January 17, 2020 12:00 am
“I was really adrift, but I wanted to do something, and it seemed to me that if you were going to pick something in terms of women and politics, the front lines was abortion because women were dying and that was real.” — former Jane volunteer Jeanne Galatzer-Levy
Throughout the history of abortion criminalization, women have fought back against the misogyny inherent in controlling women’s bodies and reproductive rights. One example is the underground clinic, known by the code name “Jane,” established in 1965 by 19-year-old student Heather Booth. In the early 1960s, Booth helped a friend’s sister obtain an abortion, locating a doctor willing to perform the procedure. Soon after, as more women called requesting services, Heather realized a system needed to be put in place to respond to the need. Through the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union she helped form “Jane.”
Initially Jane partnered with licensed medical practitioners, but as their clientele swelled, the women members decided to start performing abortions themselves. Mike, the man who taught the first Jane volunteers how to perform abortions, had learned from a Mafia doctor.
Jane’s membership grew to include dozens of women, all understanding the importance of women needing access to abortion. At their peak, the group performed abortions four days a week, serving ten women a day. Over the course of seven years, Jane members provided over 11,000 first- and second-trimester abortions with a safety record rivaling today’s legal practitioners.
Jane’s illegal operations were as clandestine and secure as possible. Women called the phone number, and left their name, phone number and date of last period on an answering machine, and a Jane member would call them back to schedule the appointment. The client would then meet at the the “front” apartment, and Jane members would transport them to the second apartment where the abortions were performed.
In contrast to doctors who would charge upwards of $500 for abortion services, Jane’s standard fee was $100, and they would not turn anyone away for lack of money. The proceeds went towards rent, supplies and other operational expenses.
Once states like New York legalized abortion, wealthier women in Chicago would fly to New York to get legal abortions for the same $100 plus flight and accommodation costs. Jane’s clientele shifted, becoming almost entirely young, poor, working-class women who could not afford the travel costs, missed work, housing, or even the $100 Jane charged. Jane’s existence was vital to poor and working-class women who otherwise would have risked death from botched do-it-yourself abortions. Hundreds of women died each year in the United States due to sepsis and punctured uteruses from botched abortions before Roe v. Wade — the majority young and poor. Laura Kaplan, women’s rights activist, author and former Jane volunteer, explains the demographic shift further. “Women who could get on a plane at O’Hare Airport, and fly to New York and back for an abortion, didn’t need us… We were helping very young women, poor women, women of color, and women who couldn’t get away for a day because of their circumstances.” Seeing their activity connected to a broader struggle for women’s rights, the Jane volunteers became experts in providing safe abortion services while avoiding demonization by the media and rightwing.
After seven years of successfully building this underground network, Jane was discovered on May 3, 1972, when police tracked the group to an apartment in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. All of the women in the apartment were taken into custody, even the family members who were waiting for an abortion to be completed, and charged with 11 counts of abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion. They became known as the Abortion Seven.
The National Organization for Women launched a legal defense fund and hired feminist lawyer Jo-Anne Wolfson. Meanwhile, the Abortion Seven watched closely as Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Jane Roe’s case, inched closer to a Supreme Court victory. Six months later, on Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion with the decision of Roe v. Wade, causing the state of Illinois to drop all charges against the Abortion Seven.
Now, 45 years since Roe v. Wade, over 1,200 restrictive state laws have made accessing abortion more painful, challenging or impossible for working-class and marginalized women. The states of Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, Missouri and Kentucky have just one abortion clinic, and those solitary clinics are under further attack due to Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws. Technological advances have made it so that most abortions are simple procedures that involve pills. Banning abortions will push working-class women back into the shadows to access reproductive health care.
Blocking access will not make abortions disappear. Criminalizing women who get abortions will not make abortions disappear. Targeting clinics and doctors who provide abortion services will not make abortions disappear. Abortion access is a health care issue and an economic issue as most women who get abortions are poor and working-class. The women of Jane understood that abortion services are vital to women’s health and their actions serve as a courageous example of solidarity in the face of right-wing repression.
