JANE – WORKING FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE
The Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1968-1973) is usually called JANE now, and all of us who worked in that pre-Roe underground 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 we did. It makes me think about what law is, and what honesty is. And then I go on, to think about the difference between law and justice.
The work of the Service has appeared often in my writing, teaching, and performance over the years. Being a Jane was big education, and I’m grateful; it's been so valuable I want to pass it on. First I created a tiny, pocket-size chapbook drawn directly from that 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 that history; several stories have been published in journals: you can 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 interview video trailer about the stories. So, hey, maybe sometime there'll be a book with all the stories in it. We'll see.
Reproductive Justice Links
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 this other interview on The Abortion Diary (the 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 now in COMICS FOR CHOICE. Another useful, thoughtful writer is Jacklynn Blanchard, who did a long interview with actor/producer Cait Cortelyou and me about the value of underground history for women and girls in 21st century USA; one section of our long 3-way conversation is at BITCH Media.
Here's a short essay I wrote about abortion, plus a couple blogs I did for the WORDS OF CHOICE website (which was created and is maintained by Cindy Cooper, whose work for abortion access and reproductive justice is even-more-than-exceptionally valuable): see 2-3-08 and 3-31-08. Neither of these is out of date - though I 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 focused on abortion were shown in the USA: The Cider House Rules, Citizen Ruth, Vera 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; in Australia, it was on national tv - dare we hope for such enlightenment inthe USA?). Such movies help to balance the unrealistic, strongly anti-abortion 21st century US films about pregnancy. Here are some other films (and plays) that give serious attention to the complexity of motherhood decisions, if only briefly - take a look.
I've been hoping for films that're actually about the abortion service - Janes in the movies! - and, at the end of 2017, it's looking like that might actually/amazingly be happening: there's one completed: ASK FOR JANE could hit festival screens in 2018 + two other feature films are in the works, and there may be a documentary as well.
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 Voices, ca. 1970
- “Abortion: A Decade of Debate,” op-ed by Judith Arcana in the Chicago Sun-Times, January 23, 1983
- Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, cwluherstory.org
- 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 paulakamen.com
- Words of Choice, theater created by Cindy Cooper, at www.wordsofchoice.org
- 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 (Prose Fiction Prize Winner) 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)