October 4, 2022
'The Janes' Abortion Activists on Roe v. Wade Overturn

Following Doc10 Film Festival’s opening night screening of “The Janes” on May 19, several original members The Jane Collective — an underground abortion clinic led by women in the pre-Roe v. Wade era — urged audience members to take to the streets and get focused on protecting women’s reproductive rights, now believed to be at risk with a new Supreme Court ruling in the works.

“The fight is not over,” said Marie Leaner, a former Jane. “It’s only just begun.”

“The Janes” is one of 10 docus that will screen during the four-day Chicago-based festival. The Doc10 screening of “The Janes,” which will debut on HBO June 8, drew more than 250 people — the festival’s largest crowd in its seven-year history. Ten former Janes were in attendance alongside the doc’s directors, Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes. The screening occurred just 17 days after a leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, may soon be overturned or reproductive rights drastically curtailed.

“It’s going to be horrible,” said Diane Stevens, an original member of the Jane Collective. “There will be illegal things going on, women are going to die. Some will find somebody to help them out. They’ll find a doctor that’s willing to do something a little risky. They’ll figure out a way to get drugs. It will be very similar to our time when things were off to the side and illegal, but not everyone is going to find help. It’s really horrible.”

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Original members of The Janes at a Doc10 screening, from left: Marie Leaner, Sheila Smith, Martha Scott, Heather Booth, Diane Stevens, Eileen Smith, Judith Arcana, Kati, Patricia Novick, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy
James Richards IV

From 1969 to 1972, the Jane Collective facilitated 11,000 safe, illegal abortions in the Chicago area. During a police raid in 1972, seven members were arrested and charged with multiple counts that could have led to each receiving 100 years in prison. Any charges against them were eventually dropped due to the legalization of abortion the following year.

“It was so liberating when Roe v. Wade passed,” said Leaner. “I was really shocked that the Supreme Court would completely overturn any right — a reproductive right — which is a human right.”

Heather Booth formed the Jane Collective when she was a student at the University of Chicago in the 1960s.

“The overturning of the most intimate decision of a person’s life about when, whether or with whom you have had a child is an attack of the fundamental freedoms that we have,” Booth said Thursday night following the screening. “Any attack on freedom is tyranny and it’s tied to the other attacks on freedoms in this country. Freedom to vote. Freedom to be a full citizen.”

The battle to dismantle Roe v. Wade has been underway for 50 years and Eileen Smith, a former Jane, said that the pro-choice movement needs to take a few notes from their adversaries.

“We have to be as focused and singled minded as [pro-life organizations] have been for 50 years,” said Smith. “They don’t let all this other stuff get in the way; they keep their eyes on the prize. We are going to have to do that too now. We are going to have to find politicians that will do that too and keep driving it forward.”

Stevens adds, “The majority of people in this country support abortion. One out of four women in this country have had abortions. So, we just have to convince people to work harder. And we have to engage in the political system.”

In addition to “The Janes” Doc10 will screen “Descendant,” “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “Let The Little Light Shine,” “Riotsville USA,” “The Territory,” “Fire of Love,” “A House Made of Splinters” and “We Feed People.” In its six-year history, Doc10 has hosted 19 docus that went on to be shortlisted for an Academy Award. Two docus — “Summer of Soul” and “American Factory” — both played at the festival before winning the Oscar.

(Pictured, left to right: Marie Leaner, Sheila Smith, Martha Scott, Heather Booth, Diane Stevens, Eileen Smith, Judith Arcana, Kati, Patricia Novick, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy.)

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