘Well, if he can do it and he’s not a doctor, then we can do it, too.’ None of us had any medical experience. None. Not one person in this group.
HEATHER BOOTH: And so he said he would train the women on how to provide the abortions.
NARRATION: As things were changing for the Janes, they were changing in the rest of the country as well.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 2-11-70):
HAWAII SENATE: Set bill has passed third reading.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 2-11-70):
DAVID BRINKLEY: Hawaii’s state senate passed the most permissive abortion law in this country.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 7-2-70):
HARRY REASONER: Medical history is being made this week in New York State.
LESLIE J. REAGAN: When New York legalized abortion in 1970, women with money, middle-class women started going to New York. They could drive or fly there and get legal, safe abortions by physicians. Thousands of women went to New York from Illinois. And Jane started to have many more low income women, many, many, many more African-American women whom they were serving.
JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY: Because we had a poorer clientele, it became important for it to be accessible, it had to be cheap. Once we were doing it ourselves, we charged $100. We figured it cost us about $50 and we took anything, including nothing.
NARRATION: By 1972, the women say they were performing as many as a hundred abortions a week, when one day, there was a knock on the door.
JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY: I opened the door. I saw two of the tallest men I had ever seen in my life. I simply turned around, walked back down the hall and announced, ‘These are the police. You do not have to tell them anything.’
SHEILA SMITH: So, we locked the door of the room we were in, which wasn’t really going to stop them for very long. And I think we took all the instruments and everything and threw them out the window. This was a high rise, luckily nobody was beneath. And we were all, kind of, sitting quietly on the bed when the police kicked in the door.
JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY: All seven of us were charged with counts of abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion. Each count was worth 10 years. I think that was the moment in my life that I realized that actions have consequences.
NARRATION: As they awaited trial, a landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe versus Wade, made abortion legal across the country.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 1-22-73):
HOWARD K. SMITH: The Supreme Court today ruled that abortion is completely a private matter to be decided by mother and doctor in the first three months of pregnancy.
SHEILA SMITH: When I heard Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court, well, I knew that eventually this case would go away.
JEANNE GALATZER-LEVY: State’s attorney made a deal with our lawyer that if we wouldn’t ask for our medical instruments back, they wouldn’t charge us with practicing medicine without a license. And that was it. Done. It was over.
TEXT CARD: The women of Jane estimate they provided 11,000 illegal abortions from 1969 to the spring of 1973 when legal clinics opened in Chicago.