The Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1968-1973) is usually called JANE, and all of us who worked in that pre-Roe underground group are also called Janes.

Though Bob Dylan is an unlikely ally, his line "... to live outside the law, you must be honest ...." always reminds me of the underground abortion work done by JANE.  It makes me think about what law is, and what honesty is.  It makes me think about the difference between law and justice.

JANE – and Janes – appear often in my writing, teaching, and performance. Being a Jane has been big education, and I’m grateful; it's so valuable I want to pass it on.  Some years ago, I created a tiny, pocket-size chapbook drawn directly from my JANE work - SHE SAID,  and a collection of poems as well: What if your mother is deeply informed by Jane-consciousness.

More recently, I've written fiction that's rooted in JANE history; several stories have been published in journals: read two of 'em here and here.  Two others are "Hello. This is Jane." in the Turkish online magazine THE HUMAN and "Denah and the Strawberry, Talking" in The Literary Nest, Spring 2016. One's been published as a zine, and another by Minerva Rising as a chapbook (it won their first prose chapbook prize).  Yet another is in the seriously funky/seriously serious zine Chasing the Night #3/Fall 2016.  There's even a three minute video trailer about the stories.  So, hey, maybe sometime there'll be a book with all the stories in it.  We'll see.   

Portland's STREET ROOTS published an interview we did in the summer of 2013. You can read it on their website - and read Joanne Zuhl's excellent editorial about reproductive justice in that same issue.  Check out another interview on this valuable podcast: The Abortion Diary (conversation was pretty wide-ranging, including my own abortion, and Melissa Madera did a great editing job). 

One good use of interviews + research is by journalist Rachel Wilson.  Not only did Rachel interview some Janes and write the article, she then collaborated with cartoonist Ally Shwed to make it into a comic that's in COMICS FOR CHOICE, a collection due out in 2017.  Also in 2017, writer Jacklynn Blanchard did a long interview with actor/filmmaker Cait Johnston and me about JANE's value for women and girls in 21st century USA; one section of our 3-way conversation is at BITCH Media.   

Here's a short essay I wrote about abortion in early 2012; and some blogs done for the WORDS OF CHOICE website (one about abortion access & poetry, one about a startlingly clear, well-made movie): see 2-3-08 and 3-31-08.  I'm happy to say that neither of these is out of date - though I sure wish there were no need for them beyond their historical/literary value. 

We want better reasons for having children than not knowing how to prevent them.
— Dora Russell

We all know popular culture is both a cause and an effect of our thinking and behavior. From the middle of the 20th century until quite recently, only a handful of good fiction films that focus thoughtfully and intelligently on abortion as a primary theme were shown in the USA: The Cider House RulesCitizen RuthVera Drake + from the UK, If These Walls Could Talk I, and Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days - from Romania. Then, in 2014, we got the smart, funny Obvious Child, and in 2015, Lily Tomlin's Grandma played all over the USA while Dangerous Remedy popped up on YouTube (that one's Australian, based on the life of Dr Bertram Wainer; Australians showed it on national tv).  These movies help to balance the often well-made and well-acted - though perverse and unrealistic - 21st century US films about pregnancy.  I'm hoping for films about the abortion service - JANE in the movies!  Meantime, there are some others that give serious attention to the complexity of motherhood decisions, if only briefly - take a look.

And it goes without saying – though you’ll notice I’m saying it – that you should read, too. You could start with these three valuable books (luckily, there are lots more); they’re available in libraries and bookstores, and online.

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty
  — Dorothy Roberts
Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v. Wade
  — Carole Joffe
The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law
  — Rickie Solinger

Additional JANE Resources

  • “The Greatest Abortion Story Ever Told,” article (probably with byline “Jane”) in Hyde Park Voicesca. 1970
  • “Abortion: A Decade of Debate,” op-ed by Judith Arcana in the Chicago Sun-Times, January 23, 1983
  • Chicago Women’s Liberation Union,
  • The Story of Jane, book by Laura Kaplan, various editions
  • Jane: An Abortion Service, 1995, 57 minute video documentary by Nell Lundy and Kate Kirtz
    available on dvd at Women Make Movies
  • Jane: Abortion and the Underground, play by Paula Kamen, 1999, at
  • Words of Choice, theater created by Cindy Cooper, at
  • Jane: Documents from Chicago’s clandestine abortion service, 1968-1973;
    various authors in a zine first published by Firestarter Press in 2004; the 2011 edition is by Eberhardt Press/Radix Media
  • What if your mother, book (poems and monologues) by Judith Arcana, Chicory Blue Press 2005
  • Keesha and Joanie and JANE, fiction zine by Judith Arcana, Eberhardt Press 2013
  • Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture, fiction chapbook by Judith Arcana, Minerva Rising Press 2015
  • “Abortion Is A Motherhood Issue” (revised), essay by Judith Arcana in Women’s Lives: Multicultural Perspectives (4th edition);  McGraw-Hill, 2006; ed. by Gwyn Kirk and Margo Okazawa-Rey [early version in Mother Journeys, ed. Reddy, Roth and Sheldon]
  • Listen to an hour-long show about the abortion service, done by the CircleARadio collective on KBOO,
    Portland's independent community radio station.

Also see, by search engine, library research etc:

  • Pauline Bart’s early research on Jane (mid-70’s) – sociological study
  • Fiona Lawrence’s senior thesis, done at Bard College (early 90’s)