The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Hello. This is Jane. by Judith Arcana

Look how it happened with them: once they got going, they took in little bunches of new women a couple times a year – and those women joined up with whatever it was then; they didn’t need to be in from the start, they accepted how the group was then – whenever – or they didn’t join.

Yeah! And didn’t the first Jane start – that one who took the calls in her dorm room – didn’t she start a group when she realized she couldn’t handle the work all by herself? Didn’t she start by asking for volunteers at a meeting? We could do that. We could do that at the meeting of the Coalition in June, when the med students and nursing students come; I think some midwives are coming this time too.

Oh, I wish we knew them, even just one of them! One tough Jane’s all we need. I wish we knew where they are. Where are they – I’m gonna say it – when we need them?!

I bet there’s women all over this country thinking the same thing right now – I bet, like, those women are surrounded! There’s a line of women outside every Jane’s house!

Nah. I bet hardly anybody even knows who they are. Not everybody’s into this like we are. There isn’t a line. I mean, what if, even where the Janes are known, people are too scared? Or seriously traumatized by anti-abortion violence? What if we really are a tiny minority?

No way! Think about it! You were at that march in 2004! It was huge – biggest ever, bigger even than the one for Dr. King’s dream speech, more people than Vietnam. And now, all the marches against Trump! That old guy, the ranger in uniform we talked to, ’member, at the Lincoln Memorial? He saw all of ’em – and he said ours was totally the biggest. And it was still legal then.

But how many of those people’d be willing to break the law? Marching is one thing; but committing a crime, systematically and repeatedly – that’s something else. 

Women did it before – they’ll do it again.

What if the Janes are done with it, Joanie? Like that blonde in the video: “It was over for me” – she made me mad!

Wait, no – she said “once it was legal” she “passed the torch.” She didn’t know when they made the movie that torch’d be coming around again, real fast, real soon.

So: The Janes. They’re middle-aged, or even old, but they’re not dead – oh, maybe some are dead, but not all of ’em – there must be some we could find.

Yeah, why don’t you search for them online, see what you get?

You think that’s a joke, but I’m going to do it – here goes. Wait. Wait wait wait – yes! Hey! Look at all this! I’m scrolling past what we already know – ok, it’s not exactly an address book – but it’s a list of leads. 

We can start with some of the women in the video who used their own names – and this time we take notes. And the woman who wrote the book, Laura something – and the Chicago Women’s Union website probably has names – do you see any there? And one of the Janes in the old video is a writer – I bet we can find her. Somebody at the January meeting said she lives out here now, like, somewhere in Washington, or Oregon?

How about we find the women who made that video? They found a bunch of Janes. That was, like, twenty-five years ago? The videomakers found them – twenty years after Roe!

Uh-oh. I bet some of them really are dead. Almost all of them have to be pretty old. Even the youngest ones, like, let’s say somebody was eighteen in 1972, now she’s way over sixty – and the older ones – oh, jeez. And how can we be sure these women even think about this stuff anymore?

Girl, everybody thinks about this stuff – that’s why even if you’re running for the library board in East Nowhere Nebraska, you have to tell the voters what your position is on abortion. D’you think these women, who fucking did it, underground, have never given it a thought since then, especially now – when it’s illegal again? You think they aren’t wondering about doing something? You bet they’re thinking about it – they’ve been thinking about it, and now it’s time, for them just like for us. Some of them, anyway.

Ok ok ok. Right. Yes, you’re right. I like lost my mind for a second, that’s all. If this whole thing wasn’t so horrible – and if the setup work didn’t need to be done like yesterday, I’d say we need to have some kind of written introduction, something to hand them with our contact information on it, something that gives them an outline of our ideas? But we don’t want any of that floating around the country on paper, or buzzing around in cyberspace. We’re not doing this thing on Facebook.

These are women who understand the need for secrecy. They’ll be cool. But in other ways, there could be issues. Word is they were basically all white, middle class, straight – married even – and not especially political outside of the abortion underground. How will that play? Our crowd is way mixed, in all of that. And hey – I wonder if any of them turned – you know, went over to the other side, like the Roe woman did?

I’ve thought about that – not the turning, the other stuff. But, you know, maybe they weren’t. We can’t be sure. How ’bout that dykey one in the movie? The one in the flannel shirt who talks about how it was cool to do illegal work? She couldn’t be straight and married. But, ok. What if we just do it without them? Let’s think for a minute here. After we do the homework, just knowing what they did could be enough, like knowing the history of the Underground Railroad and what Harriet Tubman did, or the partisans in WWII, or the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. So – alone – I mean without them – how would we start? Call up doctors and say, Hey, now that abortion is illegal again in this country, will you break some laws to do it anyway?

I don’t know any doctors well enough to say that to them; but what about med students, nurses, doulas and midwives – all those “pro-choice” people we already know? There’s a woman who lives near my cousin Rhonda – oh, but she’s a dermatologist. Hey, my aunt Lallie is a nurse!

How about we each make an appointment with a doctor or a nurse or a midwife, and when we get in to see them, we sort of, like, interview them? We might have more luck with the alternative types – naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists – they’re probably more open-minded to begin with; I heard acupuncturists can do it with a special needle pattern. Should we use fake names? Do you think we’d have to pay much for a visit just to talk? Oh, in this fucked-up medical system, probably.

What about supplies? How would we get all that? Remember what we learned from that Massachusetts woman two years ago? And Dr. Gomperts, online! About misoprostol already being used in other countries – India, someplace in Africa – alone, without mifepristone. And herbalists! We have to find the most recent info about how much to use, what’s safe. Like with pennyroyal – really effective but seriously dangerous, even lethal. Maybe we can have herbalist backups like the Janes had doctor backups. And remember the woman who talked about Filipino abortion massage? Let’s find that.

Yeah. But in the meantime, we keep looking for the Janes and – how about this? When we find them, we apply for that grant, the one for women’s history month, and we use the money to bring them here, to meet women here, and the women they meet here will be, like, the ones we’ll already be talking to about doing it – starting with women we know from the Coalition.

A grant? You think we can get a grant for this? Tell me what drug you are on.

I am totally, totally, totally serious. These women are historical figures. They are discussed in textbooks. They are in college research papers and high school term papers. We can hook up with some women’s studies people at Lewis and Clark, at PSU, maybe PCC, Reed. So we write a grant to bring Janes here as, like, “living history” or some shit like that. We don’t say we want them to teach a new generation of underground abortion workers. I wouldn’t put that in the “describe your project” section, no.

That could work! I mean, hey, it’s absolutely worth trying.


This selection comes from Hello. This is Jane., avaible from Left Fork Books. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books — including Grace Paley’s Life Stories, a literary/political biography; Announcements from the Planetarium, a recent poetry collection; and, now, Hello. This is Jane, a fiction collection, linked stories seeded by Judith’s pre-Roe underground abortion work in Chicago. Visit juditharcana.com.

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

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