Zine Review: Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service 1968-1973

Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service 1968-1973
Firestarter Press, 2004

January 22nd marked the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Perhaps it is more apt to say it sort of legalized abortion as, according to a recent article from Mother Jones, over 1,000 state laws restricting abortion have been passed since 1973. As attacks on reproductive rights have worsened, pro-choice activists often caution politicians about returning to the pre Roe v. Wade era, a time of back alley abortions and expensive, dangerous trips to clinics in other states or countries. After reading Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service 1968-1973, I am convinced that making abortion illegal would create a world that is much, much worse.

Jane Cover - Image from Microcosm PublishingJane was originally released in 2004 by Firestarter Press. Far from a typical historical record, the zine mixes first-hand accounts from women who ran the service with comments from women who received abortions. The resulting narrative does more than simply tell Jane’s story; it gives a taste of the emotional experiences of all those involved.

The zine opens with a reprint of a brochure once distributed to Jane’s clients. In addition to explaining the procedure and necessary aftercare, the brochure takes time to discuss why people capable of getting pregnant deserve the right to abort a pregnancy. This portion of the zine—titled “Abortion as a Social Problem”—is succinct and frighteningly relevant; it could be redistributed today without changing a word. It perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the zine by reminding the reader that many of the issues Jane faced are still causing psychological, emotional, and economic damage today.

There are two interviews in the zine: one with Ruth Surgal, who helped transform Jane from a referral service into an abortion service, and another with Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, one of seven women who were arrested during a bust that occurred shortly before the Roe v. Wade decision. Surgal explains how, upon discovering that a man who performed abortions for Jane was not actually a doctor, some of the women convinced him to teach them the procedure. Her interview is fascinating, not only because it reveals how abortion can be safely performed by non-medical professionals, but also because it explains how Jane’s members used their personal strengths to help each other, whether it was by becoming an abortion provider, a counselor, or ensuring there was enough money to keep the doors open.

Galatzer-Levy’s interview provides insight into the amazing and ferocious personalities of those who ran Jane. For example, Galatzer-Levy was the one who opened the door for the police when they raided the service. Upon recognizing them she walked back into the clinic and declared, “These are the police, you don’t have to talk them!” The full story of the bust and the womens’ experience with facing the consequences of potential imprisonment is truly scary, but I finished the interview in total awe of Galatzer-Levy’s courage.

The final piece in the zine is a powerful, but terrifying sendoff. In a speech from 1999, Judith Arcana discusses how anti-abortion rhetoric has changed since Roe v. Wade passed and Jane closed its doors. Arcana’s analysis is layered and insightful, but what stuck with me most were her comments about the evolution of the psychological effects of anti-abortion rhetoric. According to Arcana, advances in the science of pregnancy—such as ultrasounds that allow people to see fetuses much earlier—have created a different kind of emotional experience for pregnant people. Pro-choice rhetoric ignores this and avoids talking about the fact that in an abortion, a fetus is lost. Conversely, pro-life rhetoric addresses this constantly, which often gives pro-life people the higher ground in the abortion battle.

I finished Jane feeling more than ever that we are losing, and that the potential consequences of losing reproductive rights are more frightening that I had previously imagined. Jane is an older zine, but it is still very relevant and, perhaps inadvertently, offers a strong call-to-arms. The struggle for reproductive rights is an enormous, complicated battle, and it is far from over. To learn more about this incredible piece of abortion rights history, order the tenth anniversary edition of Jane from Eberhardt Press, or snag a copy from Microcosm Publishing.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.