How the Janes formed a clandestine network to deliver abortions in the late 1960s

“I had no other options. I wanted it to end and I didn’t care how it was done, “says one woman, in the opening moments of the new HBO documentary, The Jane. He is describing his abortion experience in the pre-roe deer it was: a seedy motel room, a mob deal – and lying bleeding on a bed, with another woman on the bed beside her, until they were both strong enough to stand up and go home. “I was terrified,” she says.

This was the world the Janes joined in Chicago. The clandestine women’s network, inspired by the civil rights movement and other social justice reform groups, organized itself in the late 1960s and early 1970s to provide abortions to women who needed them.

Providing abortion services during that time was a political act. He was also a criminal. The Janees posted cryptic flyers and announcements in the newspapers: “Pregnant? Call Jane. “Their reputation has grown through word of mouth. One of the Jane’s allowed her personal phone number to act as a hotline, and the women who called the number received supportive advice from a group of volunteers. caller decided to go ahead, one of the Jane would pick her up and take her to the home of a supporter who offered their home as a clinic for the day. The Janees accepted payment to keep their network running, but they did not reject women who could not afford their care.

The Janes estimate they performed about 11,000 abortions before roe deer decision brought to an end of their activities, and not without significant risks. “I was always afraid,” said one of the Jane, “but I was a warrior for justice.” In 1972, Chicago police raided the Janes and arrested many of their members, who faced charges that led to up to 110 years in prison. Anus roe deer it was decided the following year, the Janes saw their charges dropped.

Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin’s documentary about the group, The Janeairs on June 8. Vox spoke to the filmmakers about what they learned from the Jane’s and their relevance to the present moment.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What prompted you to tell the Jane story?

Emma: I have a family connection with the Jane. Daniel Arcana, one of the producers of the film, who happens to be my brother, started developing this idea after Trump walked into the office and started packing. He felt that now was the time. Things have gotten scary and terrible very quickly over the past couple of years, and it seemed like it was time to give these women a platform, to witness what this country looks like when women don’t have the right to make these decisions themselves. .

How did they feel coming forward to tell their story?

Tia: I think they understood the importance of this moment. This was a first ever for many of them, recording and using their names and talking about their time in the Janes. They led very busy lives and many of them had been reserved about it: this was an illegal activity. They hadn’t told family members, in some cases, but they had seen the writing on the wall and wanted to be of service.

Emma: It was the same part of them that felt responsible in the 60s and 70s that led them to be willing to put everything on the line to help other people. Not everyone wants to get involved and talk about the illegal and controversial activities they carried out 50 years ago. But they, I believe, knew how powerful that testimony was and how it could be useful now both in passing the baton and in supporting women in need of support – and in conveying the message of how terrible the picture is when abortion is criminalized. .

What did you learn from the Janes about the organization of this clandestine health network that surprised you the most?

Tia: I was surprised by the involvement of the Clergy Advisory Service on Abortion. These were men and women of the cloth who were morally opposed to denying reproductive rights to women, and they did something about it. They have facilitated women’s access to abortion care both in Chicago and abroad. This is a story that hasn’t really been told. It was amazing.

Emma: Another thing that really impressed me and Tia was the septic abortion wards. We focused on one at Cook County Hospital because our story focuses on Chicago, but they were all across the country. It was a 40-bed ward and was almost 100 percent full as we were told. The doctor we spoke to, Dr. Alan Weiland, he described being in that ward as a young medical student, and the eerie quiet of that ward because the women were so seriously ill. They would have come because of failed abortions in the alleys or self-inflicted abortions. She said he called the morgue once a week when someone died. Within a year of roe deer passing, it was closed. It became obsolete because it was something we created by criminalizing abortion. It is a very difficult thing to know and to sit with, as we look at everything that is happening now.

What was the involvement of organized crime in the clandestine abortion movement at the time?

Tia: The Chicago dress it was quite large and they were involved in all kinds of nefarious activities in Chicago. Any illegal act they could profit from, they would. When abortion was criminalized in Chicago, that became another profit center for the mafia. We know anecdotally about the involvement of the mafia, but very little has also been written about it and it was a surprise for me and Emma to learn about it. When abortion is criminalized, it does not mean that women stop seeking treatment for abortion. It simply eliminates their access to safe abortion care. The crowd filled in these gaps.

I’m curious how the Janees reacted to the leaked draft opinion Dobbs v. Jackson.

Emma: They’re pissed. They are pissed but they are not hopeless, because that is not who I am. They believe in the organization and have already taken matters into their own hands. It’s hard to watch for those who care about fair health care and the protection of women’s bodily autonomy. I don’t want and don’t want to put the words in the mouth of the Janees, but they have expressed that after all they have put into play and what they have done to feel the relief of having him behind, and therefore still being alive to see that all this is lifted – it’s probably irritating to them to a degree we may never understand.

The decision that will probably come this summer Dobbs v. Jackson will not have come out of nowhere. It is the product of a long campaign by anti-abortion activists to overturn roe deer. What can today’s activists learn from the Janes?

Tia: Laws in some places will now be, and are, even tougher than the laws that existed 50 years ago. There was no one authorizing vigilantes to prosecute abortion care providers and the people they served then, and no prosecution of women for crossing state borders for abortion care. In some ways, the circumstances will be a little more dire.

To your question, the power of collective action is quite resounding: as a group, they could accomplish things that alone they couldn’t. They weren’t fearless, but they didn’t let fears control them or stop them from organizing. They were aware of the consequences they could face and they were fully aware that they could spend a lifetime in prison. They went ahead and did the right thing. There are so many ways people can get involved to help now: if they have the resources they can open their wallets, if they have a free bedroom they can open their homes to people who travel to have an abortion. We saw him play in Chicago. There was not one thing to do, there were many ways of being in service.

What do you hope viewers take away from the vision The Jane?

Emma: I think there is a lot of discussion online, on social media and in the news about the policy being adopted. What is lost in all of this is that these are human beings who will die as a result of the criminalization of abortions. distress could the; they I am going to die. One of the things Tia and I really wanted to do with the film is to put that humanity back into the conversation. Remind people that these are 16-year-old girls, they are women with three children, they are women in abusive relationships, women with a career, women who want to go to college – these are people who will suffer and are losing their rights in a democracy . We hope that what we contribute is a very clear picture of what happens in this country when women do not have the right to choose.

Tia: I also add that we know from history and from what is happening today that the people most affected by unfair access to abortion are low-income people and disproportionately black and brown communities and rural communities. Alone 10 percent of counties in the country they have access to abortion clinics. This is going to be a crisis for every woman, but it will mostly hurt women of color and in the film we go to great lengths to show what she looks like.