Lola Puth, a thirty three year old dancer, found out that she was pregnant despite having an intra-uterine device (IUD). Fearing the IUD would cause birth defects, she self-indeuced an abortion in 1969 by removing the IUD. Like so many others, Lola Puth died from complications from her desperate actions. Many women, married, single, teenagers or middle aged, faced the decision of whether to risk their independence, stability, health, or to terminate pregnancy. Lola Puth’s sister stated in an interview that women who received abortions werenot “just some anonymous person that nobody knows…but people right next to us in our community, in our lives and some of them don’t survive” (Choice at Risk video).
In the years leading up to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the debate over both legal and moral issues of abortion grew. Before the significant court decision, young college women all over the country were advocating for women’s reproductive rights. Many students became pregnant through both consensual and nonconsensual sex, and faced the judgment regarding their sexuality and morality and consequences from everyone around them. Whether a young woman wanted to abort her pregnancy because she was raped, or she was unable to properly care for her baby, she had to navigate the stigma around female sexuality, shame, and illegal abortion networks. Furthermore, she was forced to prioritize her health, her reputation, or her future.
By 1965, seventeen percent of all deaths induced by pregnancy and childbirth were attributed to illegal abortions (Guttmacher Report).Through connections through other social justice groups such as the civil rights group, and the female communication network, at risk women found safe opportunities to obtain an abortion. Heather Booth, a young University of Chicago student and activist, inadvertently started JANE in 1965 when she helped a friend’s sister locate an abortionist. She continued to help women find places to go to terminate their pregnancies to the point where she could not work alone and recruited help. By 1973, over one hundred other women established the secure network that helped women obtain abortions. Women in need of JANE’s help would meet at a dorm, be transported in groups to an anonymous apartment, and would receive the abortion while blindfolded (Hor). Furthermore, they helped “women handle their fears” and provided answers to questions like “Will I live through it? Will anyone find out? Will I be able to get pregnant again? Will it hurt?” (Kaplan 9). They acted as guides, doctors, and friends throughout the entire process. Eventually, the women began performing the procedures themselves because they felt if untrained, uncertified men could do it, so could they. JANE performed over 11,000 illegal abortions (Choice at Risk video). Although they broke the law to do so, they saved the lives of hundreds of women who would have either died from childbirth complications, unsafe abortions, or given birth to unhealthy babies. Furthermore, they entitled women to the right to these procedures. More importantly, they empowered women to understand that they possessed the right to choose to have the procedures.