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apartment building in South Shore

An apartment complex in the South Shore neighborhood once used as an underground abortion clinic by the Jane Collective.

K’Von Jackson for WBEZ

What’s That Building? The Jane Collective’s ‘Front’ and ‘Place’

In January 1972, a group of Chicago women moved their secret abortion clinic into an apartment on the 11th floor of a modern lakefront highrise on South Shore Drive.

Abortion was illegal at the time. The women, part of an underground group known as Jane, opened the secret clinic almost exactly a year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal in the U.S. in January 1973.

Most abortions had been illegal in Illinois since 1867, but Illinois women had been getting necessary abortions since 1969 via Jane — the generic, easily-passed-around name for the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation.

The women who founded Jane believed not only that abortion was often essential to a woman’s health and freedom, but that providing abortions in a women-run setting was a quintessentially feminist act that was part of women controlling their own bodies.

“The group concluded that women who cared about abortion should be the ones performing abortions,” according to The Story of Jane, a 1995 book about the group by Laura Kaplan.

The women in Jane were not only defying the law but defying standard medical practice. They had initially contracted with a man, who falsely claimed to be a physician, to perform the abortions, Duhan wrote. But by the time they set up the South Shore Drive clinic, abortions were being done by members of Jane, who did not have medical training but had learned from that man how to do the procedure.

The 22-story South Shore Drive building was only a few years old when Jane moved in. Completed in 1969, it’s a modernist concrete building with an exposed structure. Originally called the Michigan Beach apartments and now 7251 at Waters Edge, the building was designed by John Moutoussamy, the pioneering Black architect and partner at Dubin, Dubin, Black & Moutoussamy.

Jane’s operation had two primary locations, one known as “The Front,” where women were interviewed and where their loved ones could wait for them during the procedure, and the other “The Place,” the clinic where the procedure was done. The Front was an apartment at 5532 S. Everett in Hyde Park, and until the end of December 1971, The Place was about six blocks away at 5120 S. Hyde Park Boulevard.

When the lease ran out on the Hyde Park Boulevard apartment at the end of December 1971, a Jane member rented an 11th-floor apartment at 7251 S. South Shore Drive. On the day of the procedure, a woman would typically be driven by a Jane member from the Front to the Place. Later the same day, the patient would be driven back to the Front.

This arrangement didn’t last long. About four months after Jane began performing abortions in the South Shore apartment, on May 3, 1972, a police raid shut it down. Seven members of Jane were arrested from the two locations.

The Chicago police had been tipped on the secret location by the sister-in-law of a woman who had an abortion via Jane. They said they found records in the apartment that showed 23 women had abortions in the apartment that day, including two who were recuperating when the police arrived, and seven more were waiting. The women were all between the ages of 18 and 30, according to the Chicago Tribune’s coverage at the time.

The seven Jane members who were arrested were taken to the Burnside police station at 91st and Cottage Grove. Later they were booked downtown at the old 11th Street police headquarters.

The women’s cases were still pending when the Roe v. Wade decision came down and charges against them were dismissed.

Dennis Rodkin is the residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor. Follow him @Dennis_Rodkin.

K’Von Jackson is the freelance photojournalist for Reset’s “What’s That Building?” Follow him @true_chicago.

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