Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 22, 2024

Underground abortion network's Heather Booth kicks off FAS

By KRISTEN ISALY | February 22, 2023

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COURTESY OF KRISTEN ISALY

Booth emphasized the importance of organizing to influence political decisions. 

The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) hosted American civil rights and abortion activist Heather Booth on Feb. 17 to discuss organizing for reproductive rights.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Public Relations Director of FAS sophomore Gerardo Fontes explained why Heather Booth was chosen as the opening speaker for the spring 2023 speaker series “Paradigm Shift.”

“Considering the things we’ve seen in the past recent years and recent months with state legislations and all of the ballot measures, we thought it was very relevant to the time and people would really find this an interesting topic to hear about,” he said.

The event was moderated by Bloomberg School of Public Health Senior Lecturer Joanne Rosen, whose work focuses on laws and regulations surrounding gender, abortion and reproductive health issues.  

Rosen introduced Booth as a renowned American political organizer and an activist with a distinguished career in the civil and abortion rights movements. Booth founded the Jane Collective, an underground counseling service in Chicago that provided safe and affordable access to abortion.

Booth was also a founding member of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Recently, she served as the director of progressive engagement for the Biden Campaign. 

Rosen introduced Booth, emphasizing the relevance of her work in the present political current. 

“I considered the [Jane Collective] until very recently to be a fascinating piece of pre-Roe history,” she said. “But I had never imagined that the past might end up being a prologue and that the Jane Collective might actually become a roadmap and something that we would need going forward and not simply respect for the act of organization.”

Booth explained how at the start of her involvement with abortion rights, abortion had not been well-researched or discussed. In hopes of providing safer service options for women, Booth described her determination as rooted in empathy and love.

“We learn together,” she said. “On our own, we wouldn't have known, but together we could figure it out... I do think that whatever we do, it starts with that moral commitment: to do good in the world and have love at the center.”

When asked about the advice she would give to students interested in getting involved in activism and starting a movement, Booth stressed the importance of commitment.

“Follow your passion because it takes commitment,” she said. “Who are other people who would share your sense of that commitment? And then I do think you should develop a strategic plan.”

Booth then described founding the Midwest Academy, a school designed to teach organizers how to develop plans of action. Since its founding in 1973, the Academy has trained over twenty-five thousand grassroots activists.

Booth called on the Hopkins community to take action. 

“If you organize, you can change the world, but you need to organize... You are the people who we need right now because this country is on a knife’s edge between democracy and freedom and authoritarian rule,” she said.

In an interview with The News-Letter, alum John Burns expressed their passion for organizing. They explained how joining groups like Speak Out Now helped them learn more about different ways to make an impact on the community.

Burns expressed their gratitude to Booth for coming to speak at Hopkins.

“I look up to people in the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement,” they said. “To see and to hear somebody talk about their experiences and the personal decisions they made was very eye-opening.”

Booth closed her talk by emphasizing why people should have the urgency to fight to help their community with abortion rights. 

“This is the most intimate decision of our lives, about when or whether or with whom we have a child, and no politician should interfere with that decision,” she said. 


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