Jody Howard, 1940-2010

15 02 2010

Jody Howard, one of the founding members of Jane, the underground abortion-and-women’s-health care network, died February 5th.

Howard was given the name ‘Jenny’ by Laura Kaplan in her history The Story of Jane, and her story opens the book:

The first voice Jenny heard as the anesthetic lifted was the surgeon’s, “The sterilization procedure was a success, and congratulations, you’re eight weeks pregnant.” That was the news Jenny dreaded most. “All I wanted to do was roll off the table, pull the IV out of my arm, and bleed to death right there,” she recalls. Jenny was twenty-six, the mother of a two-year-old and a three-year-old and had been suffering from lymphatic cancer (diagnosed while pregnant with the younger daughter–ab), Hodgkin’s disease, for the past two years. Her health had deteriorated to such an extent during her previous pregnancy that she had every reason to believe another one would kill her.

Kaplan noted that when Jenny asked a doctor to perform a tubal ligation after her second daughter was born, he refused: ‘He could not endorse elective tubal ligation for a woman as young as she.’ Only after months of trouble with birth control pills did he agree finally to sterilize her.

She then sought to end her pregnancy, which required the permission of the hospital board. Even though her oncologist, radiologist, and gynecologist supported her decision, the board denied the request, as ‘her life was in no imminent danger. It was only after she convinced two psychiatrists she would commit suicide if she didn’t get the abortion that the board relented and agreed to it.

‘She came out of the hospital after her abortion infuriated.’

The key to Howard was not just the fury, however, but the context for that fury—that others, in this case, all men—had a quite literal control over her life. And not just her life, but, by extension, over the life of every pregnant woman.

It took Howard a while to make that connection, that women could never be free as long as someone else controlled their bodies and their lives, but once she did, she gave herself over to Jane.

She fought the good fight, for us all.

Rest in peace, Jenny.

(h/t: Feministing)