episode 18. Underground Abortion Networks: Filling in the Gaps, Medicine’s Failure

When a medical system can’t provide needed care for patients who are continuously left out or ignored, what happens? What does a community do when they are aching for help? Well in the case of access to safe abortions, underground abortion networks are created. In this episode, we will be talking about the emergence of illegal but safe abortion networks within the United States over the last 60 years and what gaps they are trying to fill in the healthcare system. Through looking at abortion legislature, specific organizations, and the impact of unsafe abortions on maternal mortality, we hope to spark a conversation on why medicine is failing women and what we can do about it. No matter your abortion views, this episode will give you a new perspective on a complex women’s health issue to take with you into future conversations.

Feminist Corner:

As future physicians, what can we do to make people with uteruses feel more comfortable seeking abortion care and make abortion more accessible?

What do the emergence of underground abortion networks as alternative female healthcare systems say about the importance and need for female-centered spaces in healthcare?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

In this episode, we are talking about the Abortion Underground Networks. To tell this story, we will discuss abortion legislatio, networks that emerged to provide safe care, and the prevalance of unsafe abortions today. 

A short history of abortion legislation in the United States.

  • In the 18th century, abortion was legal in the Catholic Church and US government.
  • The creation of the American Medical Association led to physicians pushing for anti-abortion restrictions in order to take over the profession and futher systemic racism in medical practice.
  • Abortion was legalized in 1973 through the supreme court ruling, Roe V Wade, which deemed that a safe legal abortion was a woman’s constitiional right
  • After a ruling in 1992, abortion laws were allowed at any state in the pregancy, resulting in numerous laws and restrictions to take placed over the last 30 years. 
  • As of 2017, 90% of US counties don’t have an abortion clinic.

Abortion laws have led to the emergence of underground networks. 

  • The Jane Collective started at the University of Chicago in 1969 with the goal of ending unsafe illegal abortions provided by unqualified individuals. 
  • Jane Collective members learned how to provide safe illegal abortions and over four years the organization provided an alterantive female healthcare system for the woman of Chicago. 
  • Today, individuals can train to learn the intricacies of female anatomy and practice, at home, safe abortions.
  • Clinics have started on the west coast of the US to provide care to immigrant and low income women along with anyone else who has been left out by modern healthcare. 
  • When patients were surveyed why they attended these clinics, they replied they felt more comfortable in a home than a doctor’s office along with multiple other reasons. 

Today, unsafe illegal abortions are a major cause of maternal mortality. 

  • Due to unsafe illegal abortions, seven women die every hour. 
  • Five million women a year are left with horrible complications and long term effects such as infertility and psychological damage.
  • Pushes to life abortion restrictions and increase sex education, contraceptive coverage, and abortion access will begin in addressing these maternal mortality statistics.


A brief history of US abortion law, before and after Roe v Wade. (2020, November 26). Retrieved from https://www.historyextra.com/period/20th-century/history-abortion-law-america-us-debate-what-roe-v-wade/

Cohen, S. A. (2016, December 06). Facts and Consequences: Legality, Incidence and Safety of Abortion Worldwide. Retrieved from https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2009/11/facts-and-consequences-legality-incidence-and-safety-abortion-worldwide#

Guttmacher Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://data.guttmacher.org/states/table?topics=71 72 73 57 58 59&dataset=data&state=US

Haddad, L. B., & Nour, N. M. (2009). Unsafe abortion: Unnecessary maternal mortality. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2709326/

Hesse, M. (2019, May 27). Perspective | Abortion bans have some women preparing for the worst. It involves ‘auntie networks.’ Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/abortion-bans-have-some-women-preparing-for-the-worst-it-involves-auntie-networks/2019/05/24/4af2dcce-7d77-11e9-a5b3-34f3edf1351e_story.html

Liss-Schultz, N. (2018, February 01). Inside the top-secret abortion underground. Retrieved from https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2018/02/inside-the-top-secret-abortion-underground/

Nash, E., Guttmacher Institute, Mohammed, L., Cappello, O., & Naide, S. (2019, December 19). State Policy Trends 2019: A Wave of Abortion Bans, But Some States Are Fighting Back. Retrieved from https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2019/12/state-policy-trends-2019-wave-abortion-bans-some-states-are-fighting-back

The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/jane-collective-1969-1973

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