In the 1960s, a group of radical feminists and other left-wing activists in Chicago began connecting women whom they encountered in their political work with an African American physician in Woodlawn, on the south side of the University of Chicago campus. This physician, now revealed to be Theodore Roosevelt Mason (T.R.M.) Howard (1908-1976), performed abortions.1 The main liaison for these fateful assignations was “Claire,” a veteran civil rights activist named Heather Booth who had returned from agitation work in Mississippi convinced that women’s liberation was just one part of a much broader shift in American society involving race relations, the policies of the American government at home and abroad, and the radical politics increasingly animating college campuses.2 Through what she called “counseling sessions” with women who called her seeking to end their pregnancies, Booth began to see abortion as a new frontier in political mobilization.3
The market for this mobilization, Booth discovered, was virtually unlimited. As word spread that “Claire” was the person pregnant women in the Chicago area could contact to procure an abortion, she found herself overwhelmed. By 1968, Booth knew that she would have to organize a movement around the rising clamor for abortions. Leftist groups such as the Women’s Radical Action Project (WRAP) on the University of Chicago campus helped Booth in her abortion go-between work, but the upending of American politics in 1968, focused mainly on opposition to the Vietnam War, had the double effect of sending more and more women to abortionists—as the mood in America turned anti-traditional, anti-patriarchal, even anti-social— while keeping radical organizations such as WRAP preoccupied with other forms of action.4
Thanks in large part to Betty Friedan’s (1921-2006) 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, women across the United States were awakening to a solidarity of oppression, as many saw it, and beginning to trace the origin of their various problems to their position as second-class citizens due to their sex.5 One such common concern was pregnancy: Booth’s early initiative spearheaded a movement by women to take abortion out of the hands of doctors, politicians, and medical review boards and to make decisions about women’s bodies themselves. As California abortion activist and Society for Humane Abortion founder Pat Maginnis (“the Che Guevara of abortion reformers”) declared, abortions should be elective because every woman has the right to control her own body.6 In 1967, the National Organization for Women (NOW) issued a “Bill of Rights for Women” that called for an end to legal restrictions on abortion and contraception.7 In February of 1969, Chicago was host to the “First National Conference on Abortion Laws,” but feminists such as Friedan, who was in attendance, objected to the doctorand maledriven agenda.8 Feminists were seeking a way to make abortion a plank in their women’s-lib movement.
In that same year, 1969, Booth began holding meetings with radical themes such as abortion at her Hyde Park home in suburban Chicago. Some of the women who frequented Booth’s political sessions were working on a new movement of their own, a “women’s liberation abortion group,” which they saw as necessary “to reframe the arguments for abortion in terms of the control over their lives that individual women had a right to, regardless of their economic status or race.”9 The Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, which grew out of these meetings and also out of Booth’s experience connecting women with abortionists, took as a code name the “everywoman’s name” of “Jane.”10 After months of preparation and planning, a core group of women were ready to begin in earnest an illegal abortion referral service that would be fronted by an on-duty, on-call counselor, “Jane,” who would field requests from women seeking abortions. Posters were plastered around the city reading “Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane. 643-3844.”11 Women who wanted to end pregnancies began calling that number virtually non-stop and asking to speak to “Jane.”
The Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation would henceforth be known, in common parlance and in the considerable body of historical and sociological literature that has grown up around it, by the code name “Jane.” Jane operated from 1969 until early 1973, when the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton rendered Jane’s covert services unnecessary.12 By one former member’s estimate, over the course of its existence, Jane performed some 11,000 procedures.13
That former member is Laura Kaplan. Kaplan is a founding member of the Emma Goldman Women’s Health Center and also the author of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, first published in 1995 and reissued by the University of Chicago Press in 2019. Kaplan, who goes by “Kate” in her book, tells “the story of Jane” in unadorned prose from her perspective as an insider and based upon interviews she conducted with many of the former Jane members and participants. The Story of Jane is not hagiography, it is history, a semi-firsthand account of how a group of women arrived at an enhanced awareness of their political position in the 1960s and early 1970s and decided to put that awareness into action by vivisecting more than ten thousand children. Kaplan is clearly proud of the work she and her fellow abortion providers did, and there can be little doubt that The Story of Jane was written to advance the myriad of leftist causes, centered on abortion and control over women’s bodies, that Kaplan has spent much of her life championing and practicing.
