Review: The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan

Synopsis: “In the four years before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, most women determined to get abortions had to subject themselves to the power of illegal, unregulated abortionists…But a Chicago woman who happened to stumble across a secret organization code-named ‘Jane’ had an alternative. Laura Kaplan, who joined Jane in 1971, has pieced together the histories of the anonymous (here identified only by pseudonyms), average-sounding women who transformed themselves into outlaws.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Story of Jane is a piece of women’s history in step with feminist theory demanding that women tell their own stories. It serves to remind people of an important and often overlooked moment in the women’s rights movement.”—Seattle Weekly

“Weaving together the voices and memories of her former co-workers, Kaplan recounts how the group initially focused on counseling women and helping them find reliable, reasonably priced doctors….Kaplan’s account of this remarkable story recaptures the political idealism of the early ’70s…23 years after Roe vs. Wade, the issues and memories raised by the books are close and all too relevant.”—K Kaufmann, San Francisco Chronicle

“During the four years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973, the 100 members of Jane helped some 11,000 women end their pregnancies….There is more in this remarkable book that will further raise eyebrows….Kaplan’s engrossing tales of the quiet courage of the women who risked their reputations and freedom to help others may remind many readers of other kinds of outlaws who have resisted tyranny throughout history.”

A big thank you to my friend Doug for recommending this book to me (and lending it to me). He hasn’t steered me wrong in the past (recommending books like Sing, Unburied, Sing and Galore) and so when quarantine started and I had a lot of free time on my hands, I thought, why not learn a little bit about the history of abortion?

This book was so eye opening in so many ways. First of all, as someone who has been involved in organizations that try to follow a non-hierarchical structure, I could really relate to the struggles of the group. The nature of the non-hierarchical structure is that the people who have the most experience inevitably end up having more weight behind their words, as they are seen as being more knowledgeable. And from personal experience, it is a struggle to ensure that it doesn’t feel as though there is hierarchy in such groups. Reading Kaplan’s account of the group really made me think about the nature of non-hierarchical organizations, and how we can work harder to make them more recognized and better functioning, which was an unexpected benefit of this book. I also loved hearing the stories of all the women involved in Jane, it made it so much more real. What they put up with, from anti-abortionists, police, and the public, is astounding, and their bravery is so inspiring.

The history aspect of the book was also really interesting, and in many ways is related to what is going on in the world right now. Abortions have been controversial for a long time, and as seen in the US currently, are still very controversial (if you’d like a good documentary on Netflix to give you up to date facts, Reversing Roe is really good!). They are a fundamental right that every woman should have, the right to decide what happens to their own body, but for some reason it is seen as something requiring government regulation. These procedures are incredibly safe, and very infrequently result in complications, but the book didn’t shy away from some of the health complications that Jane saw happen. Kaplan was also very explicit that the clientele Jane served was mostly lower class Black woman, which really illustrates that abortion isn’t just a feminist issue, but also that of a race and class issue. Overall, it was really fascinating watching the development of this underground abortion clinic, and how they faced issues such as financial access, the availability of doctors and volunteers, and how they ran the clinics themselves.

It was also incredible to hear about how the procedures are performed. You always hear about abortions, but I’d never actually heard about the procedure until I read this book. Maybe that’s my fault. But it was really nice to also see the medical side of abortions explained, and go into the different techniques and tools.

I really recommend this book to anyone who has any sense of curiosity about abortions, their history, and the process. It’s a 5/5 for me, and I hope it helps to teach you something as well 🙂

Have a great week ducks!
~ Mon

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