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 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.  One's been published as a zine, and another as a chapbook (it won a prose fiction prize). Two more are in the seriously funky/seriously serious zine Chasing the Night (#3/Fall 2016, and #4/December 2017). Sometimes I think there'll be a book with all the stories in it.  We'll see.   

Check out The Abortion Diary (conversation was pretty wide-ranging, including my own abortion, and Melissa Madera did a great editing job).  Another good use of interviews + research is by journalist Rachel Wilson. Not only did Rachel interview some Janes and write that article, she 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.  In 2018, an interview by Rebecca Jacobson was part of the "Oregon Women" issue of Portland Monthly, and a 3-Jane podcast was created by Hannah Thi Minh Nguyen, who contributed her work to Stanford University's Survival Project.  More recently, in mid-March of 2019, the excellent women of Call Your Girlfriend put up the link to their abortion-related interviews with NNAF’s Renee Bracy Sherman and me on their site.

Here's a short essay I wrote about abortion, plus a couple blogs I did for WORDS OF CHOICE (the website/theater created and maintained by Cindy Cooper, whose work for abortion access and reproductive justice is way-more-than-exceptionally valuable): see 2-3-08 and 3-31-08.  More than a decade later, neither essay is out of date, though I wish there were no need for them beyond their historical/literary value. 

Here's something I've been thinking about lately:   We need to pay attention to how this country’s changed attitudes and laws endanger women and girls, along with abortion providers.  We need to think about the safety and security of those who uphold abortion rights and work to provide abortion access – for now, when abortion is practically illegal and certainly inaccessible in much of the USA, and for when the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe decision. 

Those who decide to go underground to provide abortion services and related healthcare in the current emotional and political climate surrounding female sexuality and child-bearing choices (a climate promoting ignorance, shaming, violence) must set aside nostalgia and maybe even idealism if they look to the pre-Roe Chicago model. 

Useful as that model is, and effective as it was, now folks have to think about this:  The work of the abortion service often called JANE was an open secret in Chicago – much like other, related, resources during the illegal years (eg, Ruth Barnett’s clinic in Portland, Oregon). Police officers brought wives, daughters and lovers to JANE. Medical students, nurses, doctors and clergy sent women and girls to JANE. College students in the Great Lakes region posted notes on campus bulletin boards with JANE’s phone number. Janes rarely experienced deep fear for the safety, health or freedom of the women we worked with, or for ourselves. We did not experience the vicious harassment and violence (including assassination/murder) that clinic staff routinely deal with now, in the context of a national consciousness that's been deliberately created over nearly five decades by the powerful anti-abortion movement.

Given this change – along with extensive technological advances in surveillance and tracking methods – models and methods must go beyond JANE. No one can do the necessary organizing online; we know more than enough about how vulnerable our online presence is. Resources and information are available online, however; checking their origins and veracity will be crucial. Other useful history includes the Underground Railroad and related action during the pre-Civil War anti-slavery movement, the Warsaw Ghetto and European partisans during WWII, some of the strategies of the US Civil Rights movement, and resistance/communication systems devised by people in prisons, concentration camps, and countries under military rule.    

As characters in my JANE stories sometimes say, it’s different now.


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 thoughtfully and usefully on abortion 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; in Australia, it was on national tv - dare we hope for such enlightenment in the USA?).  Those movies may help to balance anti-abortion 21st century US films about pregnancy.  Here’s a list of some others (and a few related resources) that give serious attention to the complexity of motherhood decisions, even if only briefly - take a look.

I'd been hoping for films that're actually about the abortion service - Janes in the movies! - and despite the US film industry's history of cowardice, it's looking like that might actually be happening. There's one completed: ASK FOR JANE is done, and has been playing at film festivals since 2018. Two other feature films are said to be in the works, and a feature-length documentary as well.

It goes without saying – though you’ll notice I’m saying it – that you should read, too. You could start with these five books (luckily, there are lots more, some no doubt being written as I type); 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
Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice
— Willie Parker
The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law
— Rickie Solinger
Handbook For A Post-Roe America
— Robin Marty

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,

  • The Story of Jane, book by Laura Kaplan, various editions

  • Jane: An Abortion Service, 1995, 58 minute video documentary by Nell Lundy and Kate Kirtz available from 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; most recent edition is being printed/published 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.