A sign supporting Roe v. Wade at a rally, held by Planned Parenthood, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision at the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.
( Rich Pedroncelli
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. I was born in October 1973, and although she didn't know it at the time, my mother was pregnant with me on the day the Roe v Wade decision affirmed the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. She was unmarried, a graduate student, and already a single mother. My mom chose to carry her pregnancy to term. She chose. She chose, and it was a choice that she'd been fighting for for years as a young reproductive rights advocate. This is my mom.
Diana Gray: Diana Gray.
Melissa Harris-Perry: From 1969 to 1971, my mom was a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, divorced, and already mother to my older sister, Elizabeth. She was also a bit of a repo right badass.
Diana Gray: Washington state made it legal in 1973, years before Roe v Wade. We put together a booklet on guiding people through birth control, abortion, and venereal disease issues. It included a lot of contacts to help people on campus understand better their access to sexual health care.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Y'all, don't let the prim and proper little old lady voice make you underestimate my mom, her friends, or the work they were doing.
Diana Gray: The title of my booklet was How to Have Intercourse Without Getting Screwed, A Guide to Birth Control, Abortion, and Venereal Disease.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay, momma. I asked what she and her fellow students were doing to help women gain access to abortion.
Diana Gray: We developed a safe house system, so, we had a hotline staffed by volunteers in our group. We also had volunteer host homes. We had volunteer transportation assistance, and we had providers that were willing to provide the abortions for the out-of-towners. When someone needs an abortion, they call the hotline. They got the information they need, and they got connected with a volunteer that would meet the need of the bus station, the train station, and transport them to the host home. Another volunteer would take them in for the procedure and stay with them.
Then return them to the host home where they would remain for another 24 hours while they were monitored to make sure there were no side effects, or fevers, or anything like that. Then they were transported back to their source of transportation. In most cases, the bus station or the train station.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Following in her footsteps, I've worked as a clinic guard volunteer, helping people seek abortions by walking safely through the gauntlet of angry protesters at the clinic door. The work that my mom was doing, that took a different kind of courage. I asked if she was nervous.
Diana Gray: No, I actually loved it. We were kind of breaking the law because the law was intended for residents of Washington state. In some cases, people were, but if they weren't, they used our address and telephone number for when they registered for an abortion.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Born in 1973, abortion has been legal my entire life. I've always known that I could choose. I could choose. Now, before I've even reached my 48th birthday, I may have to tell my daughters they no longer have that right. I couldn't end our conversation without asking my mom about the new anti-abortion law in Texas.
Diana Gray: I absolutely had a gut-level reaction because I thought, "Oh my goodness, they have made this law such that even the kinds of things that we were doing, we would be subject to prosecution." It just made me sick. The only thing I can think of is maybe people in adjacent states would have some compassion and provide this help for the women of Texas until they can get this straightened out because it's just appalling.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks to Diana Gray, my mom, for sharing her story, and for modeling what it looks like to have compassion. This reminder, there is no progress without struggle. There is no lasting victory without meaningful defeats. We find strength for the continuing struggle by looking to our past. Here to reveal the strength-giving stories of the long struggle for abortion access is Laura Kaplan, author of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service. Welcome to The Takeaway, Laura,
Laura Kaplan: Thank you, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell our listeners what the Jane network was and what it meant to countless women back in the day?
Laura Kaplan: This was the very early days of the women's liberation movement, and groups all over the country were forming counseling services to help women navigate the often dangerous underground abortion system. System is a weird word. That's how Jane started as well. We were formerly known as the Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation in Chicago.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You just use the first person plural there, we. Tell us how you were involved.
Laura Kaplan: The group started in 1969. I joined in the fall of 1971. We started just sussing out the underground abortion providers in the city of Chicago to find the ones that were the most reputable, honest, and competent, and to prepare women for their experience, and send them off to these providers. What was unusual about Jane was, within two years, and really, by the time I joined in the fall of 1971, the women in the group had learned themselves, how to perform D&C abortions and induced miscarriages.
We became a completely women-run underground abortion service in the city of Chicago, working out of our own apartments or friend's apartments. Preparing women in advance, sharing information, as much as we could share. You don't remember, but in those days, there was very little information available. That's, in a nutshell, how we evolved. We estimate we performed, in our 4 years, approximately 11,000 or more, safe, illegal, low-cost abortions for women in Chicago and the surrounding area.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can you share with us the stories of even one person who you or the Jane network provided care for in this way? What were the reasons that women were seeking abortions?
Laura Kaplan: We never asked women because we didn't feel that that was an important question or one they needed to share with us, why they were seeking an abortion. It's 50 years ago, and it's hard to remember individual cases, but for some women it was, there was an accident with their birth control. I'll tell you the story of a friend of mine. She had an IUD implanted, and it was implanted incorrectly, and she wound up pregnant while she was still in college. That's one case. Some more women who had had a number of children already and just could not see their way to having another child.
Some were in very controlling relationships where they weren't, by their partner, allowed to use birth control. The reasons were myriad, but like I said, the reasons didn't matter to us. If a woman really wanted an abortion and felt she needed one, that was good enough for us. You have to remember, once they contacted us, they were entering an illegal arena. What we realized was the women who came to us were just desperate because here they were coming to total strangers to help them with this problem.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How did you get your message out to people given that it did have to be covert?
Laura Kaplan: We did some advertising, little posters that were put around in college dormitories and payphone booths. Remember payphones? You might not. That said, "Pregnant? Don't want to be? Call Jane," with our phone number. You have to remember there was no technology. I didn't have an answering machine. There weren't answering machines. It was all very much like that. We took out ads in underground newspapers, but very rapidly, our phone number and information about us spread throughout Chicago. Also, the Women's Liberation Union in Chicago had a phone number, and a lot of called there to get our phone number. By the time I joined, we were so inundated with calls that we didn't need to do any advertising. Especially, our information spread throughout of the primarily Black communities on the South and West Side of Chicago.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How do you react to the current Texas abortion bill law?
Laura Kaplan: I'm just outraged and horrified, and I can't even express exactly how outraged and horrified I am. I see, in this law, not only the six-week limit but the bounty for turning in others. Echoes of Nazi Germany when young people were encouraged to inform on their teachers, their neighbors, even their parents. It just reeks to me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Laura Kaplan, author of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service. Thank you for your work, and thank you for joining us.
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