In the spring of 1972, seven members of the Jane Collective, an underground organization in Chicago, were arrested for providing illegal abortions to women in need. The collective was founded by Hannah Booth in 1965, when a friend in need of the procedure almost wanted to commit suicide. “Pregnant? Don’t want to? Call Jane,” reads ads posted in underground newspapers, offering counseling services primarily to low-income women and women of color. Janes will introduce After the organization was discovered by Chicago police, seven-member Jane’s attorneys successfully delayed her proceedings. the case until January 1973 Roe sues Wade decided to repeal federal and state abortion bans in the United States.
Debuting Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes Oscar Shortlisted Documentary the Janes also in line with the major abortion verdict: Just weeks after it premiered on June 8 on HBO, the Supreme Court issued a decision for Dobbs Women’s Health Organization v. Jackson, returned the right to ban abortion to the state level. While they didn’t expect this particular decision to happen soon after their movie came out, the directors say that fear is always on their minds. Pildes said of anti-abortion efforts in the United States: “The dominoes are falling. “We have to wake up the majority — and it is the majority of this country that believes in women’s right to choose.” The couple talked to CHEAP about Janes’ enduring legacy and what others can learn from their collective work.
How did the two of you connect on this project, and what did you know about Jane Collective before you started making this film?
RADIATION They’ve been feminist lore and myth for a while, but overall, most people have never heard of Janes. Emma approached me because she had a family connection to the story – she grew up knowing about Janes. We collaborated in the fall of 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh was being confirmed by the US Senate and apparently fish eggs not long for this world. Soon after, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. afterward [the Supreme Court] take over Dobbs case. Things get scarier and scarier. I mean, 2021 is a landmark year for anti-abortion laws across the US, and that’s even before Dobbs decided to go down. But aside from it being an important story to tell in this moment, it’s also a great drama. It has everything you want [in a film]: these ordinary women, who are incapable of outlawing, do something beyond their means because they feel so obligated [to help other women].
EMMA PILDES My father is the radical lawyer in the movie, and [his first wife was Jane member] Judith Arcana. Daniel Arcana, one of the producers of the film, is also my brother. He saw that we had access to these people and could give them a platform to testify. Taking advantage of those family ties is almost a responsibility. As Tia was saying, the dominoes were falling. This is health care, basic health care that we’ve had access to for 50 years, and it’s like the law says. We have to wake up the majority — and the majority of the people in this country believe in women’s right to choose.
How willing are some of these women to share their stories? As you say, they are the heroes of the story, but they also break the law.
LESSON Many of them haven’t even talked about it in 50 years; some of them did not tell their family members. It’s secret, because it’s not only a felony to provide abortion services, but it’s simply [help] someone to have an abortion. When the women were arrested, they were facing 110 years in prison each. But abortion is also stigmatized. People don’t talk about it. Put them in front of the camera to talk about this really intimate and personal decision, in some cases, many of them made on their own — it took a bit of courage. We were really determined to tell the story through their life experiences and through their words. We do not rely on academics or scholars. And it was a hit to get Ted O’Connor [the Chicago policeman who investigated the Janes] or Mike [who performed many abortions for the Janes] on camera to really hear their different perspectives.
Are you surprised to hear from the men in Janes’ life who have helped their cause or simply got out of their way so they can do what they need to do?
PILDES We are deeply moved and excited by how the men fit into this story. One of the reasons we wanted to make the film was to tell the history of women, right? We start by saying that no one really knows about [the Janes], but that’s because it’s not the journey of a male hero. Those are the stories that are told, aren’t they? These women did something truly unique, profound, and historically important to save lives. We spent a lot of time showing the movements they made and that they were relegated to a helping role. Although these movements are important movements – Black Panthers, student movements, anti-war movements – they all carry elements of chauvinism. And so the women were made to sit [back], but they listened. They learned, and they took that with them. And they can organize as effectively as they did with Jane, because they are intelligent, knowledgeable, wonderful, and caring people. To see the reverse of that, that this time the men were relegated to the supporting role… They also did important jobs. They collected money. They sit in the waiting room and hang out with their boyfriend or husband and help them calm down. [their] nerve.
LESSON They make coffee. As one of the women said early [in the film]Men are used to underestimating women and they take advantage of that. When the police arrived and broke down the door, their first question was, “Where are the doctors?” They can’t even imagine that women can be doctors. They just walked around confused. It doesn’t even enter their consciousness.
There’s plenty of humor in the film to balance out the other strong emotions that arise when these women evoke their memories of this time. How have you used that emotional range to your advantage as a storyteller?
LESSON We were really delighted by their playfulness. We, as filmmakers, feel it is essential to be able to laugh — and also to give our audience a break from some difficult moments, such as the contaminated abortion area. coincide. I mean, there were some very, very tense moments and we needed to make room for that. I don’t know if you watch the movie with an audience, but we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of laugh moments. It allows everyone to have a say. Look, abortion can be difficult, especially when it’s illegal; All barriers make it difficult for everyone, but it is not difficult. It could just be healthcare. It is not a difficult decision. In fact, Janes talked about the relief women will feel after they have the procedure; they don’t cry, because something weighing on them, worrying them, is over and they are ready to move on with their lives. There were some tough moments, for sure. But there are also some moments of fun and celebration. They take what they do very seriously, but they don’t always take it so seriously.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the idea of mutual support and activism has always been on the minds of many people. Given that – and Dobbs decided in June – what can Jane Collective’s legacy teach today’s activists?
PILDES These women belong to this generation [in which] don’t have as much faith in them as capable people. We’ve heard over and over that this job has shown them their self-worth, their own abilities. It gave them self-esteem. It shows them that they are capable of great things and is a reminder of personal power, that you have choices to save lives. Jane’s women learned so much from the experience that changed their lives and made them big, beautiful, and confident. We wanted to make this film not only to sound the alarm, but also to remind people that individual power, when it becomes part of collective action, can create movements and change. change the world.
LESSON The lack of access to safe abortions, then and still today, disproportionately affects low-income, colored and rural communities. Second wave feminism is not known for its revelations of race and class. Yet these women only do important work, and the work of leading the way. There is bound to be conflict; The ladies of service aren’t always friends, but they understand what their mission is. You don’t have to figure them all out to do the job – they certainly don’t. They want action.
I think we’re seeing that happening across the country. People are opening their wallets, they are opening their homes, they are driving cars to get people through [state] border. I heard there are private jet and boat services operating off the Gulf of Mexico. If they are skilled at performing abortions, they are doing it; If they have time to escort people to abortions, they are doing it. There’s just a whole menu of things that everyone knows. We didn’t make this movie to be a guidebook or a crystal ball, but it is a cautionary tale. And it hopes to draw people into the fight going on right now. And unfortunately, it will continue for many, many months and years to come.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the independent January issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.