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by Karen Pecota

Tia Lessin, Emma Pildes, USA 2022

Facing off against the mafia, the church, and the state, a clandestine network known as the Janes are known for their bravery and compassion, risking their personal and professional lives to help women in need, according to documentary filmmakers Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes who share their remarkable story in THE JANES.

The Jane Collective was an underground network of women in Chicago in the late 60s and early 70s who provided safe, affordable, and illegal abortions for those seeking their services. The five basic questions of who, what, where, why, and how are answered as Lessin and Pildes provide, for their viewing audience, a detailed timeline of the Janes' story using clear archival footage, a variety of first-hand accounts and interviews from the original Janes, along with their husbands and other players who lived to experience this era among the Janes' influence. Many are speaking on the record for the first time.

Known as a group of unlikely outlaws, in the pre-Roe v. Wade era, the Janes provided low-cost and free abortions to an estimated 11,000 women—without losing one woman while in their care. One has to remember that historically it was a time when abortion was a crime in most states and even circulating information about abortion was a felony in Illinois.

The directors state, "THE JANES is a cautionary tale. The story is of our past and potentially our future." Continuing, "We set out to make a film that captured the drama of the story—a group of ordinary women turned outlaws, risking arrest and a lifetime in prison to help strangers. The film is equally about the lengths that women went to get abortion care during the pre-Roe era, and the countless women without the means or luck to find compassionate and skilled care who ended up in the hospital, or in the morgue."

Lessin and Pildes add, "We found those with lived experience from that era and their interviews took us to unexpected places: the Chicago mafia's dangerous abortion racket, the early role of the clergy—not in opposition, but in support of abortion rights. We learned that everyone was touched in some way by illegal abortion. Everyone. These myriad stories reinforced for us just how personal, how universal and critical this topic is."

The directors go on to mention why Chicago is not only a backdrop for the Janes but also, a character in their story during an era where abortion was illegal, then legal for almost 50 years and presently, has the potential to go back to being illegal in many states if the United States Supreme Court is to overturn Roe v. Wade. A timely narrative for U. S. Citizens to learn from history, to take notice, and to ponder the ramifications of decisions the highest court in our land has when wheedling its power. (Karen Pecota)

THE JANES will debut in 2022 on HBO-Documentary Films.