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Calling The Janes – Two Films About Abortion Rights Set to Premiere This Year

Originally published: May 5, 2022


Almost 50 years after the landmark decision that legalized abortion, women’s rights are once again under attack as the  Supreme Court ruled that Roe vs. Wade is no longer.  In an interesting synchronicity, Hollywood is releasing not one but two films on the subject, both of which had their world premiere at this year’s Sundance festival. The documentary The Janes is available on HBO, and the feature film Call Jane is scheduled for theatrical release on October 14, 2022.


(This is an updated version of an article we published on the two films during the Sundance Festival on January 16, 2022)


There is another Chicago 7. Like their more famous male counterparts (Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, Abby Hoffman, etc.) they were activists. Seven women who formed an underground network to provide safe, affordable abortions that were, still illegal then, and who worked under the radar, using blindfolds and safe houses on Chicago’s South Side. They operated under the code name ‘Jane’ that became synonymous for helping women in need at a time when a staggering number of them died from kitchen-table abortions and self-inflicted injuries out of desperation and lack of medical care.

Fittingly the documentary The Janes premiered on January 22, a date that marked the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. The doc tells the historical facts through interviews with the women who made up the Jane Collective, Emma Booth, Judith Arcana and Marie Leaner among them. Says co-director/producer Emma Pildes: “I grew up in Chicago and have a family connection to this story. My brother took a look around when Trump got into office and said, we might be in trouble here. And the Janes were seeing and feeling the same thing.” Adds Judith Arcana: “We are now on the brink of terribleness in a big way because of the people on the Supreme Court and their attitude.” And a similar sentiment comes from an impassioned Heather Booth: “We are on a knife’s edge in which direction we go as a country. Do we go forward to full inclusion of women, for civil rights, for democracy? Or do we go backward towards autocracy, demagoguery, lack of science?”

These are the same questions that propelled the actors in Phyllis Nagy’s (she is also the screenwriter of Carol) feature Call Jane. Even though the characters are very strongly based on the real women, all names have been changed and the film centers around Joy, a suburban housewife with a heart condition, and a lawyer husband who seeks an abortion because having a second child would very likely kill her. After trying legal means and being turned down and put down by old misogynist men, she finds the Janes. Elizabeth Banks, who stars as Joy was propelled to do the film: “First of all, it is urgent. I love working on historical things that have relevance in today’s world, and this obviously does and did. I love making art that sort of honors those who came before us on whose shoulders we’re standing as female artists. And certainly, these were change-makers in their day, the Janes. And the activist that Sigourney’s character represents, I mean, these are women without whom I wouldn’t have had the freedoms that I have enjoyed for my entire life.”

Sigourney Weaver who plays Virginia, the founder of the collective echoes the fears of the real-life activists and reminds us of the very different bi-partisan decision of 1973: “When Roe versus Wade was passed, three of the judges who passed it were Nixon’s conservative judges, but they understood that the right of a woman to decide for herself whether to bear a child was fundamental to her dignity, and to her person, to her freedom, and to her health. So, it just was such a wake-up call to me when I read that because it is an issue that has been politicized. […] And having lived through that time, believe me, we do not want to go back to that. So, I think it’s a question of like, the needle has gone across the record. We to just remind people that there’s another life at stake that’s walking and breathing and trying to make the best decisions she can, and it’s important to respect these choices. You may not agree with them personally, and that’s your choice. It’s about pro-choice. So, I hope that we can engage the younger generation, who’ve always had this and may have taken it for granted.”

Wunmi Mosaku stars as Gwen based on Marie Leaner: “I guess the thing that really struck me when I read the film was making abortion illegal isn’t going to stop abortions happening. What we’re going to do is make people very vulnerable. You’re just making it not safe. If someone wants an abortion, they will get it. So why take away their dignity, and their safety, by making it illegal? It’s still going to happen. So, I just really want people to know that, and understand that, and have empathy, and think of that person who is doing something that they don’t want… No one wants to be in this situation. If you’re considering an abortion, this is not like, “I want to do this.” It’s not easy, so give them grace by leaving them alone and letting them do it safely. That’s what I really hope people feel because it’s not going to stop. It’s just going to become dangerous again.”

The Jane Collective was raided by police in 1972, all seven women were indicted but with the help of an extraordinary female lawyer who kept delaying until after Roe vs. Wade passed barely a year after, were acquitted.

Both films raised immense interest among Sundance festival viewers precisely because they are so timely and so many, women and men, cannot believe that half a century after the fight for abortion finally led to a groundbreaking ruling, here we are again, and it is now very unlikely that Roe vs. Wade will celebrate its 50th anniversary and quite feasible that women’s rights are being thrown back to the dark ages.