‘The Janes’ Doc Directors on “Unfortunate Truth” of Releasing Abortion Film as Roe v. Wade Could Be Overturned

When a draft opinion from the Supreme Court leaked last month, suggesting the court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the directors of underground abortion network documentary The Janes, which premiered on HBO on Wednesday night, were stunned.

The moment reflected the duality that helmers Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes have experienced as they made the film in recent years. “It’s this in-between place of being fully aware and in disbelief of everything that’s happening,” Pildes tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The Janes producer Daniel Arcana, whose mother was one of the members of the Jane Collective featured in the documentary, started developing the project shortly after former President Donald Trump was elected. “He was prescient. He saw, like so many others, that this story needs to be told,” Lessin tells THR.

Pildes, who happens to also be Arcana’s sister, and Lessin began collaborating on the film after Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Lessin explains that Kavanaugh being considered for the Court, along with Trump’s other appointees Neal Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, “all pointed to the fact that Roe was not long for this world.”

“We were soon, in this country, going to be facing conditions very much like what the Janes faced in the ’60s and early ’70s,” she said. And that political atmosphere made the “intrinsically dramatic” story of “ordinary women turned outlaws” timely. “They were risking arrest and a lifetime in prison at a time when abortion was illegal, and it seemed to really speak to the moment.”

The film, which premiered at Sundance, features first-hand accounts from the women at the center of Jane, a clandestine Chicago group that helped women obtain safe, affordable abortions in the late ’60s and early ’70s when the procedure was a crime in Illinois and other states. Seven of the members of Jane were arrested and charged with abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion after a police raid in 1972 but the case was ultimately dropped after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationwide.

The perilous status of Roe v. Wade, Lessin argues, helped prompt some of those involved with Jane to open up. “I think the women of Jane who’d been reluctant in the past to speak about their experiences were pretty eager to come forward at this time because it was such a crossroads for abortion rights in America,” she said.

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