Women's Health and Abortion Rights

An important strand of women's liberation on campus involved greater attention to women's health issues and women's right to a safe, legal abortion.  Sex education and marriage preparation classes-popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s-no longer met the needs of students experiencing the "sexual revolution" firsthand. 

In 1963, the University first offered gynecological services for women students, staffed by the Chicago Lying-In Hospital, the University maternity and women's hospital.  By the end of the decade, public debate about abortion rights exploded on campus, with discussions sponsored by a range of groups-including the Law School, the Service League, the Center for Continuing Education, and the Lying-In Hospital Board. 

In 1970, Dr. Frederick P. Zuspan, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the Pritzker School of Medicine, helped challenge a century-old Illinois statute that declared abortion unconstitutional.  The Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, chaired Chicago's Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies; at the Divinity School he conducted a seminar on abortion for law and medical students in 1969 and 1970. 

At the same time, a group of young women at the University of Chicago secretly began to take matters into their own hands.  Between 1969 and 1973, the Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, later known as JANE, confronted abortion as "a problem of society" and argued that laws prohibiting the procedure were evidence of "the sometimes subtle, but often blatant, oppression of women." Based in Hyde Park, JANE included University of Chicago students and other community members, providing counseling and arranging abortions; eventually, JANE members performed underground abortions themselves.  By the time of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, JANE members estimated they had arranged more than 11,000 illegal abortions in Chicago and the neighboring suburbs.