We Are the Janes

As a young woman living by myself in the United States, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wadestripping millions of their fundamental constitutional right to abortion— terrifies me. It deeply shakes my sense of security, my ability to access necessary health care, and my agency over my body and sexual and reproductive health. For the past four years, I have called Kentucky and Texas my home, and my heart aches to see the ongoing weaponization and politicization of my body against myself. To soothe my rage, it felt timely to watch the historic documentary The Janes, about the work of the Jane Collective, a clandestine group in Chicago, who in the pre-Roe era of the late 1960s and early 1970s fought to ensure safe, accessible, and non-judgmental abortion care to those in need. These brave women remind us of the importance of challenging unjust laws and taking care of one another in the process.  

After the havoc of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday, June 24, for my self-care Saturday, I chose to seek refuge in the empowering work of the Jane Collective. The documentary was a great way to find solace in witnessing both the Janes then and our current abortion advocates now refusing to stay silent in the face of an extremist anti-abortion patriarchal system with no respect for bodily autonomy, self-determination, and agency.

I am still processing the Supreme Court decision on Roe and what it means to me, but one thing I am clear on: in the spirit of the Janes, we are showing up for and supporting our local reproductive health organizations, funds, and clinics and demanding policy change. Period.

The documentary is built on the detailed testimonies of the members of the Jane Collective, alongside their spouses and allies. The documentary starts off with the harrowing story of Dorie Barron, who recalls her abortion story in the 1960s by the mob-connected men in Chicago. They carried out her abortion in an isolated motel room alongside another young woman and abandoned them both to bleed and recover on their own. While she survived the procedure, many individuals in similar situations lost their lives due to negligence and lack of proper abortion care.

Through each story we’re told, we see that the criminalization of abortion doesn’t stop abortions from happening, but rather makes them unsafe, threatening the lives of birthing people. People will always need safe and accessible abortion care. The need is to provide them with essential abortion care. 

In one of the most artistically compelling sequences of the documentary, the members of the Janes are seen flipping through the index cards, one after another, used to track the calls they receive of each individual case. The cards are filled with stories of patients and their reasons for not wanting to remain pregnant: “Zero money,” “Terrified,” “Be cautious father is a cop,” “I am 17, I want to go to college…”. This sequence reminds us that in both the context of the pre-Roe era and the now post-Roe era, the reasons individuals seek abortion care remain the same. It’s simple—we’re here for ALL abortion stories, and they are ALL valid and worthy of protection.

Another pivotal moment in the documentary is the sequence where abortion is legalized in the state of New York while remaining criminalized in the other states—completely transforming the demographic of those who sought abortion services from the Janes, a predominantly white-middle class women group. This change led to more Black and brown low-income women using the Jane Collective’s services, which made it evident to the Janes that one, most people who came to them were different from them. Second, when abortion is legal in one state and restricted in another, it disproportionately impacts those who are already facing significant barriers to health care, including those working to make their ends meet, Black and Indigenous people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks. 

​Everyone, no matter their zip code, race, income, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation, must have the freedom to make their own decisions about their body, their life, their future, and their ability to participate in society with dignity and equality. No court, no law, and no elected official should stop us from receiving the care we deserve. 

What can we learn from the Janes? Their work can inspire us to continue the fight and show up for our community to ensure abortion access for ALL. As long as we have to, we will keep donating to our local clinics and abortion funds, show up at pro-abortion rallies, and destigmatize abortion in our journey as advocates. We are the new Janes, and we refuse to back down. 

No matter what the Supreme Court says, all seasons (especially this summer) are reserved to fight for #AbortionAlways.

By Anukriti Kunwar, Former Communications and Digital Strategies Intern