Shortly after Donald Trump became president of the United States in January 2017, he began stacking federal courts with conservative judges. Realizing what was at stake, the team behind HBO Documentary Films’ abortion documentary The Janes began crafting a story to remind the audience what happened 50 years ago when women didn’t have access to safe and legal abortions.
“It felt like the time that we needed to lift this story up,” filmmaker Emma Pildes said during a conversation at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary event. Pildes co-directed the pic with Tia Lessin.
RELATED: The Contenders Documentary – Deadline’s Full Coverage
Launched in Chicago in the late 1960s and early ’70s, The Jane Collective, or simply Jane, was an underground network formed to help women obtain safe abortions when the procedure was illegal.
Pildes noted that before Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, women determined to terminate pregnancies risked jail time and their lives.
“There were septic abortion wards for women who did self-imposed or back-alley abortions and were dropped off. We cover Cook County Hospital in Chicago, specifically, and women came to them almost dying,” Pildes said.
The directors also interviewed former Jane Collective members for the film.
“This was an infinitely resourceful band of women, young and old who came together,” said Lessin. “They operated a referral service and referred women to doctors who were vetted, who were going to treat them well and then they began to bring the doctors in house. … They rented an apartment which served as a clinic. They would move these operations from place to place every day, to elude the police, because this was a felony. This was an illegal activity that would land them in prison if they were caught.”
The Janes premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, as the Supreme Court prepared to hand down its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an abortion case out of Mississippi.
“As we were finishing the film for Sundance, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Dobbs case. So it was clear that Roe was not long for this world,” said Lessin.
In June, the high court overturned Roe v. Wade. The decision was a devastating setback for abortion rights activists, but also a call to action.
“This is going to be a long, hard fight ahead,” said Lessin.
Check back Wednesday for the panel video.
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