By Judith Arcana
The Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women's Liberation
Union, now called "Jane" in histories of women's health in the
USA, worked with more than eleven thousand women and girls (the
youngest under twelve, the oldest over fifty), all of whom came
to the underground group for abortions before the Supreme Court
decision on Roe v. Wade in late January of 1973. Women in the
group always called it "the Service" and referred to themselves
For more about Jane, click here
On the phone she said,
I have a friend who's got a problem, but she couldn't get to a
phone so I'm calling for her. Do you know what I mean? Is this
the right place?
When she lay down, she said,
Are you a doctor?
Then she said, Aren't you
afraid you'll get caught?
When we were putting in the
speculum, she said, Oh, I had breakfast before I came. I know
I wasn't supposed to but I was so hungry I just ate everything
in sight, is that ok?
Later she said, I think
I have to throw up.
Or, I have to go to the
bathroom right now. Stop. I just have to go to the bathroom, and
then I'll come right back.
Or, on a different day,
I don't feel so good, should I do it anyway?
The next week she said,
Infection? I don't have any infection. Oh, that. That's not really
an infection. That infection's nothing, I've had it before, it's
nothing, go on, go ahead and take that baby out.
Sometimes she said, Can
I see it before you throw it away?
But another time she said,
I don't want to look at it, ok? When it comes out, I'll just close
my eyes, and you take it away, ok?
Once she said, What do
you do with it all at the end of the day? Boy, you people are
gonna get in trouble sometime, this's against the law.
And when we were done she said,
What if it happens again? You know - this. Would you do me again?
She stood on the back steps
outside the counselor's apartment and said, This is mi prima,
my cousin, from Mexico. Can you talk Spanish to her? Habla un
poco? Un poquito? Si, gringa! We will do this.
No, I'll keep it on, I'm not hot,
it's ok, I'm fine.She was wearing her boyfriend's baseball
jacket in the kitchen. She said, Just tell me what I have
This is my husband, Ed. He's going
to sit here with me.She leaned over, touched his arm, and said,
Ed, honey, this is Julie, she's my counselor, the one that got
assigned to me when we called the number.
When we told her she should
pay whatever she could afford, she was quiet a minute and then
said, I think I can get nine dollars.
My father brought me here today.
He's paying for this but he's really mad at me for it.She took
a hundred dollar bill out of her pocket and said, He thinks
if everybody got liberated, like with civil rights, that there'd
be a lot of trouble, and he says I prove his point, because look
what happens when you just do what you want. He says that's why
we have to have so many laws on everybody, because if you let
people be free and do what they want they'll just do evil things.
When the sister-in-law was
asked why she called the police, she said, It's a sin, she
can't do this. She has to have it, we all have to. Jesus doesn't
want her to get rid of this baby, that's why I did it.
He doesn't like me to talk to
my mother. Him and his mother, they don't let me go home to visit.She
put the tiny baby in her mother's arms and said, We sneaked
to come for this appointment. He doesn't know I'm pregnant again.
My baby is so new, I can't have another one right away. He wouldn't
even want it really, he thinks this one makes too much noise.
He doesn't like me to do anything without his permission.
Holding her purse, wearing
her gloves, the girl clinging to her coat sleeve, she said,
You take good care of her, she don't know no better, she's just
a baby her own self, she don't even know how this happened. She
don't know what it's all about, this whole thing.
My mother told me I couldn't keep
it, she told me she'd get the baby taken away from me right away
if I had it.She cried, loud crying with snot and choking. She
wiped her nose and said, She knows I want to have it. I could
be a good mother, I've taken care of babies and I know what to
do. But I'm only fifteen so she'll get them to take it away from
me, I know she will. That's why I'm doing this! I'd rather not
even see it!
After the cervical injection,
she said, How did you learn all this? Did you read a book?
Is there a book?
Every now and then, she said,
How come you let us bring our boyfriends over to your house to
wait? Aren't you afraid they'll tell?And, Jeez, who are
all these little kids? What're you guys doing, running a kindergarten
on the side? Are those doughnuts for us?
When we finished talking and
gave her our phone numbers, she said, What if it comes out
alive? What should I do then? I can't have it be alive. Should
I, you know, should I...? Can I do it by myself? It could be alive,
Now and then she said,
Oh I'm so sick, what a mess, oh I'm so sorry, I really feel fine
but this just happened oh oh here it comes again. Oh god I'm so
sorry, I can't help it, I'm such a mess, oh thank you.
She rang the bell, and when
we buzzed her in she said, My girlfriends are downstairs.
They brought me over when I called you about the cramps. Should
they come back for me or can you give me a ride home? How long
will it take for it to, you know, all come out?
Another time, waiting to miscarry,
she said, I'm sorry it's taking so long. I'm sure you've got
other things to do, I know a lot of women are waiting. But thank
you so much, thank you for letting me come to your house. I couldn't
have done this at my house, for sure. My parents think I'm at
my girlfriend's house, I just hope they don't call to check on
me, 'cause my girlfriend's mother could say something wrong and
then I'd really be in trouble.
Ok, it'll take me about an hour
and a half to drive home - I live over the line in Indiana - and
here's what I'm going to do,she said one winter weekend.
My father's a heavy sleeper, so if the cramps come in the night
while he's sleeping he'll never hear me; I'll just go in the bathroom
and lock the door. I'll do it all in there. He won't even hear
the toilet flush, he never does, even when it's just ordinary,
you know, flushing for regular reasons.
She looked at the clear plastic
sheet on the mattress, the speculum and the syringe. Then she
laughed and said, You ladies somethin, doin this up in here;
you somethin, all right.
Why do you do this?She looked
around the small bedroom and said, You're not rich. With what
you charge, you can't be doing this for the money. What's it all
about? Are you a bunch of women's libbers? Is that it?
I'm not nervous. I think you are
good women. I'm never nervous, maybe cuz I'm always tired.She
was so tired that when the woman beside the bed rocked her shoulder
softly to wake her up, she said, It's over? I'm sorry, I just
closed my eyes after the shot you gave me down there. I'm sorry,
but I was real tired, I had to work a double shift and din have
no time between work and here.
Ohmygod, does this happen all
the time? This bleeding?She gasped and said, The blood
is so dark. Ooh! Ice?! Ay! Make it stop! This ice tray is too
cold! Ohmygod! You better not be scared, I'm the one scared, not
you. Orange juice, are you kidding? Ay, what if I faint? I know
people faint when they lose blood. Can you still do me? Did you
She leaned over to the woman
driving and quietly said, My daughter's in Children's Memorial,
she's only two, she's having an operation on her stomach valve
today - it doesn't work right, since she was born. My husband's
over there, with her, for that, while I'm here, for this. Could
I leave right after I'm done? Could you take me back right away,
so I don't wait 'til everybody is done? Would that be ok? Would
the other women mind, do you think?
She gulped some water in the
kitchen and said, Oh thank you, you'll never know what this
means to me. Thank you so much. I could never thank you enough,
I'm sure. I know some people say it's wrong, abortion, that you
shouldn't take a life. And maybe we did take a life. But it's
all give and take, isn't it? My mother always said that everything
comes down to give and take. So I think the baby, today, that
was the taking - and me, me in my own life, I think that was the
© Judith Arcana. Do not use/reproduce
without permission. First published in Calyx, Winter 1998, 17:3.