red silohette of women holding phone

“Pregnant? Don’t Want To Be? Call Jane.”

This fall, Elisabeth Moss signed on to star in a movie about the underground abortion service Jane. There are, in fact, at least three films currently in the works about this legendary network that was once known as “the best kept secret” in Chicago. Made of up of “hippie housewives” and student activists, the group arranged illegal abortions—and eventually began performing them themselves—for women of all backgrounds in the days before abortion was legalized. Between 1969 and 1973, they provided more than than 10,000 safe abortions.

It’s perhaps not surprising that during a time when it seems conceivable that a Handmaid’s Tale-esque dystopia could be right around the corner, there’s growing interest in this previously little known part of feminist history. Chicago-based feminist writer Paula Kamen has been telling the story of Jane since long before it became trendy. In the nineties, she published the part-documentary play Jane: Abortion and the Underground, which is based on her interviews with women who both used and ran the service. At that point, just a couple decades after Roe v. Wade, the history was still so recent that many of them were afraid to talk to her about it.

Kamen offers the play free of charge to student and other groups interested in performing it for activist events. She writes, “The play offers inspiration about feminist resistance and the power of women organizing, but also warns about the harsh realities of illegal abortion, even in the most ideal DIY circumstances.” So if you’re planning any events to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade next month, check it out.

And if you want to learn more about Jane, watch this documentary, read former Jane member Laura Kaplan’s book, and check out this fascinating oral history recently published at Harper’s.

Feature image courtesy of Paula Kamen

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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