We, Jane is the debut novel from Aimee Wall, a writer and translator from Newfoundland who now lives in Montreal. In the novel she tells the story of a young woman who, inspired by "the Jane Collective" that helped women find abortion access in 1960s' Chicago, returns to rural Newfoundland with the intention of being part of a similar movement.
Aimee Wall spoke to us about abortion activism, the narrative challenges of writing abortion, how being a translator influences her writing, and more!
49th Shelf: A part of We, Jane that fascinated me, and which I could relate to so personally, was Marthe’s yearning to be part of a larger story, in particular in regard to her own abortion and the story of abortion in general. “She went looking for a fleet,” you write. Can you talk more about that impulse?
Aimee Wall: Something I was struck by when I was first reading about the Jane collective in Chicago was that some of the women in the group joined after having an abortion through the service. A lot of them weren’t coming from any kind of activist background, they were ordinary women who were kind of radicalized by this experience, and empowered in a new way, and it’s like they wanted to turn that feeli …
The Abortion Caravan, intent on bearding prime minister Pierre Trudeau in his den and removing abortion from the Criminal Code, set off for Vancouver on April 27, 1970. There were 17 women crammed into three vehicles—a great big Pontiac Parisienne convertible, a pickup truck and a Volkswagen van. On top of the van was a big black home made coffin.
Learn more in this excerpt from Karin Wells' celebrated new book The Abortion Caravan: When Women Shut Down Government in the Battle for the Right to Choose, out now.
That coffin was featured in every newspaper story as they went across the country. It became the symbol of the Caravan and epitomized their primary argument: as long as clean, safe, medically supervised, legal abortions were unavailable—or after the 1969 reforms, barely available—women had to resort to backstreet abortionists. That meant unsanitary conditions and abortionists who hardly knew what they were doing and were not going to stick around to make sure that things turned out well. It meant risk and too many deaths.
Women who could not find or could not afford any sort of abortion provider were aborting themselves. They were flushing themselves out with Lysol or Drano, inserting knitting needles or wire coat hangers into their bodies, drinki …