“I was left with no choice. I just wanted to get it over with and didn’t care what was done,” a
woman declares in the first few minutes of the upcoming HBO film, The Janes. She’s recounting
her experiences with abortion during the pre the post-Roe period: a shady motel, a deal with the
mob, and then lying in a bed bleeding with a woman who was lying beside her until they both
were capable of standing up and getting home. “I was terrified,” she says.
This was the time in which the Janes were reunited in Chicago. The secretive group of women,
inspired by the Civil Rights movement, as well as other groups for social justice reform, began to
form in the late 1960s and the early 1970s in order to provide abortions for women who needed
The provision of abortion services during the period was a political decision. Also, it was a
crime. The Janes put up cryptic flyers as well as ads in newspapers that read “Pregnant? Do
you need to call Jane.” They built their fame was built through word-of-mouth. One of Janes’s
permitted her personal phone number to function as a hotline. those who dialed the number
were offered to counsel by volunteers. If the caller chose to proceed and seek out help, one of
Janes Janes would take her to the stationery shop and drive her to the residence of a person
who was willing to offer their house to be a clinic during the day. The Janes were willing to accept payment to ensure their service continued however they did not deny women who were unable to pay for their services.
The Janes estimate that they carried out around 11,000 abortions prior to they were able to
terminate their services after the Roe Roe decision put closure to their work and, not without
significant risk. “I was afraid all the time,” one of the Janes stated, “but I was a warrior for
justice.” In 1972, Chicago police searched the Janes and detained several of their members.
They were charged with crimes that could lead to the possibility of up to 110 years in jail.
Following the case, the Roe case was convicted that year the following year, the Janes had their
Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin’s documentary on this group called the Janes is scheduled to air
on the 8th of June. Vox spoke to the filmmakers about the lessons they took from the Janes and
their relevance to our current times.
What inspired you to relate Janes’s story?
Emma: I have a familial connection with the Janes. Daniel Arcana, one of the producers of the
film is my brother, began developing the idea shortly after Trump became president and began
to pack the courts. He thought that this was a perfect time. The world was tense and frightening
fast in the past few years, and it was evident that it was time to give women a platform to show
the way this country is in the absence of women having the power to decide for themselves.
What were their feelings when they came forward to tell the story?
Tia The truth is that I believe they realized the significance in this particular moment. It was the
first time for a lot of them to go to the media and name their names and discuss their
experiences within the Janes. They lived very full lives and a large portion of them kept a low
profile about their involvement — this was a crime. They had not told their families at times
however, they could see the evidence and were determined to help.
Emma The same group of people who were a bit responsible in the 60s and ’70s, led them to
put their lives on the line in order to help others. Many people aren’t eager to engage in
discussion about the controversial, illegal act like they did fifty years ago. However, they, I
believe realized how important the testimony was and could be beneficial today when it comes
to passing the baton, and also in helping women in need of support and in delivering the
message of how depressing the situation is when abortion is deemed a crime.
What have you learned from the Janes regarding the organization of this secret health
insurance network that amazed you?
Tia Tia was shocked by the participation with the Clergy Consultation Service on abortion. They
were both women and men of the faith who opposed the denial of women’s reproductive rights
and did something to change the issue. They helped women access abortion treatment,
regardless of whether it was in Chicago or in other countries. This is a story that’s not been
widely reported. This was quite shocking.
Emma The other factor that really affected Tia along with me was Abortion wards that were
septic. We concentrated on one in Cook County Hospital because our story is centered around
Chicago but they were everywhere across the country. The ward had 40 beds and was occupied
approximately 100% times a day, according to what we were told by the doctor. Our doctor Dr.
Allan Weiland told us about being in the Ward as a medical student and the unsettling silence of
the ward due to women being so sick. They’d be there due to back-alley abortions that were not
successful as well as self-inflicted abortifacients. He told us that he would call the morgue every
week in the event of a death. Within one year of Roe’s passing away, the ward was shut down.
It went out of fashion because it was a thing we’d made through the criminalization of abortion.
It’s very difficult to comprehend and accept when we look at everything that’s happening right
How did you determine the role of criminal syndicates in the underground pro-abortion
movement of this time?
Tia: The Chicago Outfit was large and was involved in all kinds of criminal activities in Chicago.
Anything illegal that they could make money from they would. When abortion was made a crime
in Chicago this became another source of profit for the mafia. We’ve heard a few stories about
the involvement of the mob but there’s not much research on the issue, which was an
unexpected surprise for Emma and me to find out about this. If abortion is deemed illegal,
however, that doesn’t mean that women will stop seeking treatment for abortion. This is just a
way to limit their access to abortions that are safe. The mob filled in the spaces.
I’m interested in knowing how Janes react to the leaked draft decision regarding Dobbs V.
Emma, They’re upset. They’re angry, but they’re not hopeless. That’s because it’s not who they
really are. They believe in organizing and have taken matters into their own hands before. It’s a
difficult thing to watch for anyone concerned about the right to health and women’s autonomy in
their bodies. I would not like to speak into the Janes’ mouths, however, they have stated that
they were relieved after all that they put on the line, and the amount they put in to feel the relief
that it was lifted taken off their shoulders and to be alive to witness the whole thing be taken
away is probably a bit grueling to them at a level we’ll never comprehend.
The ruling that’s likely to be handed down this summer in Dobbs V. Jackson won’t have come
from anywhere. It’s the result of a long-running campaign by pro-choice activists to change Roe.
What can modern activists learn about the Janes?
Tia The laws in some states today will be and will be much more severe than laws in place fifty
times earlier. There was no law that empowered vigilantes to pursue abortion clinics as well as
the patients they provided at the time, and there was no punishment for women who traveled
beyond state lines to get abortion services. In certain situations, the consequences could be
Answering your query the effectiveness that collective actions have is clear: as a group they
could achieve things that they would not have done on their own. They were not naive however
they did not let fear control them, or prevent them from organizing. They were fully aware of the
penalties they might be facing and were aware that they could be sentenced to their entire life in
prison. They decided to do the right thing. There are many ways that people can take part in the
present by helping: If they have the funds, they can contribute their money, and in the event that
they have spare bedrooms they could open their homes to those who are traveling to have an
abortion. We witnessed that happen in Chicago. There wasn’t a single thing to be done. There
were a variety of ways to be of service.
Do you think viewers will learn after watching the Janes?
Emma: I’m sure there’s been a lot of debate on the internet and on social media and in the news
regarding the policies being formulated. What’s not mentioned in all this is that human beings
will die as a result of the legalization of abortions. They will die, but they will die. bound to pass
away. One thing Tia and I wanted to accomplish with the film was to put the human aspect back
into the conversation. Informing people that young girls are women who have three kids They’re
women who have been in abusive relationships as well as women with careers women who
would like to go to university These are women who are suffering and losing their rights as
citizens in a democratic society. We’d like to think that what we can do will provide a clear and
concise picture of what is happening in our country in which women are denied the freedom to
Tia: I’d say that we know from the past and also what’s happening in the present that those who
most are impacted by the inequitable access to abortions are those with low incomes and, in a
significant way, Black or brown groups, as well as rural communities. There are only 10% of the
counties across the nation are able to access abortion facilities. This is a problem for all women,
but it is particularly damaging to women of color. in this film, we go to extreme efforts to illustrate
what that appears like.