Update: After SCOTUS’ Anti-Abortion Mobilization Brings Back the Past, We Fight for the Future

Last year, we talked with Heather Booth and Judith Arcana, two activists involved in the Abortion Counselling Service in Chicago (Jane). When the draft decision was leaked, we went back to them for additional comments. Here is their message to us.

In the coming months, two movies about the service will be made available publicly. Call Jane, a fictionalized account of the service, and The Janes, a documentary. You can find the trailer for the The Janes above and here,  information about Call Jane here. (Ed.)

Judith Arcana’s new Introductory Comments:


Everyone who’s been paying attention knows that the American anti-abortion movement has been steadily and successfully moving toward their goal of eliminating abortion in this country.  We were expecting the Court’s announcement this summer.  What made the Alito draft a surprise was Politico’s revelation at a time when people who support abortion healthcare were not expecting the news. 

What will happen now, across much of this nation, is what has always happened when abortion is illegal, everywhere in the world:  People will seek, sometimes find, and sometimes even become, underground abortionists – like the Janes.  Some will be successful in their search; many will not.  Some will use horribly dangerous methods.  Some will sustain terrible injuries.  Some will die.  Some will bear children they cannot care for and/or do not want.  Many children will be born into dreadful circumstances.  All of this is already happening in parts of the USA where abortion is extremely difficult to find and afford.

Hope (yes!) is generated by the work of brilliant organizers/teachers (the women of SisterSong, Susan Yanow, Rebecca Gomperts, and many others) – and by the strength of young people who understand their lives depend on resistance.

Heather Booth’s new Introductory Comments:

We now face a court and Trump Republicans who want to take away our freedom to decide when, whether and with whom we want to have a child and raise a family.

Instead of freedom they are advancing a tyranny—deciding this most intimate decision of a person’s life. And there are some who may use this moment to outlaw birth control. 

And they are threatening other freedoms—our freedom to vote, to learn our full history and for our children to become fully educated adults, and with the attack on January 6, many are threatening our country.

Over 70% of the country believes abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor.  Over 50% believe Roe should not be overturned (and only 28% believe it should be).  This likely Supreme Court decision is unpopular, undemocratic, denying our freedom, against what is moral and just and is not legal (it would be the first time constitutional freedoms will have been limited by the court instead of expanded against established precedent).

Many are angry and fearful in the face of this likely court ruling.  We need to turn that anger and fear into action.  We need to use every tool we have.  We need to protest, use legal strategies, communicate, support services and an underground for those who cannot find the services they need. And we need to organize and drive the issue into the election. Just think what two more Senators would do, or a sympathetic governor and legislature.  We can do this.  But only if we organize and turn out power into electoral victories and continue to organize.

Christine Riddiough talks with veteran activists Heather Booth and Judith Arcana

In late August, Texas governor Gregg Abbott, signed into law the most restrictive anti-abortion bill since the landmark abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade was decided. Women in Texas and around the country are outraged and fearful that other states will follow suit. Before Roe, (and “Jane Roe” lived in Texas), women throughout the United States  lived in a similar regime and fought against those restrictions and for women’s health. For guidance on what we can do now, I turned to Heather Booth, founder of the abortion counseling service that became known as Jane, and Judith Arcana, one of the Janes who was arrested in 1971 for performing abortions. –CR.

How did you come to start Jane?

HB: To understand the formation of Jane, I have to go back to my activism in the civil rights movement. In 1964, I went to Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer. Within a year of that summer there was a voting rights act passed by Congress – that taught me that when you take action, you can change the world. When I came back to Chicago for college, one of the women there was raped in her dorm room. We took her to the student health center where they lectured her on her promiscuity. We fought to get better care for women. This was a wake-up call about the inequities in health care for women.

Not long after that I got a call from a friend whose sister was pregnant. She wasn’t in a position to keep the child. I remembered Dr. [T.R.M.]Howard from Freedom Summer and he agreed to do the abortion. After that I started getting other calls from women looking for an abortion and I knew I had to set up a system. I started telling people to ask for Jane when they called and the name stuck. By 1968, I couldn’t manage it alone, and so I started asking at meetings for people who could help. At this time, not only was abortion illegal, but three people talking about abortion was illegal – a conspiracy. By 1969, I was involved in other activism.

JA: I joinedJane in October 1971. I had been a high school English teacher in a suburb of Chicago. Some of the parents were disturbed by some of what two other teachers and I were talking about in class and we were fired. We fought back, but it took almost a year to deal with the case, and we were blown away by the news media coverage. 

That summer I thought I was pregnant and didn’t feel I could bring someone into the world in these circumstances. A medical student friend put me in touch with Jane. I talked with Ruth Surgal for a long time. It turned out that I wasn’t pregnant. A few months later, Ruth (who was one of the leaders in the service) invited me to attend an orientation program to bring on new Janes. 

By 1971, we’d learned that “Mike,” who was now doing the abortions then, was not actually a doctor. But he was so good that we pushed him to teach us how to do the abortions. He agreed, and several of us learned the procedures. 

Then in the spring of 1972 seven of us were busted: The press called us the “Abortion 7,” and we hired an attorney to fight back against the arrests. In 1972, the Roe v. Wade decision came down, and we were released.

From these experiences what guidance can you give us today? How do we fight back against the Texas law?

HB: There are several lessons we need to learn from this experience, and there are already people beginning to work on this issue.

First, we know that if we want to change the world, we need to organize. We need to make noise. We need to have a shared message. On October 2 there is going to be a large national demonstration – with both a large event planned in Washington, DC and events around the country. The message is that women must have the freedom whether and when to start a family.

Another lesson we learned in Jane and in other actions in the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union and elsewhere is that sometimes you have to stand up to illegitimate authority. Women are already starting to do that through groups like the National Abortion Federation. And we know that you have to trust local people. We need to talk with them and engage them in this work. In many places, women are already planning support networks to help women by providing rides and other assistance.

We also need to be aware that this law not only restricts women’s access to proper care, but it empowers private citizens to take action against women and abortion providers. This part of the law goes back to the Fugitive Slave Act, when slave owners could have slaves returned because they were “property.”

Nancy Pelosi has said she will introduce a ‘Women’s Health Protection’ act and the results of the California and Virginia elections this fall will be critical in moving us forward.

DSA members can play an active role in all of these efforts. And though right now things look bleak, we should remember this quote from Antonio Gramsci – “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” and we should ORGANIZE! Join us at the October 2 actions,

Many organizations have been active for decades because of  restrictions that have eroded reproductive rights for the past 50 years. The resources linked to below do not constitute a complete  list.

For more information on Jane, you can visit Judith Arcana’ s Jane page at http://www.juditharcana.com/jane and https://www.cwluherstory.org/jane-abortion-service

For more information on abortion, visit the Guttmacher Institute and the National Abortion Federation at https://prochoice.org/ and https://protectabortionintexas.com/.