THE JANES – Review by Jennifer Merin

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Filmmakers Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes’ compelling documentary is a deep dive into the lives and labors of a group of extraordinarily brave, generous and socially conscious activist women, collectively known as Jane, who worked clandestinely in Chicago to help women terminate unwanted pregnancies at a time when anyone seeking, facilitating and/or conducting abortions faced criminal charges and long term imprisonment. Active from 1969 to 1972, the group of women facilitated an estimated 11,000 abortions, all of which were all performed clandestinely in clean facilities by trained personnel, on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ fee system that made the procedure available to impoverished women. When doctors felt too threatened to work with the group, the Janes learned how to perform the procedure safely and performed it themselves.

The story of the Janes is told via a rich compendium of on camera interviews with former members of the group, patients who were helped, medical personal, and other first hand witnesses to the the way the Janes managed to carry on without being found out by the authorities, and to the impact that the oppressive, punitive laws of that time had on women’s rights. There is also ample archival footage to illustrate the struggle that was going on. And mug shots of the Janes who were jailed in the line of their chosen duty.

As Roe vs Wade is facing erosion and we women are experiencing a backslide on the reproductive rights we struggled to attain, THE JANES release on HBOMAX couldn’t be more timely. The information and powerful emotional impact packaged in this powerful documentary constitute a clarion call to action. This must see movie carries a message that must be shared with the world at large.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).