Before the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, Chicago abortion activists were risking everything to perform illegal abortions.
“Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane,” read underground advertisements in train stations. The Jane Collective, a project of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, operated mostly by word-of-mouth to perform illegal abortions for pregnant people in Chicago.
From 1969 to 1973, the Jane Collective performed over 11,000 abortions, sparing thousands of people from seeking dangerous or extortionate back-alley procedures.
While the collective was criminalized by the Chicago Police Department, charges were later dropped after the Roe v. Wade decision protected the right to abortion under the United States constitution.
Forty-nine years later, abortion activists across the country are asking if Roe v. Wade will make it to its fiftieth anniversary in 2023. Already, Texans are encouraged to sue anyone who assists someone in accessing abortion care, daring the US Supreme Court to snip the final thread by which legality hangs.
Jennifer Welch, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Illinois, has said on multiple occasions, “Roe is the floor.” In an interview with Rampant magazine, she explained how even with Roe v. Wade intact, abortion access remains an issue.
“Roe made it so abortion was legal across the country, but the challenge is, abortion legality isn’t always met with access,” she said.
During the previous presidency, the Supreme Court was stacked with anti-abortion judges that leave the fate of Roe in peril. Even though two-thirds of people in this country believe people should have a right to abortion, “the vocal minority,” as Welch called it, threatens to overhaul reproductive rights.
At a January 8 anti-abortion rally hosted by “March for Life” Chicago, the alt-right group Patriot Front joined the march at Federal Plaza with their own agenda. The beliefs presented by the anti-abortion movement allowed Patriot Front to assume the rally was a safe space for them to co-opt. The threat they represent cannot be ignored.
Welch went on to cite that one out of four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion in their lifetime, and everyone knows someone who has had an abortion, even if they’re not vocal about it.
“The more that we talk about our abortions and how they help people and listen to others, it decreases the stigma,” Welch said. “The fact is, every single one of us knows somebody who has an abortion, but we may not know because of the stigma attached to it.”
With the Reproductive Health Act, the eradication of the Parental Notification Act, and hubs of abortion care, Illinois stands as a sanctuary for Midwest residents. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Welch said that won’t change.
In the November 8 midterm elections, all of the seats in the Illinois House of Representatives and State Senate will be up, as well as governor and attorney general. Welch underscored her organization’s commitment to focusing on this election cycle as a means of preserving access within the ever shrinking island of legality.
Activists in Chicago for Abortion Rights—one of a wide coalition of groups that brought out a strong and vocal abortion-rights demonstration to counter the right-wing anti-abortion rallies—are not waiting for November. Tonight, January 24, they will co-host the panel Defend Roe! No Abortion Bans! in which longtime leaders in the fight for reproductive justice will speak to the urgency of grassroots struggle right now to stop and reverse the tide of attacks on our rights.
Roe can still be saved, but even more, it can be uplifted and represent abortion access the way it was made to be—on demand and without apology!