December 14, 2019 2:57 pm
A Chilean feminist anthem against rape and the systematic oppression of women has gone viral worldwide. ‘Un Violador en Tu Camino’ – ‘A Rapist on Your Path’ – has been performed in Mexico, Colombia, France, Spain, the UK−to name a few.
The protest song was first performed for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 20 in Valparaíso, Chile. A large flash mob of women with black cloth covering their eyes chanted the lyrical protest while performing the song’s accompanying choreography. A Chilean feminist art collective called LaTesis, compried of feminist artists Daffne Valdés, Sibila Sotomayor, Paula Cometa, and Lea Cáceres, wrote the popular song.
The lyrics describe how the capitalist political structure comprised of the police, the justice system and the powerful elite uphold the systematic oppression of women:
“The patriarchy is a judge
Who judges us by birth?
And our punishment
Is the violence you do not see. (x2)
It is femicide.
Impunity for my killer.
It is disappearance.
It is rape.
And the fault was not mine, not where I was, nor what I wore. (x4)
The rapist was you.
The rapist is you.
It is the cops,
The oppressive state is a macho rapist. (x2)
‘Sleep well, innocent girl,
Do not worry about the bandit,
Your sweet and smiling sleep
Is taken care of by your loving Carabinero.’
The rapist is you. (x4)”
While the song was written before the wave of protests began in October, still it describes the police repression of protestors that has resulted in numerous allegations of rape, torture, and murder. Protestors performed the song as a creative action within the wave of mass demonstrations against Chile’s neoliberal policies going into their second month.
The song and performance speaks directly to the Chilean experience but has become a worldwide phenomenon because it speaks to the experience of women across the globe. The song not only captures the political moment in Chile, but speaks to women fighting for justice worldwide.
Renditions of the song have taken place in various settings across the globe: public spaces, town squares and in front of municipal buildings. The song has been performed in many places worldwide, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Spain, Germany, France, Mexico and Istanbul.
According to the United Nations report, a third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence, and half of women murdered were killed by their partners or a family member. An overwhelming 70 percent of women in the U.S. experience sexual harassment. The statistics rank rape among some of the most pervasive human rights crises in the world, yet it is one of the least reported.
Sexual assault is under-reported because it is often unpunished but also because the police themselves, to whom the reports are made, use sexual assault as a tool of repression. According to LaTesis’ Sibila Sotomayor during an interview : “In general, only 8 percent of rape cases in Chile end with some type of condemnation, so clearly there is something systemically at the level of public policies that is not working.” In the United States, only 4 out of 10 rapes are reported.
The viral song and performance refer to the Chilean police (carabineros) and satirizes the Chilean police slogan “A friend on your path.” According to a report by the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) on Nov. 30, there have been approximately 508 complaints filed against the Chilean police since the protests began.
The Chilean militarized police have left at least 23 dead, 2,300 injured and 7,000 detained Women participating in the protests have brought numerous cases and allegations of Chilean police sexually assaulting them. Currently, there are 74 allegations of rape as well as reports that police forced women to undress and sexually abused them.
The global epidemic of sexual violence perpetuated against women is a remnant of women’s historic status as property that derives from the emergence of class society. The ongoing fight for the equality of women and the eradication of misogynistic violence is an international one. Women across the globe are mobilizing to demand the end oppression and inequality. As the popularity of ‘Un Violador en Tu Camino’ demonstrates, we can create a formidable movement for revolution and liberation when we join together in large numbers!
The right wing campaign to overturn Roe v Wade has reached a critical moment. Having successfully restricted access to abortion, reactionary forces are preparing legal challenges to Roe V Wade itself, banking on a rightward turn in the courts. The history of the struggle for reproductive rights, and for reproductive justice in this country is rich and instructive for the current period. Breaking the Chains Vol 4 No. 2, entitled “Not a Moral Issue,” articulates a Marxist understanding of reproductive rights and a socialist feminist perspective toward building the movement needed to defend Roe v Wade and expand the struggle for women’s liberation.
This issue includes:
The right wing campaign against reproductive rights
Racism and Reproductive Rights
Reproductive rights under socialism
A Marxist analysis of women’s oppression and reproductive rights
An interview with YellowHammer Fund exec dir. Amanda Reyes