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Reviving Old Strategies

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I wanted to highlight this Joy Ellison (who so happens to be joining the faculty at URI this fall and thus will be my colleague) piece on the Jane Collective. One of the things we need to be doing is realizing that just the occasional protest and determining to vote is simply not even close to enough to fight the terror of the Opus Dei Court. We need actual strategies and some, maybe most, of them will not be legal. This is the reality. The Jane Collective reminds us of the last time abortion was illegal and the actions women took to fight for their rights.

From 1969 to 1973, Chicagoans who dialed 634-3844 would hear a voice say, “This is Jane from women’s liberation. If you need assistance, leave your name and phone number and someone will call you back.”

Anyone who left a message would be contacted by a member of a network of women, all of whom called themselves “Jane.” The Janes facilitated safe abortion access when doing so constituted a crime and necessitated the utmost secrecy.

The Jane Collective was incredibly successful. Over the four years of its existence, the Janes returned 11,000 phone calls. They had no fatalities, and none of the Janes served time, even after repeatedly breaking the law.The Jane Collective is a concrete example of how to provide safe abortion access when abortion is criminalized — and a potential blueprint for the future.The Jane Collective was composed of about 20 women, almost all of whom were White, cisgender and middle class. Many were young, and several had connections to student movements at the University of Chicago. To minimize the risk of being arrested, they kept their identities secret and met in private homes. They distributed their phone number by writing it on public bathroom walls. Eventually, sympathetic health-care providers learned of the network and began quietly passing the number along to clients seeking a safe way to end their pregnancies.

The Janes were immediately frustrated by the high cost of abortion and the control that men had over it. The procedure typically cost $500, putting it out of reach for many. To reduce that cost, the Janes began referring almost all of their clients to one practitioner who was willing to negotiate fees. Soon, they learned, however, that this provider was not an MD but someone who had apprenticed with one. If he could learn to perform safe abortions, then the Janes reasoned they could do the same.

By the summer of 1971, the Janes were performing half of the abortion procedures themselves. Soon, they were performing all of them. This allowed them to lower their prices. Most clients paid only $50, and the Janes were able to provide free abortions now that they had full control over administering the procedure.

Performing abortions themselves was important to the Jane network for reasons beyond cost. Peer support and bodily control were critical principles of the feminist health movement. The Janes saw providing safe abortions in an environment where clients received education and support as a form of feminist liberation.

This is where we are at. Challenge the evil Republicans to stop you. Otherwise, we just acquiesce. The protests against the overturning of Roe…barely even got a media mention because they were one off things that didn’t even really attract that many women. Other strategies are necessary. You aren’t going to vote these people out either. So what are you going to do? Providing underground medical care is one possibility for those with the skills. And even if you don’t have the skills, you can still participate through funding such operations.

To say the least, I’m looking forward to having this new colleague on campus.

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