It is for that very reason that The Story of Jane must stand as perhaps the most pro-life book ever written in the United States. I cannot think of anything else that comes close to having the pro-life power that The Story of Jane conveys on nearly every page. And the reason is that the book proves, with a finality that only unwitting honesty could so underscore, the truth of all the horror stories that prolifers have been trying to tell the world since a previous generation of Americans of goodwill was caught flatfooted by the seismic shifts in sexual and reproductive law and practice in the 1960s. It is one thing to hear Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016) speak out against abortion, but pro-life admonitions can always be dismissed, however disingenuously, as merely partisan. However, Kaplan’s account cannot possibly be so disregarded. The Story of Jane is the direct telling of what abortion really is and who the people who perform it really are, by someone who was quite literally in the room where it all happened.
The Story of Jane also handily dismantles the lies upon which abortion advocates are forced to rest their activism. As abortionist-turned-prolifer Dr. Bernard Nathanson later admitted, to further the legalization of abortion he infamously lied that as many as ten thousand women a year were lost to “back-alley abortions.”14 The truth is that abortion was already a thriving business, undertaken largely in medical clinics, long before Jane debuted. Kaplan does not mention Dr. Nathanson in The Story of Jane, but then again she does not have to—her book refutes Nathanson’s lie without needing to refer to it.
Those in favor of abortion often couch their support for the procedure in a narrative of women having been constrained, pre-Roe, to procure such “back-alley abortions,” in numbers Dr. Nathanson largely confabulated, in order to terminate pregnancies. Indeed, Kaplan and many of her Jane co-conspirators tell this tale of wanting to offer women something better than the “coat hangers” visited upon women in the dark ages before making abortion safe, legal, and rare. However, The Story of Jane completely inverts this narrative. It is not that the illegality of abortion turned abortionists into butchers. It is that butchers are attracted, by its nature, to the practice of abortion—and often also to its illegality, which helps increase the price that can be charged. In fact, much of The Story of Jane consists of haggling with abortionists— some of them, like T.R.M. Howard, licensed physicians who operated reputable and legitimate practices as their main work—over money. For a doctor or other abortionist, abortion, more than anything else, was almost always about the bottom line.
“Claire’s South Side doctor,” Kaplan writes, referring to Booth’s early go-to physician, Dr. Howard, “charged $500. After a certain number at full price he would occasionally do one for free” (p. 11). In the late 1960s, five hundred dollars was worth approximately $3,500 in 2021 dollars, making abortion then, as now, a highly lucrative practice. Abortionists were sensitive above all else to how much money could be extracted from their trade. Booth negotiated with abortionists to cut her special deals, getting, for example, one doctor to “make a financial arrangement: so many at $600 and then one for less” (p. 11).
Abortion was done for cash. Abortionists took advantage of women’s desperation to line their own pockets. “Claire [Heather Booth] charged each woman the full $600. She put any excess in a fund for women who could not manage even the reduced fee. She pressed people to pay. They had to. The doctor had to be paid. It was never easy for people to come up with $600” (p. 11). Some doctors charged as high as $1,000, the equivalent of nearly $7,000 today (p. 36). Many other doctors were even more predatory and unsavory, such as the doctor who “presumably paid police protection, because his name was on the door of the medical office where he performed abortions. He was medically competent, but he was often drunk and demanded sexual favors as a condition for the abortion” (p. 39).
In one unforgettable episode from The Story of Jane, Jenny, one of the main members of the core abortion service, arranged to meet with the middleman of a certain “Dr. Kaufman,” who preferred to perform abortions on women in motel rooms (which he characterized as “clean and safe,” p. 40). From the beginning, the negotiations are tawdry, even before the subject of money is broached. Jenny dressed provocatively to meet with Dr. Kaufman’s business associate in the hopes of distracting him into lowering his fee, wearing “a skimpy tan miniskirt, a sleeveless tank top, long dangling earrings and sandals. She had picked out her outfit carefully, thinking, If women are stuck with the victim/whore dichotomy, I’ll be the whore because we’ve had enough victims” (p. 41).
