Abortion activist Laura Kaplan told a sparse gathering at the Kiva Lecture Hall Tuesday that legalizing abortion was one of the first steps to break the silent repression of women.
Kaplan, who was a member of the Abortion Council Service of the Women’s Liberation in the late ’60s and early ’70s, said that, before various movements of ’60s, women were almost powerless about their lives, children and their bodies.
She said the expected view of women was that they were less than men, childlike and to be seen and not heard. Kaplan said women never spoke to each other about any private matters, and if they did, it was always in whispers.
“We were never heroes,” Kaplan said. “We were always the ones being rescued.”
She said no books or information about women’s bodies, birth control or abortion were available, and if women wanted to know about these things they were looked down upon and held suspect.
Kaplan said even though women were a part of the civil rights, anti-war and student movements, they were mostly doing menial tasks such as stuffing envelopes. She said when women finally got the courage to ask why they weren’t a voice in these movements; the men turned their backs on them.
“When women asked, ‘What about us,’ they were met by our male compatriots with stony silence,” she said.
Kaplan said when women finally began talking to each other, they discovered the issues weren’t about women as individuals, but as a class of people. She said all women knew about abortion was that, once in awhile, a woman would have an abortion and she would die because that’s all that would be printed in newspapers.
She said that when women talked, they began speaking with women who had abortions and survived, even if they weren’t good experiences. She said these women went through tremendous indignities, such as being blind-folded and taken to dirty rooms to have abortions where men gathered around and made jokes.
Kaplan said the abortions were horribly expensive, costing somewhere between $500 and $600, when it cost $150 to rent a good apartment. She said some women were coerced into giving sexual favors for abortions or were swindled out of money and given fake abortions.
“No matter what the race, economic status or age, they were all faced with the same indignities,” she said.
Kaplan said the group “Jane” was founded by a woman who had been involved in the civil rights movement and received a phone call by a woman whose sister needed an abortion. She said that after asking around, the woman finally found a black doctor to recommend to the other woman.
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She said the woman then organized Jane and trained other women about contacts and how to educate the women and deal with the fears of abortion. She said all women asked Jane members the same two questions about the process: “Will I be alive after this?” and “Will I be able to have children?”
Kaplan said the group eventually evolved into a self-sufficient group when it was discovered their main “doctor” was not really a doctor at all, but a trained abortionist who was in it for the money.
She said when it was announced that the man wasn’t a doctor during a meeting, shock was abundant.
“The room erupted,” Kaplan said. “There were women who were crying and yelling that we’ve been betrayed.”
She said another calmer section said the group had to keep going and one woman pointed out that, “if he’s doing abortions and isn’t a doctor, then we can do it, too.” She said from that point on, the group became a floating abortion clinic that performed about 11,000 abortions in its four-year existence.
“We reinforced the sense that women had the power to define their lives,” Kapp lan said.