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As a teenager, Dr. Evelyn Taylor was forced to give her baby up for adoption. Determined to make sure other women have the right to choose, she joins the Jane Network.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approx. seventy-three million abortions take place worldwide every year. This translates to about thirty-nine abortions per one thousand women globally, a rate that has stayed roughly the same since 1990.
When the U.S Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade,  judgement in June 2022, it caused an uproar not just in the United States of America but across the world. Men had once again decided they know what’s best for women without having spent as much as half a moment living in their shoes.
There were infinite stories of women sitting in clinics across America, waiting to get an abortion, being turned back as soon as the decision was announced. Their lives came to a complete standstill in the span of a few seconds, not to mention the outbreak of a public health emergency with women forced to bring unwanted pregnancies to term.
The US is one of only four countries (the others being Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador) to restrict abortion since 1994. According to the Centre for Reproductive Rights, one in four women in America make the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Taking away this constitutionally guaranteed liberty will further set America apart from peer countries as life expectancy falls. It could also damage efforts to advocate for the rights of women and girls globally.
In India, Abortion has been legal under various circumstances under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971. With the MTP Amendment Act of 2021, the gestation period upper limit for termination of pregnancy with 2 doctors’ opinion has been extended to 24 weeks and now includes unmarried women, survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest, minors, women whose marital status changed during pregnancy (widowhood and divorce), women with physical disabilities, and mentally ill women, among others.
Abortion Laws across the World
Even across the border from USA, in Canada, there are no criminal laws regulating abortion. A 1988 ruling by the Supreme Court in R v. Morgentaler held that the abortion provision in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional because it violated women’s rights. This decision still stands today.
Amidst the discussion on abortion laws in the US and around the world, I came across a novel about the evolution of abortion rights in the 1960s and 70s. Set in Canada, it is inspired from historical events surrounding The Jane Collective.
The Jane Collective was an underground network started in Chicago, USA, in the late 1960s, to help women get safe abortions, even though illegal. It worked by word of mouth where women left their name and number on an answering service and were then contacted by a member of the Collective.
Looking for Jane by Heather Marshalltraces a fictionalised account of the events leading up to R v. Morgentaler .
In 2017 when Angela discovers a mysterious letter containing a life-shattering confession, she begins to look for the intended recipient. Her search takes her to the 1970s and 80s, when a group of daring women operated an illegal underground abortion network known only by its whispered code name: Jane.
As a teenager, Dr. Evelyn Taylor was forced to give her baby up for adoption. Determined to make sure other women have the right to choose, she joins the Jane Network. There, she crosses paths with Nancy, who becomes a volunteer.
Over the years, Evelyn, Nancy, and Angela’s lives intertwine to reveal the devastating consequences that come from a lack of choice, and the buried secrets that will always find a way to the surface and threaten everything one knows to be true.
Heather Marshall’s phenomenal debut explores the events that lead to changes in law through a tale of three women connected across several decades. However, this story is not about abortion or adoption but about a mother’s love and a women’s right to choose.
In tracking the long-lost letter, the story travels back and forth through time. Marshall builds a crackling mystery as the events of the three women’s lives intersect. The risks they take feels as if your heart is permanently lodged in your throat. The challenges they overcome is a powerful and inspiring depiction of their courage and bravery.
It is evident in the overlapping of facts with fiction that the author has put in an enormous amount of research behind this book. Her strong, well-defined characters and the emotionally charged plotline keeps you engaged from the first word to the last.
“When you’re young, you get to look at time through the reduction end of the telescope. The wrong end, the generous end that makes everything appear so far away, that gives the impression that there are light-years of space between you and those magically distant objects. And then, without warning, time turns it around on you, and suddenly you’re looking through the correct end, the end you were always supposed to be looking through, if you were paying attention. The end where everything is magnified and perilously close. The end that zooms in without mercy and forces you to see the detail you should have been focusing on all along.” ~ Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall
This is an invaluable piece of writing, extremely relative to the times we live in when decades of hard work for women’s rights is being erased before our eyes. A riveting story that merges history with the present, this is a book that needs to be read by women of every generation.
Also recommended: a 2019 film made about the Jane Collective, called Ask for Jane.
If you’d like to pick up Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Image source: a still from the film Ask for Jane and book cover Amazon
Ashima has been in love with the written word for as long as she can remember. She is a compulsive reader and occasionally reviews books as well. She finds writing in any form to be read more...
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I recommend reading Manjiri Indurkar's Origami Aai alongside her memoir to have a fulfilling and enriching experience of telling one's story with grace.
It’s All In Your Head, M famed author Manjiri Indurkar’s debut poetry collection, Origami Aai, is independent and yet an extension of her memoir in which she speaks with utmost grace about all forms of abuses that she has survived. In this book of intriguing and evocative poems, the poet weaves words to form images of the everyday life of her middle-class family, love found and lost, trauma, and healing.
The collection is divided into four segments, beginning with the family, slowly moving towards the world, and finally colliding them together.
We aren’t in mourning, but we are creatures of habit.
So we talk of each one who died of drowning,
and I listen to her stories with the patience
of a chronicler.
– Funereal Stories
When someone accuses you of "too much feminism", what they are really saying is, "I am uncomfortable with you challenging the status quo and disrupting my privilege".
Time and again, there is one phrase that keeps coming up in the social media discourse on feminism. Any guesses?
Ah, no prizes for guessing the infamous “itni bhi feminist” or “too much feminism” phrase, a classic eye-roller for me, and I am sure for many more of my tribe, in the realm of gender equality discussions.
Pray tell me, how can an ideology, a movement be too ‘much’? It’s not salt or the seasoning of your soup where you can go, “Oops, too much salt, only one spoon was required”. Either you stand for what feminism stands for, or you don’t.
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