Jane Collective is raided by Chicago police

May 3, 1972
by Rebecca Belkin

It began, informally, in 1965 when Jewish activist Heather Booth helped a friend find a safe abortion provider. Word spread and other women with unwanted pregnancies began contacting Booth for the same support. As more and more women reached out to Booth, she recruited other women’s liberation activists to help with this service. Abortions were illegal, and women seeking them were often subject to unsafe conditions and financial exploitation, not to mention shaming. To avoid identification and punishment, Booth and her fellow activists referred to themselves and each other by the name “Jane” when providing this service.

The Jane collective operated from 1969–1973, helping women in the Chicago area with unwanted pregnancies access safe and more affordable abortion services. At first, Jane referred women to safe male doctors, but eventually, some of the activists learned to perform abortions themselves despite having no formal medical degrees or licenses. In their years of operation, the members of the Jane Collective helped more than 11,000 women obtain safe, though illegal, abortions. Most of the women they served were low-income and women of color—women who weren’t able to travel to states in which abortion was legal.

The day of the raid, a patient’s sister had reported the organization to the police in an attempt to prevent the procedure. By this time, the collective was helping as many as fifteen patients every day, charging only approximately $100 for the procedure.

Joanne Wolfson was hired as the defense attorney to represent all seven of the “Janes” arrested—Martha Scott, Judy Pildes, Diane Stevens, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Abby Pariser, Sheila Smith, and Madeleine Schwenk. Other Chicago women’s groups started a fund to go toward the legal fees. Wolfson delayed court proceedings as long as possible in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision on the high-profile abortion case, Roe v. Wade. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decision legalized abortion, and all charges were dropped against the Janes.

This entry was created for This Week in History as part of a course on the history of American Jews and Social Justice taught by Karla Goldman at the University of Michigan, Winter 2021.

Sources: Bingham, C. “Code names and secret lives: How a radical underground network helped women get abortions before they were legal.” Vanity Fair. April 2019; Giles, N., Kramer, S., & Richman, J. “Before “Roe v. Wade,” The Women of “Jane” Provided Abortions For The Women Of Chicago.” NPR. January 2018; “Jane Stories.” Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Herstory. September 2016; “Lib fund set to AID 7 held in abortion.” Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Herstory. September 2016; “Jane Collective Wikipedia.” February 2021.

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Heather Booth.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Jane Collective is raided by Chicago police." (Viewed on September 28, 2021) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/may/03/1972/jane-collective-raided-chicago-police>.

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