Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.

In the Reader‘s earliest days, abortion was still illegal in most states, including Illinois. But there were plenty of services in Chicago that promised, for $100, that they could set you up with a provider in New York, where abortion was already legal. They advertised in campus newspapers around the city. But how reliable were they? In what was possibly the Reader‘s first investigation, in the December 10, 1971, issue, managing editor Nancy Banks decided to find out.

Over a period of several weeks, Banks called every abortion referral service she could find. She talked to salespeople who gave her variable rates, who were vague about insurance, who called at odd hours and were not at all discreet when someone else picked up the phone. In short, the abortion services were shady as hell and eager to cash in on women’s desperation.

Banks wrote:

There are a lot of reasons I can think of for abortion law reform, but I’m sure it wasn’t passed to allow Brian and other salespeople the chance to earn their living selling abortions, by phone, to women who aren’t sure they want one. I had a powerful incentive for resisting his hard sell—namely, that I wasn’t pregnant. My story was a fabrication. In the last two weeks, I’ve answered every abortion advertisement I could find, using my real name (after all, abortion’s legal now, nothing to be ashamed of), giving the date of my last menstrual period as September 27, and inventing details as called for. I didn’t actually go to New York to investigate, but I learned enough by telephone to know what not to do if I ever do need an abortion. NEVER rely on a newspaper ad to obtain an abortion. In Chicago, the best agency to contact is Planned Parenthood Abortion Referrals (726-5166).

One service that Banks did not investigate was Jane, the now-legendary collective of women who performed abortions themselves in two apartments in Hyde Park. But Jane never advertised; information was passed along through word of mouth.

In January 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, abortion became legal in Illinois and the rest of the country and the abortion referral services became obsolete. It’s likely nobody missed them.