The signs around Chicago read, "Pregnant? Don't want to be? Call Jane,” along with a phone number to reach a member of the Jane Collective, an underground abortion service in the late ’60s and early ‘70s. All You Have to Do Is Call, a new novel by Kerri Maher (The Paris Bookseller) is a fictionalized account of the real-life group.
It’s 1969 and two women, Siobhan and Veronica, are blindfolded and driven to an office building where Siobhan will have an abortion. Afterward, the women find themselves fielding calls from friends and acquaintances about how to procure the same service. Eventually they decide to nix the middleman and form their own network—loosely based on the Jane Collective—that offers safe but still illegal abortions.
What follows is a portrait of the women from all walks of life who are, for one reason or another, enlisting the group’s services, and a profile of the brave women at the helm of the organization who risk their lives and livelihoods to provide healthcare to friends and complete strangers.
The novel is narrated by three women: Veronica, a free-spirited wife and mother dedicated to making safe abortions more accessible; her lifelong friend Patty, a more conservative wife and mother wrestling with her views on abortion throughout—who doesn’t know Veronica’s involvement in the group; and Margaret, a young college professor who’s new to Chicago and who eventually starts working with the organization. (She’s also, at one point, advised by a doctor to wear a fake wedding ring to the pharmacy to pick up a birth control prescription.)
Though the number of characters can be confusing at times, it’s necessary to understand how abortion—legal or illegal—really impacts every single member of a society. Some of the women in the book are single, with no intention of ever having children, while others are already mothers who understand and are willing to fight for the need for safe and readily accessible healthcare.
Though often a tough read (with a big trigger warning for in-depth descriptions of abortions), All You Have to Do Is Call ultimately succeeds at shining a spotlight on the women who fought for the right to choose. Published a little over a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, it’s a poignant and timely look at the highs and lows on the path to bodily autonomy.