The Jane Collective and Abortion Headline Sundance Film Festival

Call Jane and The Janes takes a deep dive into the Chicago-based Jane Collective, a group of women that performed safe illegal abortions.

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America is at a critical time as Roe v. Wade continues to argue abortion rights and states attempt to create abortion laws similar to Texas. Call Jane and The Janes brings more awareness to The Jane Collective (Jane), a group of women that helped women get safe abortions. Both films premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this January.

When you get to the root of the problem with abortion laws, you realize that women aren’t going to stop getting abortions. It’s a matter of whether it’s going to be in a sketchy motel with someone that isn’t qualified, or worse, by doing something themselves that causes them severe harm.

“This film is coming out at the perfect time,” says Heather Booth.  “The key lesson, that when we organize and come together we can change the world, but we need to take action to organize. We need your involvement. We need to change this world.”

Elizabeth Bank as Joy in Call Jane

The Chicago Mafia ran the abortion ring before Jane started helping out. An organization run by and dictated by men. Jane brought an aspect of comfort to women that were desperate and scared. In a time that women had to be married to get a diagram or birth control pills.

Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver in Call Jane
Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver in Call Jane

Call Jane stars Elizabeth Banks as Joy. The characters’ names have all been changed, but after watching The Janes, it’s not hard to delineate which characters match their real-life counterparts. The dramatization also stars Sigourney Weaver, Wunmi Mosaku, and Chris Messina. Hospitals only granted abortions to women in extreme circumstances. Call Jane reflects this through a life-threatening illness that was killing Joy. That’s when Joy found Jane. Director Phyllis Nagy and screenwHayley Schore and Roshan Sethi took a more Hollywood spin on this story and included a best friend and husband’s betrayal that degraded the film a bit when they could have focused on the arrest of some of the Jane members and how they started eating index cards to protect the identities of the women they had helped as a climatic shift. 

A still from The Janes by Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The Janes is a documentary that digs deep into triggering footage of women in the hospital septic abortion ward that was full every day. It talks about the multiple aspects of activism for equality during the late 60s and early 70s. Many members of The Collective came together to talk about this time in their lives, but many of them still choose to be anonymous or only share their first names.

The aspect that makes The Jane Collective stand out is that when they discovered the man the had done the abortions wasn’t a medical doctor, they took matters into their own hands and learned how to do the procedures themselves. Judith Arcana, a Jane member, said, “If he can do it, we can do it!”

Elizabeth Banks and Wunmi Mosaku in Call Jane
Elizabeth Banks and Wunmi Mosaku in Call Jane

Marie Learner, one of the very few women of color that was a member of Jane, helped advocate for the women of color that couldn’t afford the procedure. In Call Jane, she is portrayed by the wonderful Wunmi Mosaku. They were so organized that they were able to stay afloat by charging those that could afford it, like middle-class white women, to offset the costs for the women of color.

Despite abortions being illegal, Jane advertised in small newspapers and covered neighborhoods with flyers that said things like ‘Pregnant? Scared and need options, call Jane.’ They hooked up an answering machine to screen all the calls that came to learn about who the woman was, their situation, the amount of money she had to pay, and how far along she was in her pregnancy. They wrote the information down on index cards and then handed them out to members of the collective that came from all walks of life, including the church.

The police were very much aware of the abortion activity happening in the city, but they also knew people that needed the services from time to time, and as long as people were not dying, they left Jane alone. It wasn’t until a devout Catholic asked the police to intervene in their sister’s abortion because she thought it was wrong. Their hands were tied, and they had to step in. Police arrested seven members of Jane. They had to beg Jo-Anne Wolfson to take their case, and she managed to stall the court proceedings until Roe v. Wade was decided.

The Jane Collective helped perform around 11,000 safe abortions with no one dying. There was one exception that a woman came to them after visiting another abortion location where they didn’t perform the procedure properly. She was later taken to the septic abortion ward and died. After abortion was made legal in the US, the septic abortion wards were closed in the hospitals because they were no longer needed. Women were no longer dying from botched procedures.

The Janes reiterates that the movement is about taking back personal power. In life and over one’s body. An important thing to remember as we see many states try to roll back these rights. We need to be moving forward, not stepping back in time. Call Jane and The Janes is a great stepping stone for people to see why it’s so important.

“I’m glad we could help them, but they shouldn’t have had to go through it,” says Diane Stevens.

 

 

 

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Meghan Cooper is a writer, content creator, movie critic, and geek living in Atlanta, Ga. She loves movies, traveling, and lots of coffee. Member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association, Georgia Film Critics Association, and Atlanta Film Critics Circle.

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