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The Janes directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes - 33rd Human Rights Watch Film Festival lineup
The Janes directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes. [HBO]

Directed by Tia Lessin (HBO’s “Trouble the Water”) and Emma Pildes (HBO’s “Jane Fonda in Five Acts”), the timely documentary The Janes takes a look at an underground service for women seeking safe, affordable, illegal abortions in the 1970s. The Janes celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and debuts Wednesday, June 8 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO.

In the spring of 1972, police raided an apartment on the South Side of Chicago where seven women who were part of a clandestine network were arrested. Using code names, fronts, and safe houses to protect themselves and their work, the accused had built an underground network for women seeking safe, affordable, illegal abortions. They called themselves “Jane.”

Offering first-hand accounts from the women at the center of the group, many speaking on the record for the first time, T* tells the revelatory story of a group of unlikely outlaws. Defying the state legislature that outlawed abortion, the Catholic Church that condemned it, and the Chicago Mob that was profiting from it, the members of “Jane” risked their personal and professional lives to support women with unwanted pregnancies. In the pre-Roe v. Wade era –– a time when abortion was a crime in most states and even circulating information about abortion was a felony in Illinois –– the Janes provided low-cost and free abortions to an estimated 11,000 women.

With reproductive rights in the headlines and indications that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade in an upcoming decision, the film offers an extremely timely portrait of the Janes and a stark reminder of a time in the U.S. before the constitutional right to abortion was affirmed.

The film includes stirring accounts from the women who received abortions from the secret organization and the women at the center of “Jane,” including Heather Booth, Judith Arcana, Marie Leaner, Diane Stevens, Eleanor Oliver, and more, as well as insights from lawyers, doctors and others who reflect on the era, including a man who performed abortions and went on to teach The Janes how to perform the procedures themselves.

Watch the official trailer for The Janes.

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