When the middleman arrives at the appointed sidewalk location and expresses concern about being watched by the police, Jenny tells him,
I don’t want to hear any of that bullshit. We both know why you’re in this. You’re in this to make money. We don’t care about money. We’re in this to help these women, and it’s as important to us as your money is to you, so let’s start right now and find some way we can make it better for you and you can make it better for us. You’re doing one or two cases a week for us now at six hundred to a thousand dollars per case. We have the wherewithal to deliver a lot more people to you, which means you’ll have to work harder, but you’ll make a shitload more money than what you’ve been making. But, in order for us to do that, we want some concessions too (p. 41).
Over the course of this heated exchange, Jenny, as Kaplan tells it, tries to frame her approach in terms of women, but the logic of money inexorably dominates the negotiations. “They had to build their strength through numbers,” Kaplan writes of Jane.
Women were desperate for decent abortions. They had to go out and find those women. If that meant expanding the group, so much the better. The bigger the organization, the more women they served, the more power was going to shift from the doctors to the women. Another motive was left unstated: If abortion was every woman’s right, they had to take whatever actions were necessary to make that right a reality (p. 43).
Given this fundamental history of abortion as a business, it is little wonder why abortionists working for Planned Parenthood were captured on undercover video by pro-life journalist David Daleiden in 2015 haggling over fetal body parts—whatever the motivation at the outset, the final calculus is cash. As women gain “power” and start performing abortions themselves, they do not deviate from this calculus, they simply streamline it by cutting out the male middleman and performing D&Cs themselves. It is always, inevitably, about how many abortions can be done, because the analysis is financial, not ultimately political or even compassionate.
The pattern of abortion-for-money, coupled with a general unwholesomeness of lifestyle at best, repeats throughout The Story of Jane. Take, for example, a doctor from Detroit who calls himself “Nathan.” Nathan gets wind of the burgeoning abortion market in Chicago and invites a Jane member to Detroit to watch an abortion and then discuss business details over dinner. The abortion the Jane member witnessed was performed in a “room outfitted with an examining table with stirrups, shelves with linen in sterile packaging, instrument cases and an autoclave for sterilizing instruments, like every doctor’s examining room she’d been in. Lorraine [the Jane member interviewing Nathan] was impressed; the room was immaculate and neat. A nurse in a starched white uniform sat in a corner reading a magazine” (p. 56). Later, when asked why he was doing abortions, Nathan replied that “he was in the process of a divorce” and that “his wife was taking him to the cleaners and he had two kids in college. He needed the money” (p. 56). Nathan showed Lorraine his American Medical Association membership card and they eventually agreed that he would work for $600 per abortion.
The abortionist who would perform the bulk of Jane abortions was “Nick,” who lived in California and had helped set up Jenny’s meeting with Dr. Kaufman’s middleman. Nick called Jane one day to “hint darkly” that he and Dr. Kaufman “had had some trouble with the Mob and had to leave town in a hurry” (p. 65). Nick later offered to resume abortions for Jane by flying in from California “every weekend” to do his middleman work for “Dr. Kaufman” (p. 74). Dr. Kaufman worked either at women’s homes or in motel rooms. When Jenny “convinced Nick to schedule several abortions in a row at one motel room, so that the room cost could be shared,” the Kaufman group still “tried to collect the full room charge from each of them” (pp. 74-75).
