Review by Tatiana Miranda
With the current threat to abortion rights in America, HBO Max's latest documentary, The Janes, is timely and representative of the fact that the future lies within the past. The Janes follows the story of Chicago's pro-choice organization known as Jane. Consisting of young, educated, and radical women, Jane provided safe and sometimes free abortions during the pre-Roe v. Wade era. As the documentary opens, we are faced with what abortion services looked like in the United States before legalization and before Jane. Dorrie shares her experience getting an abortion from the mob in the 1960s. The complete opposite of Jane's mission, the mob only performed paid-for abortions, with prices ranging based on the care you received. According to Dorrie, the lowest service cost 500 dollars and included limited conversation about the procedure and dangerous practices performed in a dingy motel.
Made up of married, single, educated, pregnant, childless women, Jane was created to give women like and unlike them access to safe abortions. Some members even experienced the process of gaining an illegal abortion, and one member, Jody, had a tumultuous legal, medical abortion due to her cancer diagnosis. The truth of what abortions looked like pre-Roe v. Wade gives insight into what they might look like with its overturn. In Jody's experience, while her abortion was legal and provided by licensed doctors, it was even more uncomfortable and challenging to get than an illegal one. The variety of perspectives and extensive look at the reality of women's rights in the '60s and '70s goes beyond just the work of Jane but also the history of abortion in Chicago at the time.
Talking head style interviews with members of Jane, their partners, one of the men who helped perform abortions, the police who ultimately busted the organization, and so on paint the picture of Jane's mission and the reality of why it was needed. Going over their personal experiences with abortions, their reasoning, and religious beliefs regarding it showcases the variety of the types of people a pre-Roe v. Wade world affected. While Jane was primarily made up of white, middle-class women, each member recognizes that underrepresented groups, such as poor women and racial minorities, are the ones most affected by abortions being banned. As they point out, once abortions became legal in cities such as New York City, women with the means to travel there had access to safe and legal abortions. One Jane member says that many women felt that "If I can do it in New York, why can't I do it here?" emphasizing the importance of legal abortions all across America.
While The Janes has a semi-happy ending, with Roe v. Wade being passed as several members of Jane faced homicide and abortion conspiracy charges, which were almost immediately dropped after the legalization of abortion, the documentary doesn't stray from the fact that this occurred fifty years ago, and women's rights are still being contested. The members of Jane also acknowledge that while there were so many women they saved, even more women had unsafe abortions that led to their death. The Janes is an important reminder of the trials of the past and an ode to the actions of a few ordinary women that shouldn't have had to do what they did.
The Janes debuts on HBO and HBO Max on June 8th at 9pm ET/PT.