Abortion rights supporters gathered in the Michigan Union on Friday to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case giving women the right to have an abortion, as part of the “Giving Voice to Reproductive Empowerment” conference, sponsored by Students for Choice.
Coordinator and Rackham student Katrina Mann said she hoped that the two-day event would provide participants with information about a wide range of reproductive issues.
“We want to think about reproductive health care and policy in a more social context. What most people interact with on a daily basis is just rhetoric,” she said.
SFC attracted nearly 100 people to hear abortion rights activist Laura Kaplan, the keynote speaker for the conference.
Kaplan, author of “The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service,” spoke primarily of her experience as a member of Jane – a group of 125 women who, during the 1960s, provided safe but illegal abortions to women in Chicago, prior to the Roe decision of 1973.
“The circumstances of abortion at the time were disgusting,” Kaplan said.
“Men telling dirty jokes during the procedure, requesting sexual favors in exchange, or charging huge amounts of money and then feigning the abortion.”
Though no formal records were kept due to the group’s illegal status, it is estimated that Jane performed 11,000 abortions during its time.
While participants celebrated the anniversary of the personal freedoms granted by Roe, they also discussed the present speculation that the decision could be overturned, given the current administration and possible retirements in the Supreme Court.
Kaplan emphasized the importance of maintaining reproductive control.
“Even back in 1969, the feeling was that once you allow the legislature to start making laws, even if they are very lenient, you give the legislature or the courts the power to bend or limit abortion further and further,” she said.
Art and Design senior Serene Arena, a member of SFC, echoed Kaplan’s concern about the future of Roe. “I don’t think people take it seriously enough,” she said. “We’re a generation that grew up with [ital]Roe as a part of our lives. People don’t get it – it’s not about politics, it’s your life.”
Bernie Klein, who has been volunteering at Planned Parenthood for 13 years, said he does not fear a possible reversal of [ital]Roe. “Hopefully, it will survive my lifetime, and if it does get overturned, believe me, I’ll be working in some underground organization somewhere. Abortions aren’t going to go away just because the law changes,” he added.
Lack of control in their own reproductive lives prompted the women to create Jane, Kaplan said. The members decided to shift the balance of power in abortion procedures from the male doctors to the women themselves, she added. In 1970, after working with a male doctor, who turned out to be an imposter, the women decided to learn to perform abortions themselves.
Jane became a group completely run by women, and operated out of their own homes. They were able to provide safe abortions for $100, or whatever women could afford.
“No woman was ever turned away for lack of funds. We founded our own underground, floating abortion service,” Kaplan said.
Jane continued its operation until the Roe decision in January 1973.
Saturday’s events included panels and workshops discussing safer sex, global women’s health and feminist internships and careers.