Jane: An Abortion Service

A documentary film reveals the story of a secret women-run collective that took matters into their own hands when abortion was illegal and created a safe underground network in the Chicago area.

(San Francisco, CA, 1998) – In honor of the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Independent Television Service (ITVS) presents  JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE, a fascinating documentary about a secret, women-run abortion service that flourished in the midwest in the late '60s and early '70s during a time of illegal, and often deadly abortions. A Sundance Film Festival selection, JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE was produced and directed by Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy, and will be broadcast nationally on select public television stations in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973).

For the first time, the story of JANE is told by those who operated and were served by the collective, most of whom have never spoken publicly about JANE before. "If you needed an abortion, for whatever reason, you took your life into your own hands – and you were terrified, absolutely terrified,” recounts a member of the collective of the late 1960s. “All you knew is that you might die, that this person didn't know what he was doing and you were going to pay hundreds of dollars...to bleed to death in some hotel room."

Heather Booth, then a student at the University of Chicago involved in civil rights and antiwar movements, found herself sought out by a few young women who were pregnant, scared, and desperate. They had somehow heard that Booth knew of a safe abortionist. Soon others began to call, prompting Booth and several other young feminists to found JANE, an anonymous abortion service that provided counseling and acted as the go-between for pregnant women and doctors willing to perform the procedure.

Appalled at the exorbitant procedure fees and upon discovering that their main abortionist wasn't a licensed physician, the women of JANE learned to perform illegal abortions themselves. Eventually, the underground collective performed over 12,000 safe, affordable abortions. Word of the illegal alternative was spread through word-of-mouth, cryptic advertisements, and even by members of Chicago's police, clergy, and medical establishment.

Little remains to document the organization's clandestine existence. Most of JANE's records were destroyed to protect the participants, leaving the women themselves to tell their stories. JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE utilizes in-depth interviews, archival footage, and the few remaining personal effects to bare witness and illuminate this once-hidden refuge.

JANE was comprised of a cross-section of the political community of the early 1970s. They included members of the National Organization for Women, student activists, housewives, and mothers - a diverse group that shared one conviction – that access to safe and affordable abortion was every woman's right. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE powerfully documents a group of courageous women who were willing to translate their politics into action by providing safety and dignity to women of all backgrounds.

With the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1973, JANE gradually disbanded. By then these ordinary women had assisted thousands of other women from all walks of life: matrons and teenagers, radicals and government wives.

JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE was made by Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy, both of whom grew up after abortion was legal. Says Kirtz, "For us and others of our generation who grew up with choice, it's hard to comprehend both the reality of living with illegal abortion and the atmosphere that fostered as direct and radical a group as JANE. This film is a way to get us talking about our past and our power at a time when feminism has become a dirty word and choice remains fragile in the extreme."

JANE: AN ABORTION SERVICE was produced by Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy in conjunction with Juicy Productions for the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  About ITVS The Independent Television Service is a unique creation in American broadcasting, created to increase the diversity of programming available to public television audiences, to bring vision to a medium often dominated by convention, commercialism and formula. ITVS supports and promotes programs that expand and energize public television and beyond. 

Established by Congress “to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities,” ITVS has more than 115 single programs and 17 limited series in production or distribution on domestic public television, foreign television, and domestic cable markets.

ITVS works include Making Peace, The United States of Poetry and Positive: Live with HIV. Single programs include The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle, Pharaoh’s Army, and the recent Peabody Award-winning documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace. For information contact ITVS at 51 Federal Street, Suite 401, San Francisco, CA 94107; or call Cathy Fischer at (415) 356-8383, ext. 224. visit the ITVS web site.

About the filmmakers -
KATE KIRTZ (Co-producer, interviewer) is an artist, writer, and independent video and filmmaker. Her 1992 Message From A Young Woman Who Is Growing Older, a video about young women's relationships with their bodies and sexuality, earned an Honorable Mention at the 1992 Atlanta Film and Video Festival. She also associate produced Fair Game, a documentary about the press coverage of the 1992 Democratic presidential campaign. She is currently seeking funding for a documentary project and is working on a feature screenplay. Kirtz received her BFA in film and video from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

NELL LUNDY (Co-producer, videographer) is an independent videomaker living and working in New York City. Her 1990 documentary, No Rights Implied, received a first prize from the American Film Institute/Sony Visions of US Contest as well as a Best of the Festival at the 16th Illinois Film and Video Festival. Her 1992 video What's Missing has been shown nationally as part of Deep Dish TV's "Idiot Box Savant" and Video Shorts 11. Lundy also served as associate editor on Rosa Mystica and assistant producer on Times Beach, Missouri. Lundy received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her BA in English from the University of Chicago.

Laura Kaplan, the author of the book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, is featured on radio/audio, part of a Marketplace radio series on Underground Economies. You can hear/read it at http://www.marketplace.org/features/underground/
"It was women's needs that drove us and the sheer exhilaration that it had such a dramatic and immediate impact on people's lives."

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