Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson. This legal case has effectively overturned Roe v. Wade (1973), the ruling that made abortion available to everyone in the United States. Now, Dobbs v. Jackson has made abortion available only to those living in 21 states, or about half the country. For 50 years, abortion has been a normal, medical procedure. Even though a political movement has been actively trying to overturn the landmark 1973 decision, an entire generation has grown up never knowing what it’s like NOT to have that health service as an option. This film, directed by Oscar-nominee Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water) and Emmy-nominee Emma Pildes (Spielberg), takes those who don’t know back in time five decades in order to paint a picture of what things were like for women who wanted or needed an abortion but couldn’t get it.
The Roe v. Wade case centered on a woman whose pseudonym was “Jane Roe.” The Supreme Court issued its ruling in 1973, but the case began in 1969 when Jane Roe got pregnant with her third child in Texas and wanted an abortion. The lawsuit that followed obviously made national headlines. As a result, an organization called the “Jane Collective” formed in Chicago that helped women like Jane Roe obtain abortions, even though they were illegal. The Jane Collective used an underground network in Illinois. The idea for the organization began before Jane Roe’s case ever made the news, but the women involved didn’t start calling themselves “Jane” until Jane Roe’s case in 1969. This film tells that origin story that predated Roe v. Wade and then follows the organization’s activities and practices until the 1973 decision.
Heather Booth is the woman who basically is the founder of the Jane Collective. She’s one of the central interviews here. Her story of how and why she got involved with the organization had nothing to do with Roe v. Wade. She didn’t even know Jane Roe. Hers is a story that illuminated the fear and unfairness that was heaped upon women in that time period. Through her interview and the interviews of other women involved with the Jane Collective, we really feel the sexism and the misogyny that prompted this abortion group and the abortion movement.
Lessin and Pildes incorporate a lot of archival footage that takes into what things were like in Chicago in the late 60’s, early 70’s. Key among that footage is the ’68 Chicago Riot, particularly the one that followed the Democratic National Convention, a flashpoint for the anti-war movement and civil rights movement. The women interviewed talk about how their organization was in many ways built out or on top of those movements. As a matter of fact, Booth describes how it was through African-Americans that the organization got things done and got women treated.
What’s important is how this film really emphasizes why making abortion legal was necessary in order to save lives. People think that abortion is solely about killing unborn babies. Yet, there is a particularly harrowing scene that takes us into the Cook County hospital, which saw tons of women dying from self-induced or back-alley abortions. This film reinforces that making abortions illegal won’t stop abortions. It will merely stop safe abortions.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.
Available on HBO Max.