Looking for Jane is a work of historical fiction illuminating the underground abortion network which assisted women in many Canadian jurisdictions prior to the legalization of abortion in 1988. Building on a solid foundation of research, author Heather Marshall animates the struggle for women’s reproductive rights, particularly in Toronto where the clandestine abortion network was known only by its whispered code name, Jane.
While the novel brings to life the illegal organizations that worked for abortion, Heather Marshall also depicts the system of maternity homes or homes for unwed mothers, funded by the Canadian government and run by various church groups in the post-World War II period. These institutions forced adoption on vulnerable young women, thereby separating innocent mothers from their children. According to Statistics Canada, between 1945 and 1971, almost 600,000 babies were born to unmarried mothers. Their births were recorded as “illegitimate.” It is estimated that over 300,000 mothers in Canada were forced or coerced into surrendering their babies for adoption under the maternity home system. In addition to losing their children permanently, women in homes for unwed mothers suffered physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Girls were forced to sign adoption papers before they were allowed to hold their babies after birth and were often told that their babies had died. The forced adoptions had an enormous impact on the health of these young women for decades to come, including crippling depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, inability to form meaningful relationships, fear of having future children taken away from them, and suicide attempts.
The ongoing search to find a lost child is a thematic thread running through Looking for Jane. Heather Marshall has used her novel to give these previously invisible women a story and to honor their outstanding contribution to women’s history and the struggle for human rights.
Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall (Simon & Schuster, 2022)
Gail Benick is a Toronto author and educator. Her career as a professor on the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, spanned more than three decades. Her debut novella, The Girl Who Was Born That Way, was published in 2015. Gail’s new novel, Memory’s Shadow, was published by Inanna in spring 2021. www.gailbenick.com