In the early ’70s, before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States, the Jane Collective helped an estimated 11,000 people carry out a safe abortion. The underground collective, which operated in Chicago, have their stories recounted in the HBO Max documentary “The Janes,” which explores the formation of the group and the risks the leaders took to make abortions available to those that needed it.
“It’s just a great story,” director Tia Lessin told Variety. “It’s full of drama and the thrill of a heist. And a group of unlikely outlaws who go underground risking their professional lives, their personal lives, and a lifetime in jail in order to help strangers in need. And that in itself is just a fascinating story.”
Lessin co-directed the film with Emma Pildes, who explained to Variety that their interest in the story in part came from the increasing attacks on abortion access that have occurred throughout the United States.
“Looking all around, seeing the writing on the wall, seeing the way that we were going in this country, it felt like a very meaningful thing that we could contribute to the fight to show the testimony of these women, of what it looks like in this country when people don’t have the right to make this choice for themselves,” Pildes said.
Lessin and Pildes spoke with Variety deputy editor Meredith Woerner for “Doc Dreams” presented by National Geographic. During their conversation, the two discussed following the story of the Jane Collective, interviewing their subjects today and the sad modern relevance of the group’s actions.
“The Janes” premiered at Sundance this January, before the bombshell news that Roe v. Wade is on the verge of being overturned by the Supreme Court. Lessin and Pildes both spoke about their film’s renewed relevance, and what modern pro-choice activists can learn from the Jane Collective’s actions.
“People are angry right now, and quite upset. What we show in the film and what’s true still today is that the people that are disproportionately harmed by the criminalization of abortion are poor people, they’re rural people, they’re disproportionately women of color,” Lessin said. “Because women of means, people of means, are always going to be able to access private healthcare. That’s just a fact. People without the means, without the insurance, without the income, are going to be left to networks like the Janes, if they can find them.”
“70% of this country believes in women’s right to choose. That 70% has been resting on their laurels and relying on Roe for 50 years now,” Pildes added. “So if we can remind people to speak up and let their voice and their vote be known, that’s all we have to do. We have the majority. We just have to be reminded that we have to express, that we have to take to the streets, that we have to do what we can to be accounted for as the 70 percent and the majority.”
“The Janes” is currently streaming on HBO Max. Watch the full “Doc Dreams” episode above.