During one abortion in Hyde Park, the husband of the woman obtaining it found out where his wife was and began pounding on the door of the motel room where Dr. Kaufman was dismembering the man’s child. In the flight that ensued, Jenny, whom “Dr. Kaufman” had called in haste from a public phone after zigzagging “through alleys” to “evade his pursuer,” rushed to the scene and discovered that Nick and Dr. Kaufman were actually “the same person” (pp. 82-83). That evening Nick, formerly known to Jenny as Dr. Kaufman, “smoked pot” with Jenny at her place as the two discussed the details of “Dr. Kaufman’s” ongoing services to Jane, including the services of Denise, “Dr. Kaufman’s” nurse (p. 83). Nick “had never considered the consequences for a woman or for an unwanted child. He thought abortions were like mink coats: lots of women wanted them, but not everyone could afford one. For him it was a business, nothing more” (p. 85). Jenny understood the profit motive perfectly. She even “brought Nick’s money to the bank and exchanged the small bills for large ones, so that Nick could fly home with a less obvious wad” (p. 94).
The lie that Nick and Dr. Kaufman were separate people necessitated the creation of a “secret group, composed of women who were trusted personal friends, women Nick knew and of whom he individually approved” (p. 94). However, the lies did not end there. Nick was not only not Dr. Kaufman, he was not a doctor at all (p. 109). “Nick had learned his trade from a doctor to whom his brother had apprenticed him. After Nick had been assisting the doctor with abortions for a while, Nick’s brother paid the doctor to teach Nick this skill” (p. 110). Not only that, but Denise was not even a nurse. “Since [the apprenticeship], Nick had been the technician in a profit-making venture composed of his brother and his brother’s girlfriend, Denise, who posed as a nurse” (p. 110). Nick was a middleman of sorts, but for his brother, who essentially pimped out Nick and Denise to perform lucrative abortions in the Chicago market. Denise was on hand to make sure that the money went directly to Nick’s brother first—she was the “nurse” only for the women’s cash. “Nick only got a cut of the money which Denise collected [for each abortion] and turned over to Nick’s brother” (p. 110). Nick’s income was not limited to his abortion pay, and “There were rumors that the money [Nick] earned from abortions was a fraction of what he and his wife brought in from their S/M publishing business” (p. 102).
When the rest of the Jane group eventually learned that Nick was not really a doctor, many of the women felt betrayed and some left (p. 111). But by the time the revelation of Nick’s mendacity came, Jane had already begun changing, admitting such new members as Ricky, a radical black Marxist revolutionary (p. 93). The organization was also expanding their abortion pool to include “poor black communities on the South Side and West Side” of Chicago (p. 175), although wary of their “vulnerab[ility] to accusations of genocide and racism” as “white women performing abortions for poor black women” (p. 176). And they were branching out across state lines, for example by sending poor, abortion-minded women on the long bus trip to Philadelphia, where abortion was also illegal, although a vague judicial ruling had provided enough of a legal gray area to make the trip worthwhile (pp. 238-239). Women in Chicago with financial means had been traveling to New York for legal abortions, or else to London or other countries where abortion was not against the law (p. 64). The Philadelphia trip was connected to another development: Abortion was merging with the American cult of celebrity and moving into the center of public debates over the ongoing Sexual Revolution.
The abortionist to whom Jane sent the busload of poor women was “Jordan Bennett,” in reality Harvey Karman—like Dr. Kaufman, a fake doctor with a fake degree, in his case from a university in Europe that did not even exist. Karman—who had been imprisoned for killing a woman while attempting to perform an abortion on her with a nutcracker, and had received an executive pardon from then and future Governor Jerry Brown—had invented a new method of abortion using a cannula (a tube that can surround a needle to extend its effective length). This new method became a sensation among feminists on the West Coast, and Karman shrewdly parlayed his invention into fame (p. 197).15 Pat and Monica, two Californians who were in Chicago as part of a “cross-country tour promoting self-help groups” (with the Karman abortion method featuring as a form of “self-help”), were keen on getting arrested for their activism, as it would apply pressure to the legal system and expose abortion laws to litigation by progressivist lawyers (p. 198). By this time television cameras and newspaper reporters were catching on to the latest wave of the Sexual Revolution, and “abortionist” was becoming a platform for self-promotion. Karman, over whom Pat and Monica fawned like groupies, appeared to be in the abortion business as a way to stroke his “inflated ego” (p. 200). “Arrogance was a common trait among illegal abortionists,” Kaplan writes, and one Jane member, Julia, remembered Karman as “such an odd person, a real star” (p. 200). Kaplan herself remarks on Karman’s “incessant self-promotion” (p. 238).
