While in college, my cousin found herself in quite a predicament. She was pregnant, had no support and was not mentally or financially prepared to take on raising a child as a struggling college student. After sharing her decision to terminate the pregnancy, I chose to accompany her for support. A few days later, we arrived at a nondescript clinic laden with protestors and anti-abortion activists. Each poster was strewn with fetus photos not making it to term. They screamed and aggressively pleaded for us to reconsider. As we continued walking and looking forward, these women physically attacked by grabbing our bodies and pulling hair in an attempt to prevent us from passing the threshold.
Words can’t begin to describe how scary, traumatic and uncomfortable that day was. On top of everything else, my cousin, who was exhausted now continues to relive this trauma for the rest of her life. This is the way the world operated when abortion was considered illegal. Doctors, nurses, supporters and young women who felt they had no other viable option were at risk of having the clinic they inhabited be blown to bits, having your hair pulled, being called vile names from strangers and being marked with emotional and physical scars for the rest of your life.
In the pre Roe v Wade era, female activists calling themselves ‘Jane’ built an underground network for women with unwanted pregnancies and provided low-cost and free illegal abortions to an estimated 11,000 women.
Co-directors Emma Pildes and Tia Lesson highlight the testimony of numerous women who spoke of the differences for these procedures when it came to race. White women could grab a $4 ring from Woolworth’s gain access to birth control and as long as they had cash were granted safe procedures. Yet, other women, who were poor, unsupported or of color would find themselves in a back alley, motel left bleeding out, with perforated uteruses or worse.
References were made to the coldness and non empathetic manner in which women were handled and spoken to. Not to mention, the alleged participation of the Chicago mob who were only interested in making a buck off of someone else’s misfortune. The women of ‘Jane,’ well aware of the risk, unselfishly saved hundreds of young women along the way.
Enter Joann Wolfson. Wolfson represented the women of ‘Jane’ when they were eventually arrested and charged with 100 years in prison. They got a reprieve on January 22, 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion allowing women to make these decisions alongside their doctors and NOT the government giving freedom and free choice for women. The women of Jane continued on as artists, educators, civil servants, community organizers, healthcare workers and mothers. I’m sure their heads are spinning over the possibility of Roe v Wade being overturned by our current Supreme Court.
It’s so surreal we are now revisiting this issue yet again. Why are the rights of women in this country constantly being challenged and up for debate from middle aged white men politicians who will do anything to ensure their power is maintained by any means necessary? Thank you Susan Lacy for your bravery and inspirational filmmaking. It’s a gamble that has paid off in spades.
The Janes is a painful and poignant reminder of how far we have come…yet haven’t gone far enough. Produced by HBO and Susan Lacy, the doc is currently streaming on HBO Max.