Call Jane tells the story of sisterhood among a group of women aptly called “The Janes.” They provided abortions at a time when an all-male Supreme Court forbade women from getting them legally. The film is set in the late 1960s, but the story couldn’t be more timely today with the Supreme Court considering rolling back what Roe v. Wade accomplished.
The abortion drama opens with Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a model housewife whose lawyer husband Will (Chris Messina) has just been made partner. The couple has a teenage daughter, Charlotte, and expects another child. But when Joy’s doctor reveals she has congestive heart failure related to her pregnancy and a 50% chance of dying during childbirth, Joy’s fight for her life begins.
After getting denied for an abortion by her local hospital’s board because “there’s a chance” she could survive while also delivering a healthy baby, Joy takes her freshly-baked cookies and seeks out other options. She considers falling down her stairs and visits an illicit abortion clinic, but backs out. That’s when she discovers a flyer: “Call Jane.”
Joy is then connected with a group of women based on the Chicago-based network of activists known as the Jane Collective, who help other women have safe, illegal abortions. Led by feminist Virginia (Sigourney Weaver) — loosely based on the real Jane founder Heather Booth — the Janes includes Black Power advocate Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku), Sister Mike (Aida Turturro), and the under-qualified male doctor providing the $600 abortions (Cory Michael Smith) until Joy oversees enough procedures to take over. Throughout the film, Joy spends more and more time with the Janes while eluding her husband, who thinks she’s at “art class.” How Joy’s lawyer husband believed this for so long is a bit lost on me, but it allowed for Call Jane’s fitting conclusion, in which the Janes unite in solidarity when the entire collective is threatened.
Another thing Call Jane misses the mark on the impact and obstacles men outside of Joy’s husband — think doctors, lawmakers, cops, etc. — presented during this era when women couldn’t freely make choices for their bodies. Those parties were more of a threat to the Jane Collective than Call Jane paints them to be.
Still, Joy’s transformation from a quiet housewife to an abortion crusader is engaging. Her involvement begins when Virginia asks her to pick up another abortion-seeking woman and ends with her standing firm in the front lines of the Jane Collective. And while Call Jane touches on one of the most sensitive topics in our society, director Phyllis Nagy believes we should all be able to have this conversation.
“We should all be in conversation with each other,” she said during a post-premiere Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival premiere. “We should be having an inter-generational conversation, an intersectional conversation — these things are extremely necessary in order for our cherished right to choose not to disappear entirely.” Call Jane kickstarts that conversation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Jane Collective is the subject of another narrative feature, Ask For Jane (2019), which was selected as AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for May 31, 2019. We recommend that you read our complete coverage and see both films about the Jane Collective and the group’s very important crusade for women’s reproductive rights.