We want better reasons for having children than not knowing how to prevent them.
— Dora Russell
— Dora Russell
JANE - Working for Reproductive JusticeI’m starting here with a less-than-six degrees of separation exercise, from Butch Cassidy to Bob Dylan and beyond, on my way to JANE. We find meaning and relevance in unexpected places all the time, don't we?
William Goldman, screenwriter for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, tells this story about Butch in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade: “When he was a young man, Butch was in jail in Wyoming. He came up before the governor with a chance at parole. The governor said, ‘I'll set you free if you promise to go straight.’ And Butch answered – he really did – ‘I can't do that.’
The governor, naturally, was a bit taken aback, but before he could say much, Butch came up with the following offer: ‘I'll make you a deal,’ he told the governor. (This is a convict offering the governor a deal, remember.) ‘I'll promise you that if you let me go, I'll never break the law in Wyoming again—’ and the governor accepted the deal, set Butch free – and Butch never again broke the law in Wyoming: If his gang did a job there, he refused to go along.”
Reading about Butch Cassidy’s ethics reminded me of Dylan's line "... to live outside the law, you must be honest ...." And that line always reminds me of the underground abortion work done by JANE. It makes me think about what law is, and what honesty is. It makes me think about the difference between law and justice.
The Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1968-1973) is usually called JANE, and all of us who worked in the Service are also called Janes. Listen to an hour-long show about the abortion service, done by the CircleARadio collective on KBOO, Portland's independent community radio station (this opens with the bonus treat of Malvina Reynolds singing a bit). And here's a reading (International Women's Day, 2010), a short poem called "You Don't Know."
JANE – and Janes – have appeared often in my writing, my teaching, my conversation and public speaking. My fourth book, What if your mother, is deeply informed by Jane-consciousness, as is the zine SHE SAID. When I'm being Judith-as-Jane, I do readings and talks for community groups and students. Being a Jane is big education, and I’m grateful; it's so valuable I want to pass it on. This page helps me do that.
** NEWS ** I've written ten stories for a book about JANE, Janes, and tattoos (Hello. This is Jane.). Some will be published in journals (read two of 'em here) - and one is being published as a zine (ebook coming soon). There's a video by Jodi Darby: see trailer. At some point - off in the murky distance - there'll be a publisher for the full collection.
We all know popular culture is both a cause and an effect of our thinking and our behavior. I'm a person who thinks about that cause and effect pretty much every day, and I'm in favor of paying attention when we pay for our tickets. Over the years I’ve found a lot of movies that address - or at least present - motherhood decisions, but only a handful of good fiction films that focus thoughtfully and intelligently on abortion as a primary issue: The Cider House Rules (dir. Lassë Hallstrom), Citizen Ruth (dir. Alexander Payne), Vera Drake (dir. Mike Leigh), If These Walls Could Talk, I (dir. Nancy Savoca and Cher), and Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, (dir. Cristian Mungiu).
More are needed, especially in response to several cleverly written, smoothly produced and often well acted (however perverse and unrealistic) 21st century American movies about pregnancy. There are others, both fiction and documentary, that give serious attention to the complexity of motherhood decisions, if only briefly. Some favor one choice, some another; all are useful. I've made a list; take a look.
And it goes without saying – though you’ll notice I’m saying it – that you should read, too. You could start with these three important books about reproductive justice (luckily, there are lots more); they’re all available in libraries & 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
The Abortionist, A Woman Against the Law
— Rickie Solinger
note: To read a short essay I wrote for ON THE ISSUES' special edition about abortion in early 2012, click here; to read some blogs I wrote for the WORDS OF CHOICE website: see 2-3-08 + 3-31-08