The echoes of history
Two new films remind viewers of America before Roe v Wade
A documentary and a fictional feature film recount the efforts of an underground feminist network that helped women obtain safe abortions.
The jane collective was bold. Not only did the organization illegally provide women with abortions in Chicago in the 1960s and early 1970s, but it advertised its services, too. It placed flyers at bus stops and paid for spots in local newspapers. “Pregnant? Need help?” such missives read. “Call Jane”
Two films recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, are about to tell the story of the network. Documentary Janes (pictured above) uses archive footage and interviews to reconstruct the history of the group. Many women were previously involved in anti-war and civil rights movements. According to one former member, a campaign in which their voices were drowned out by a young man quoting Karl Marx. They were looking for a cause and a way to do something.
Her efforts began with a kind of helpline, the Female Liberation Abortion Advice Service. This service introduced women to the understanding of doctors. When the group discovered that Surgeon Goto was not a surgeon, but a pedestrian with a connection to the mob, the women began to have an abortion on their own. (They hadn’t received formal medical training. They learned how to perform the procedure from a miscarriage.) The members were called Jane as another name for the group because it was illegal for them to do. I used the name.
The second movie “Call Jane” (pictured below) is a fictional expression inspired by a real group. Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is a wealthy housewife with congestive heart failure. She found the group after the hospital rejected her request to end her pregnancy, but continuing can have serious consequences. After her pregnancy, the women serve Joy Spaghetti, rest her, and then return to her husband Will (Chris Messina) and her teenage daughter’s house. This scene is in stark contrast to the underground clinic on the West Side of Chicago, where Joy fled before finding Janes.
This contrast is one of the repeating themes of both films. Calling Jane, Janes says that the abortion services performed by and for women are inevitably more friendly and secure than the alternatives considered by Joy and many others at the time. Insist. “Maybe if women help, they won’t be so nervous, do you know?” Meditates on male miscarriages at Cole Jane.
Elizabeth Banks and Unmimosak will appear in Philisnagy’s Call Jane, an official selection from the premier section of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of the Sundance Institute | Photo by Wilson Webb. All photos are copyrighted and can only be used by the press for news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be credited in courtesy of the photographer and/or the Sundance Institute. The unauthorized use, modification, duplication, or sale of logos and photographs is strictly prohibited. Despite the similarities in theme, there are some interesting differences between the two films. Chicago itself is a documentary character that begins with footage of a protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Many of Janes admitted that the violent response of police to these protests was exacerbated, and women enjoyed activities around the town. “That was the beauty of Chicago,” says one Jane. “It was a town where people did stuff.”
“Call Jane”, on the other hand, treats Chicago merely as the backdrop for its plot. The opening scene shows Joy and Will at a posh party; as they leave, protesters are being beaten by police. The film makes other allusions to the political climate in the city at that time: Joy admits to forgetting to vote in the presidential election of 1972, and a black member of the Janes chastises the mostly white group for not helping more African American women who can’t afford the usual fee. But these scenes are brief and seem to nod to the other issues roiling Chicago and America rather than engaging with them meaningfully. The films are clear, however, in their criticisms of America’s medical system and its poor treatment of women. The male hospital board that denied Joy an abortion displays more concern for the baby’s health than hers. Jody, one of the leaders of the real-life Janes, tells interviewers that her motivation was taking back power from male doctors. Similar criticisms could be leveled at America’s healthcare system today. Maternal mortality rates are declining around the world, yet they are increasing in America. Black women die from pregnancy-related complications at more than three times the rate white women do. A recent study published in JAMA, a medical journal, found that women treated by female surgeons had better outcomes than those treated by men.
The timing of these films is apt, too. Americas Supreme Court is considering Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, a case involving a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. The conservative court may take the chance to abandon the precedent set in Roe v Wade, a landmark ruling that established a legal right to abortion in 1973. Emma Pildes, co-director of the documentary, suggested that “The Janes” warns viewers what the country could look like again if abortion rights are restricted. Some parallels between the preRoe days and modern times already exist. In the early 1970s women of means flocked to New York, where abortion was legal. Today, women in conservative Texas travel to liberal Colorado.
The Janes provided 11,000 safe abortions between 1968 and 1973; not a single woman died in their care. “Cole Jane” hints at these thousands of patients at the end of the movie. The group gathered to toast Roe, plan her next, and burn flashcards that reveal details of the women they have helped over the years. But before the cards burn, each one is read aloud. Kate, 30 or 8 weeks. Sally Ann, 25, 3 weeks. Harlize, 19, 9 weeks.
The echoes of history