Jane: Avortion and the Underground relives the bad old days of illegal abortions
In 1992, just after publishing his first book, Fatal feminist, and became the de facto spokesperson for Generation X feminists, Paula Kamen participated in a panel on feminism past and present. One of the other panelists mentioned Jane, the Chicago abortion collective that operated from 1969 to Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973.
“I didn’t believe it was real,” Kamen says now.
And even now it looks a bit fantastic: a group of young Chicago women, a mix of activists and housewives, who worked together to organize illegal abortions for women in apartments in and around town. , ending up performing the procedures themselves after their doctor bailed out. them. As far as we know, they have never lost a patient. Customers found them by calling a number and asking for Jane.
But it was real, the only such service in America, and Kamen set out to hunt down former Jane members and clients for more. The result was a play, Jane: abortion and the metro, which will be relaunched during a reading in stages Monday evening followed by a round table. Proceeds will benefit the Chicago Abortion Fund.
Kamen decided to write a play instead of a conventional journalism article in order to create the feeling that the stories were coming directly from the women themselves. She reunited with former Jane members and clients by placing ads in the Defender and the TribuneThe WomaNews section now defunct. In 1992, Roe vs. Wade was only 19 and the bad old days of illegal abortion were still living memories. Some women were still terrified to talk about it. “People hung up on me,” Kamen recalls.
A version of the play premiered in 1993, but Kamen continued to update it as she spoke to more people involved. Over the years, she has found that more and more people are ready to speak publicly. “I always find people all the time,” she says. She met one of the women at an event at the Hideout and was introduced to Reverend E. Spencer Parsons, a minister who assisted Jane, by her speech therapist.
Some of the people she was talking to still had vivid memories of what it had been like, and Kamen made an effort not to smear anything with the sugar. One woman, Lory, was an 18-year-old hippie when she had an abortion. In a long monologue, she remembers the filthy apartment, the unprofessional nature of Jane’s member who performed the surgery (“I remember thinking, damn it, you’d think she would tie her hair up! “), The excruciating pain because there had been no anesthesia, and how immediately afterwards she went to the bathroom and vomited.
But this (abortion service) was the only option I was aware of. You know . . . it was not. . . how I would have chosen to do it. And now having had an abortion since in a clinical situation with a doctor performing it and knowing the difference, it was like it was excruciating. But at this point in my life, if two days later they would have
told me I had to have another abortion, I probably would have done the same because I couldn’t have had a child anyway and, you know, having a child wasn’t even a thought. . . .
And so she was grateful.
Jane’s story, Kamen discovered, raised many questions about race, class and economy. The group had been started by University of Chicago student Heather Booth, who found herself acting as a go-between for pregnant women and an abortionist; she got so many calls in her dorm that she finally told people to start leaving messages for Jane. Although the Jane Service affiliated with the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, which had close ties to the labor movement, its members remained predominantly white and from the middle class. “They wanted to change that,” Kamen says, “but they were also in a hurry to get things done”.
The separatist wing of the black liberation movement was also staunchly anti-abortion because of its ties to the eugenics of the early 20th century who used abortion as a means of limiting the African American population. But later in Jane’s story, after New York City passed the country’s first unrestricted abortion law in 1970, many of her clients were poor and black and couldn’t afford to travel outside of the city. ‘State.
Kamen tried to resolve these issues in the play, as well as the conflicts between Jane’s limbs. Booth, the founder, was a charismatic leader, but she saw Jane as part of a much larger struggle and left the group early on. Like many feminist collectives at the time, Jane officially had no formal hierarchy or leadership, but a core group of women emerged who made most of the decisions. (They were known as “kitchen cabinets” because they met, literally, in a member’s kitchen.) Some of the others didn’t like it at all.
“It wasn’t hot and fuzzy,” she says.
Kamen says that Jane: abortion and the metro was played maybe 20 times during the Bush years, but during the Obama administration people lost interest. Now, of course, things have changed. With increasingly stringent abortion restrictions across the country, Illinois has once again become a haven for abortion seekers. “The theater has to be part of a conversation with a larger society,” says Kamen. “With the Women’s March and The Handmaid’s Tale, It’s in the air.”
Last spring, Kamen met 24-year-old director Iris Sowlat at a Directors Guild event. The two decided to work together to produce a staged reading of the piece, something easier and more flexible than a full performance. (It’s a talking piece anyway, so the reading format works.) Sowlat had never heard of Jane before reading the script. “I knew abortions were illegal until Roe vs. Wade,” she says, “but I didn’t realize how much darkness and mystery surrounded abortion and women’s bodies.
And although Jane’s women worked too hard under difficult circumstances to join in what Sowlat calls “rah-rah, girl power feminism,” she believes in the play’s ultimate message that Jane was talking about women helping women. women, despite their fears – one of the purest notions of feminism.
As one of the women says in a monologue at the end,
This isn’t some super macho and Wonder Woman kind of shit. It’s about understanding that this is what we are supposed to do. This is how we are supposed to live. We are supposed to help each other give birth. We are supposed to help each other to have an abortion if it becomes necessary. We are supposed to help each other die. We are supposed to help each other to live. We’re supposed to do this. And we’re supposed to have the knowledge and the strength to do it. And that’s what I learned in the service.
Jane: Abortion and the metro. Mon 7/24, 19:30 PM, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, 773-203-3158, janeplayreading.brownpapertickets.com, Suggested donation of $ 10.