In Philadelphia, Karman would be trying out yet another new method, “IUD-like” “super coils” that he had used “on women who had been raped during the recent civil war in Bangladesh” (p. 237). Kaplan does not mention that Karman had been flown to Bangladesh under the auspices of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.16 It is hard to escape the conclusion that Karman chose these poor women of color as a test case because “it was outside official medical practice,” meaning he would not have to adhere to medical standards and was free, as a Live Action report from 2018 puts it, to use the Bangladeshi rape victims as “guinea pigs” (p. 237).17 The “super coils” were essentially spring-loaded plastic razor clusters coated in gel, which sprang open inside the uterus after the gel had been melted by a woman’s body temperature.18 The Philadelphia event was another test of an unproven method on an unsuspecting and vulnerable population, and Karman’s grandstanding and incompetence in the mass-abortion publicity stunt nearly got several of the women killed (p. 240). But the publicity machine was already in high gear, and many other “Jordan Bennetts” were waiting in the wings to use abortion to gain national notoriety. A New York television crew was on hand to witness (and later broadcast) the grisly abortions. The Philadelphia Inquirer did a write-up. It was becoming a ticket to national fame to perform abortions on poor women.19
Harvey Karman was not the only abortionist present at the “Mother’s Day Massacre” in Philadelphia. Karman had arranged beforehand to use the abortion facilities of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, now known as the most prolific serial killer in American history and the overseeing physician that May day. The results were exactly as one would expect from a man who ran a “filthy, dangerous clinic” and who kept the remains of aborted babies in jars, plastic bags, bottles, and refrigerators on-site, including his collection of fetal feet lined up on a shelf in his office.20 Nine of the fifteen women whom Jane bused to Philadelphia for illegal abortions were grievously wounded by Gosnell. One needed a hysterectomy, and, as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway writes of that day, others suffered “punctured uterus, hemorrhage, infections and retained fetal remains.”21 Gosnell would later be known as the abortionist who specialized in snipping born-alive infants’ necks with scissors to complete the “termination of pregnancy” when the usual methods didn’t suffice to kill the child in utero. The “super coil” method that Gosnell, taking his cue from Karman, deployed in the Mother’s Day Massacre may have been the inspiration for Gosnell’s blade techniques later on. Gosnell skipped town after the media reported on the horrors he inflicted on those women, some of whom were as far along as six months pregnant. But he later returned to continue his lucrative business in ending the lives of the pre-born, and sometimes their mothers’ lives, too.
Kaplan does not mention Gosnell, perhaps finding it unworthy of her editorial attention to record that one of the most fame-hungry abortionists in the United States had teamed up with a man who preyed mainly on poor Black women and their children. At Gosnell’s trial for murder (at which one of the counts was for the Mother’s Day Massacre), it was revealed that he regularly made “$10,000-$15,000 a night performing late, late abortions on (almost entirely) women of color.”22 By conservative estimates, Gosnell made some $1.8 million per year, mainly in cash. Many of the children whom Gosnell killed were delivered, some of them still alive, into the facility’s toilet. Gosnell was convicted of multiple counts of first-degree murder in 2013, plus a manslaughter charge for having caused the death of a pregnant woman, Bhutanese refugee Karnamaya Mongar, and hundreds of other counts of felony and misdemeanor abortion violations. It would spoil Kaplan’s upbeat presentation of Jane, of course, if it were known that Gosnell was no aberration, but the near-universal reality of abortion. At Gosnell’s trial, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams exclaimed, “My grasp of the English language doesn’t really allow me to fully describe how horrific this clinic was— rotting bodies, fetal remains, the smell of urine throughout, blood-stained.” Jane did not help women avoid abortionists like Gosnell—they chartered a bus and sent fifteen women to his clinic.
