SFFILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! The Janes looks back on a mighty group of women who cared about women’s health and needs in Chicago in the late 1960s and early 70s. They were an unorthodox and anti-establishment organization. Through meticulously constructed archival footage combined with meaningful interviews, directors Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes create a personalized account of how and why the Janes existed and what facilitated their disbandment.
The Janes was an underground humanitarian effort to provide women with safe abortions while the procedure was illegal and shrouded in condemnation. Yet, as much as abortions were vilified, there was an overwhelming need for them. To fill this need, a group of seven women came together, each with their own reasoning and experience, on a mission to provide safe and affordable abortions to those who needed them. Existing underground, the Janes would place small notes around the city as simple as “Call Jane” with a phone number. As a result, some 11,000 women in need of help would contact the Janes over the years.
Directors Lessin and Pildes not only dive into the Janes operation, but they also established the life and times of Chicago, which was beset with civil unrest and on the precipice of social change. At the time, only a married woman could receive birth control and contraceptives. Women had very few liberties to act on their own, so even though abortions were illegal, they happened and were scary, messy, and complicated.
“…humanitarian effort to provide women with safe abortions while the procedure was illegal…”
While under the radar, the Janes established connections with many women who sought an abortion. They created informational cards, found somewhere to perform the procedure, and helped many women through the experience. They instituted code words, blindfolds, safe houses, and many undercover operative techniques to stay unknown. Eventually, they were raided, arrested, charged, and thrown into a women’s prison. What makes The Janes notable is the informative and engaging recall from the women who made up the Janes. They have no regrets and reminisce about their work with dignity.
The Janes had no fear and fended off the mafia, the church, and the state to do their work. In addition, their fearless lawyer timed their case with the overturn of abortion rights so that they would be released without issue. However, in 2022, it appears as if the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which allows a woman the right to choose to have an abortion, could be overturned. Do we need to see illegal and dangerous abortions performed in the U.S. modern society? Do hospitals want these situations back in their ERs?
Better yet, do women need to place themselves in danger again out of desperation due to poverty, rape, and life-changing problems? Abortion is not a form of birth control, and The Janes is proof of the tireless and endless work that made a vital difference. Even though the Janes primarily served white women, they knew there was a need for their service at all economic levels, and they did the best they could.
The Janes also touches on another important area of women’s health: that male doctors mostly dominated the medical field at the time. However, once more women had the means to become doctors and medical practitioners, they provided better care in serving the needs of women. Although the film is timed for an oncoming judicial decision, it serves its purpose well: to ensure everyone knows that these incredible women existed and have a bona fide place in history.