Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy examine an interesting footnote to the ongoing history of the abortion rights struggle in “Jane: An Abortion Service,” an efficient but unexceptional documentary that is best suited for public television.
Utilizing contemporary interviews and archival footage, the filmmakers tell the story of young Chicago feminists who founded a clandestine abortion referral service for pregnant women in the late 1960s. At first, the loose-knit organization, known only as Jane, simply helped its clients find doctors who would perform the outlawed procedure. But when the doctors began to charge unconscionably large fees, the feminists taught themselves to perform abortions. Until they disbanded in 1971, these ordinary women performed an estimated 12,000 abortions, many for women who were unable to pay them. A police raid interrupted their activities only temporarily.
A few of the interviews with Jane veterans are mildly unsettling in ways the filmmakers doubtless did not intend. One woman inadvertently sounds callous while describing the mood as being “like a party” after she performed her first abortion. Later, a Jane client speaks appreciatively of the compassionate treatmentshe received from the unlicensed abortionists. She recalls the experience as being relatively nontraumatic, “especially in light of subsequent abortions I’ve had”– which raises the question of whether this woman was aware of any other type of birth control.
For the most part, however, “Jane” tends to accentuate the positive. Pic is more a sympathetic tribute than a balanced account. As such, it probably will arouse irate protests by anti-abortion activists and might even be blacked out by some PBS outlets. Such controversy may attract curious viewers, but “Jane” isn’t likely to change viewers’ attitudes on the issue.
Tech values are adequate.