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Art meets activism in Jane

By Heather MacLean, Opinions Contributor

Forty years ago in the United States, single motherhood was taboo. It was difficult for single people to obtain contraceptives, and abortion was illegal.
So if you were pregnant, and didn’t want to be, what did you do? If you lived in Chicago between 1969 and 1973, you may have looked in the phone book for the number listed under the name “Jane Howe,” and arranged a safe, but illegal, abortion.
Officially known as the Abortion Counselling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, “Jane” was run by women who arranged abortions in secret apartments throughout the city. The idea was to decrease the cost but increase the availability and safety of the procedure for otherwise desperate women.
“It wasn’t that we were for abortion,” Heather Booth, an early Jane organizer told The Chicago Tribune in 1999. “We were for women having the right (to) make this most personal decision.”
At the time of Jane, Booth was a University of Chicago student and activist who went on to become a leader in the Democratic National Convention.
After helping many women, and surviving police raids, Jane disbanded after the Roe vs. Wade ruling legalized abortion in the United States in 1973.
Often, it is easy to forget these important points in history. There is a need to preserve records of the struggles of women, but they can’t always fit into the clean and proper spaces of history books. In the case of Jane, the story has been preserved in a play.
“I was intrigued by these bourgeois housewives running an illicit abortion service between car-pooling and dance lessons,” author Paula Kamen told The Chicago Tribune in 1999.
But the play does more than tell these women’s stories.
The Saint Mary’s Women’s Centre presented the first international production of the renowned play Jane: Abortion and the Underground on Jan. 9 and Jan.10.
”I wanted to inspire an understanding of women’s political struggle for reproductive rights,” said SMU Women’s Centre board member Jane Gavin-Hebert, who organized the play.
A silent auction and art show were also part of the two-night event, featuring drawings by local artist Rebecca Roher. All proceeds from the play and silent auction will go toward Trust Women: A Conference on Reproductive Justice.
Sometimes it feels as if women’s rights, especially the right to bodily autonomy, are treated like a political football, and could be taken from us at any time. This play reminded us of how much more choice and control women now have over their bodies, but we could lose our rights at any moment, unless we fight for them.

Opinions Editor Kaley Kennedy worked as a security guard for this play.

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