The Janes

By Patrick D. Sprinkle

In this lesson, students will consider what life in America was like prior to Roe v. Wade. Students will start by examining a historical artifact and completing a “KWL” chart around. Students will then be better prepared to listen to and follow along with the transcription of the story from NPR about what life was like for women prior to Roe v. Wade using the “Save the Last Word for Me” protocol from Facing History and Ourselves. To conclude, students will decide what lessons The Janes can teach us today. 

Driving Question: What was life like for women in America prior to Roe v. Wade?

Supporting Questions:

  • Who were ‘The Janes’?
  • What was life like in America prior to Roe v. Wade?
  • Why did the ‘The Janes’ break the law? Was it justified?

20-30 Minutes

  • Students will know who The Janes were, the obstacles they encountered, and the plight of women prior to Roe v. Wade.
  • Students will feel historical empathy for marginalized groups
  • Students will evaluate whether ‘The Janes’ were justified in breaking the law.

Students should have basic knowledge of Roe v. Wade and the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court Decisions. Potential resources for Roe v. Wade and Dobbs v. Jackson include:

Roe v. Wade Lesson

Roe v. Wade Video (PBS Documentary, 3 Minutes)

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Case Materials

Impact of Dobbs v. Jackson Video (Wall Street Journal, 3 Minutes)



Teacher should go to both the JWA Archive and NPR to print out the Janes Poster and transcript to be used as handouts.

Warm Up:

Students will look at The Janes poster. Students will individually complete the KWL Chart. At the start of class, students will only complete the K, and W. Students will share out and the teacher or a student can record the group’s answers for the whole KWL Chart.

Teacher should share with class that they will be completing a lesson on The Janes. Teacher should provide proper historical context into who The Janes were and what their goals were.  In addition, students should be able to identify why a person would seek an abortion.


Students will listen (and silently follow along) to the story provided by NPR. Students will complete the “Save the Last Word for Me” protocol.

As students listen and/or read, tell them they will be asked to identify one line that resonated with them. Have the students write a few sentences explaining why they chose that line.

Divide the students into groups of three. In each group of three students, label one student A, one B, and the other C in each group. Invite the A students to read their chosen line to their group. Then students B and C discuss the line using the following questions: What do they think it means? Why do they think these words might be important? To whom?

After several minutes, ask the A students explain why they picked the line, thus having “the last word.” This process continues with the B students sharing and then the C students.


  • The retro report video can be used in place of the NPR story to help support ELL learners
  • Frontload unfamiliar vocabulary: abortion, clinic, Supreme Court
  • Use of KWL chart as a way to help students remain organized. Hard copies of the KWL chart can be provided while others write in their notebook.
Assessment / Homework

Students will return to their unfinished KWL chart and answer the following question in the L column:

What can the “The Janes” teach us about abortion access prior to Roe v. Wade?

Students will then share out their answers for the group.

Discussion Questions following share-out:

  • How can you connect this to the present day?
  • To what extent were The Janes justified in breaking the law?
  • In a post Roe v. Wade America, what role, if any, do you have to play?
  • How did this lesson make you feel?

D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context

D2.His.14.9-12. Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.