By the time the Karman affair was making headlines, Jane was also in the news. On Wednesday, May 3, 1972, detectives from the Chicago Police Department raided the apartment where Jane was performing abortions that day. Seven Jane members were arrested and spent the night in jail. The Chicago Tribune picked up the story, but the news had long since simmered down into background legal proceedings and Jane had resumed its usual abortion trade when the United States Supreme Court put them out of business on January 22, 1973. On May 20 of that year, nearly a year to the day that Karman and Gosnell had made history with the Mother’s Day Massacre, one Jane member, “Sally,” threw an “end-of-Jane party at her elegant Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park” (p. 280). The humor surrounding the evening was macabre: “You are cordially invited to attend,” the party invitations read, “The First, Last and Only Curette Caper / The Grand Finale of the Abortion Counseling Service / RSVP Jane 643-3844” (p. 280). Nick, the mainstay abortionist who had eventually taught his trade to Jenny (who then took over as the Jane “doctor”), was also invited to the party—and showed up. One Jane member regaled the group with a lighthearted song about “the women in the service” who used to “give you an abortion / No matter what the reason for” (p. 281). Jane was finished, but its legend was already being spun.
Laura Kaplan’s The Story of Jane is, of course, the story of Jane, but it is more accurately the story of power and control. The two words appear again and again in the book. The doctors wanted money, yes, but what the women wanted was complete control. “Control was the key” (p. 38). “Many women felt empowered” by their abortions, remembers Jane member Lydia, “because it was the first adult decision they had made” (p. 168). “Sexual pleasure [. . .] was essential for [women’s] liberation,” to be sure (p. 169), but power trumped orgasm. “On Thursdays,” when Nick was off duty and the women were performing abortions themselves, “they had total control” (p. 158). For Nick, “control wasn’t as important to him as money, and he wasn’t giving that up” (p. 120), but for the women such as Jenny, “it was about control, women controlling abortions. That was the root of the problem” (p. 115). Jane was to become “the ultimate feminist project” (p. 115), Kaplan writes. “Through the movement, women were beginning to identify themselves as a class and abortion as a class issue, part of a challenge to male authority and essential for their own liberation” (p. 274). Designed for women’s use, the book Our Bodies, Ourselves (published in 1970 as the first comprehensive practical anatomy book in English), puts it succinctly in the introduction: “These are our bodies. Why shouldn’t we know about them and control them?” (p. 266). Fittingly, Laura Kaplan is now listed as a contributor.
Although The Story of Jane is resoundingly pro-life in what it reveals, I do not recommend it to all prolifers. The contents are too grisly, the language too coarse, the overall social landscape that Kaplan describes far too seedy and callous to recommend this book to any but the ardent student of the history of feminism’s war against children. But for those who want to brave a sobering glimpse into the cold reality of the abortion business, The Story of Jane is the book to provide it. The logical fallacies, the underworld criminality, the lust for transgression, the contempt for in utero life, the destruction of the social fabric that ensues when women begin to prey on their own offspring—all of it is right here, and there can be no accusations that it has been concocted by biased prolifers to discredit a cause they do not understand. Kaplan was there. She saw and did what she describes. She has rendered her account of the illegal Chicago abortion movement in a fair way—including the extensive involvement of Christian clergy in promoting Jane and using their “cloak of moral authority” to lend an air of righteousness to the killing (p. 63). But Kaplan is also clearly a partisan as well. The Story of Jane is hailed by no less a figure than Democratic political mainstay and social activist Barbara Ehrenreich as a “story of breathtaking courage, ingenuity, and sisterhood.” This is the version of the “pro-choice” story that has secured the highest endorsements of the feminist left. The Story of Jane is the best that pro-abortionists can do. It is their story, in their words, of what really happens in the abortion industry. And it is utterly shocking and revolting to behold.
20. In the Court of Common Pleas, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Criminal Trial Division, In re County Investigating Grand Jury XXIII (January 14, 2011), pp. 138, 142
23. In the Court of Common Pleas, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Criminal Trial Division, In re County Investigating Grand Jury XXIII (January 14, 2011), p. 88 https://cdn.cnsnews.com/ documents/Gosnell,%20Grand%20Jury%20Report.pdf
Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.