Seattle Opera Pagliacci

Judith Arcana: This is Jane

Stage and Studio: Dmae Lo Roberts has a timely pro-choice conversation with Portland writer Judith Arcana, a veteran of the pre-Roe v. Wade fight for abortion rights.


Judith Arcana in her home in Portland, Oregon, Tuesday, January 18, 2022.

On June 24, 2022, the majority-conservative U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. After 50 years as precedent, it was dismantled as a constitutional right for a woman to make decisions about her own body and health care, at least in states with bans on abortion

Women who remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade, and many activists have warned us this could happen. One of those women is Portland writer Judith Arcana, who is a member of Jane, a Chicago underground service that helped women get safe illegal abortions before the supreme court ruling in 1973. The year prior Arcana was one of seven women arrested from the Janes. Arcana’s arrest and the history of Jane were detailed in a new documentary on HBO, The Janes. 

Arcana is a writer of poetry, stories, essays and books. Her new poetry collection What if your mother came out recently. It’s a poetry cousin to her fiction collection Hello. This is Jane, which came out last year. Arcana is the featured reader at Rose City Book Pub on August 5 at 7p.m. She’ll be reading abortion-themed poetry, and there will also be an open mic set.

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Hear past shows on Stage & Studio website. Music by Clark Salisbury.

In this podcast, Arcana read two poems and we’ll hear…

Her reaction to Roe v. Wade being overturned: “Even though we were expecting it, and (we) were expecting it soon this year, it was still a gut punch to have it actually happen.”

Her time in Janes performing illegal safe abortions, and what we can expect now: “We knew that we were illegal. We knew that we could go to jail and as you’ve already noted, we were in fact busted once, but the point that I wanna make is that the atmosphere, the emotional scene in this country now is far more negative about women, about pregnancy, about contraception, about abortion, about childbirth.”

Her passion for dedicating her writing  pro-choice themes: “It is a passion and also I think…it was a need. I felt a kind of responsibility because I had this experience.”


All Classical Radio James Depreist

She’s also featured in The Janes, a  new independent documentary on HBO. See the trailer.

More about her writing: Judith Arcana is a writer of poems, stories, essays and books.  Praised by writers and readers, reviewers and community leaders, Judith’s work appears in collections and journals, online and on paper.

Arcana is a member of Jane, the Chicago underground service before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade in January of 1973.  She’s a skilled performer/presenter who has worked with audiences in the U.S., Britain and Canada, often visiting campus and community groups to talk about reproductive justice and perform her powerful writing. Judith is in some documentary films, including the 1995 Jane: An Abortion Service (dir. Kate Kirtz/Nell Lundy), the 2014 She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (dir. Mary Dore), the 2019 OUR BODIES OUR DOCTORS (dir. Jan Haaken), and 2022’s The Janes, created by the producer/director team Daniel Arcana, Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin.

A longtime teacher of literature, writing and women’s studies, Judith has a PhD in Literature, an MA in Women’s Studies, an Urban Preceptorship in Preventive Medicine and a BA in English. She’s taught in high schools, colleges, libraries, living rooms, a state prison and a county jail.

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Backstory: In March of 1970, Judith Arcana was fired from her tenured teaching job, accused of unorthodox methods and attitudes. In October, she joined the Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, becoming a Jane. She responded to phone messages from women and girls seeking abortions, counseled them, was a driver for the group, assisted with abortions, and learned to do medical procedures. In 1972, she was one of seven Janes arrested by Chicago police.

Judith’s experiences were part of a great wave: Teachers were being fired all over the USA, accused of disrespect for tradition and law.  Women were openly struggling against misogyny.  Learning from the Civil Rights Movement, many Americans took street-level action to protest bad law, bad policy, and a notoriously bad war.

Further into the 1970s, Judith studied community medicine, taught women’s studies, and led writing workshops.  Much of her writing has grown from her work as a teacher and a Jane.  From her literary biography of activist/writer Grace Paley to her stories, essays and poems about abortion, immigration, and aging, Judith’s work is sparked by social justice movements.


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Photo Joe Cantrell

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on, which continues at ArtsWatch.


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