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Everyone's Trying to Make a Movie About Jane, the Illegal Abortion Collective From the '70s

Image via AP
Image via AP

There are currently two different movies being made about the underground, Chicago-based collective Jane, which performed nearly 12,000 illegal abortions in the ’60s and ’70s before Roe v. Wade.

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Jane started in the 1970s as a referral service for women who needed to get in touch with a doctor, but the costs of getting an illegal abortion back then were enormously high. Soon the Jane collective became a group in which members with barely any medical training were performing affordable surgical abortions on women or even inducing miscarriages. The 1996 documentary Jane: An Abortion Service explored the collective’s history in-depth but now, in a particularly fragile time for abortion rights, we’ll be getting new movies on the subject.

First there’s the indie effort Ask For Jane, written and directed by Rachel Carey, and starring Cait Johnston, Alison Wright (The Americans), Sarah Ramos (Parenthood) among others. The movie, which is based on a limited series they made in 2016, is produced by Caroline Hirsch and will even include a cameo from Judith Arcana, who was a real member of The Janes and is acting as a consulting producer on the film.

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And the other is This Is Jane, written by Dan Loflin and based on Laura Kaplan’s 1995 non-fiction book The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, and picked up by Amazon earlier this year. It’s produced by a bunch of men.

So, pick your poison. But considering our current administration I’d say the more media we can get about underground abortion collectives, the better!

“So many of the lawmakers trying to restrict abortion access (today) have never even considered the disparate reasons why a woman might be driven to seek one,” Cait Johnston told Deadline. “Ask For Jane beautifully depicts a few of their stories, and illustrates how vital it is to keep this procedure legal and safe.”

Pop Culture Reporter, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

I worked in a clinic with one of the Jane Collective members in the early aughts—lets call her Betty. I didn’t know that about her when I first started working there, but as I went through training I remember her smile, patience, and general calmness and warmth. She trained me to be an advocate (the precursor to what some spaces now call abortion doulas) and seemed to have an answer to every question and scenario I could ever come up with.

The clinic had a library stocked with feminist and health books and videos, and I would often watch the videos in the laundry room while I folded laundry during down time (at this clinic everyone did everything, you’d even see docs start folding patient gowns in a quiet moment). One day I picked up “The Story of Jane” book and couldn’t put it down. I stayed in the library for hours after my shift just reading reading reading. The next morning Betty greeted me and said “I saw you in the library reading about the Jane Collective, what did you think?” After I launched into my awe at the strength of those women and also the time in history where they pulled all of it off with only landline phones and word of mouth, Betty asked “How’d you like the XYZ woman?” I responded something equally awe-induced and she finally said, “that was me,” gave me a little wink, and went right back to whatever task she was doing. I was speechless for the rest of the day.

When I found out Betty passed away a few years ago I purchased a series of posters from 4000 Years for Choice for the clinic in her honor. One features the Jane Collective. To this day and forever forward I will never forget the extreme kindness and warmth of Betty. What a hero.