New Texas ‘Janes' Mark Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Before there was Jane Roe winning a landmark Supreme Court case, there was Jane, a Chicago-based feminist group that provided abortions for an estimated 12,000 women in the Midwest. The Jane spirit is alive today and well in Texas.

Diana Phillips

DALLAS (WOMENSENEWS)-Today, only two days after anti-choice President George W. Bush took the oath of office, pro-choice activists in his home state of Texas launched a website, hotline and non-profit organization to help young women navigate tough, anti-choice parental notification laws.

Jane's Due Process, as the group is called, comes to life 28 years to the day after the anonymous Jane Roe won the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, on Jan. 22, 1973, that confirmed women have a constitutional right to abortion, based on their right to privacy.

Jane's Due Process was launched in Dallas to help women cope with parental notification law. Texas has at least 13 anti-choice laws, including parental notification, signed by then governor George W. Bush.

In Texas and other states with parental notification laws, to obtain notification waivers, young women use the name of Jane Doe to protect their identity. Thus, the name Jane's Due Process invokes the name of all who need the group's assistance. In addition, the group's name harkens back to the legendary Chicago organization Jane. The members of Jane worked in the 1960s and early 1970s to provide then-illegal abortions to thousands of women who needed them.

Co-founder of the National Women's History Project, Mary Ruthsdotter of Sebastopol, Calif., said she and many other women became involved in the women's movement through the abortion rights issues and became aware of a woman's right to choose because of Jane.

Today, all but 11 states and the District of Columbia prevent minor women from having abortions without parental involvement. Under the current Texas law, similar to laws in other states, a woman under 18 must inform her parent or guardian of her intention to have an abortion. If she feels she cannot do so, she can go to court and plea for a notification bypass waiver. She needs a lawyer to go through the process and a judge appoints a guardian to protect her interests. Anti-choice judges may appoint anti-choice guardians. A judge must agree that she is sufficiently mature and well informed about her options to make her own decision.

Vast Distances, With Few Abortion Providers, Pose Major Problems

However, the Texas law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, presents a unique set of problems for minor women.

“Only 17 Texas counties out of 254 have abortion providers,” says Jane's Due Process director Diana Philip, “and in some areas, minors were routinely denied waivers.” While Texas law resembles notification laws in other states, Philip says the physical size of the state and the lack of local rules make the bypass waiver process more cumbersome and onerous.

“These kids are expected to do things that many adults can't even do,” Philip adds.

Using both legal and medical terminology, the teen must prove to a judge that she is not only mature enough to make the decision on her own but has a clear medical understanding of the abortion procedure and her options. Philip says difficulties include confusion about the law by courthouse clerks and judges themselves, judicial reluctance to grant waivers despite cases that meet legal requirements and a lack of volunteer attorneys to take on bypass cases.

Susan Hays, a Dallas lawyer and board member of Jane's Due Process, says that the teen Janes she has assisted are smart and savvy young women. Nevertheless, the law often raises insurmountable barriers. “This law picks on kids who aren't able to handle it,” she explains. “This process is too much for sexually abused girls who don't have the courage to find a lawyer.”

An estimated 60 to 95 percent of all minors tell their parents, says project director Philip. “The ones who don't, don't tell for a reason. They're not just afraid of getting grounded.”

In the '60s and '70s, Janes Trained Janes to Perform Abortions

The Janes of Texas have much in common with the Janes of Chicago. However, in the pre-Roe v. Wade era, the Chicago Janes were forced to defy the law. Ruth Rosen writes in “The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America,” published by Viking Press, 2000:

“In 1965, Heather Booth, a veteran activist of the civil rights and New Left movements, discovered a doctor in Chicago who would perform abortions for pregnant young women. In 1967, a group of women took over the work and called it first ”The Service” and then “Jane.” In addition to providing names of abortion providers, they also arranged for “scholarships” and counseling. In some cases, members of Jane did the abortions themselves. Between 1969 and 1973, Jane had arranged for eleven thousand illegal abortions. Eventually, seven Janes were arrested in 1972 and were saved from possible trials only by the Supreme Court decision.”

Because of Texas' strict confidentiality requirements, no one knows how many Texas teen-age Janes have sought a waiver, obtained one and gone through with the abortion procedure.

Jane's Due Process hopes to combat misinformation with a web site, a hotline for young women and training programs for attorneys and abortion providers. Kelly Hart, public affairs coordinator of Planned Parenthood of North Texas, had been coordinating dialogue between minors and attorneys. She is delighted that Jane's Due Process will streamline the flow of information.

“We are very supportive; it's a wonderful thing for us. I am pleased to see the young women of Texas obtain their legal rights,” she says.

Jane's Due Process also hopes to bridge the gap between medical and legal professions by training volunteers such as Med Students for Choice who can relate to teenagers and explain the abortion procedure with the clinical precision necessary for the court hearing. The young women will be expected to demonstrate to a judge that they are knowledgeable about the procedure.

Educating and Training Volunteer Lawyers An Important Task

Hays, the lawyer and Jane's board member, says it's difficult to recruit attorneys because the bypass waiver process must take place within 48 hours of court filing. Because of the urgency, attorneys have to drop other work in order to take these cases, and educating attorneys about the importance of the work is a major component of the Jane's mission.

“Lawyers represent what the Jane wants, the guardian ad litem is to represent what's best for the Jane, but some guardians ad litem seem to want what's best for the fetus,” Hayes adds.

In Dallas and Houston, guardians ad litem do not come from a pool but are attached to a specific judge. Anti-choice judges may appoint a guardian ad litem who reflects their own views.

“Some feel that they have to represent the parents' rights in regard to what is happening to their daughter,” director Philip says. Judges have ordered minors to see a priest or a psychologist. “Girls have been told that since they don't understand that ‘life begins at conception,' they aren't well-informed,” she explains. And if they are not considered well-informed, they may be denied a parental notification waiver and denied an abortion.

The Texas Janes are criticized for coaching the minors. “We have to make sure these girls are ready to explain their reasons to a judge,” Philip says, “but we are not putting words into their mouths.”

According to Philip, Iowa and Massachusetts have similar hotlines but there is no national model for disseminating information on bypassing parental notification. “I would hate for this to be a national organization, but, if it has to be, it will,” Philip adds.

Read the update of Caryl Rivers' Jan. 11 commentary in light of President Bush's statements today, Jan. 22, 2001, the 28th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, indicating that he intends to reinstate the global gag rule: