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Reel Life: safe and illegal abortion


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Video makers Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy first learned about Jane--the 1960s underground abortion-referral service--by reading a newspaper article on the history of the pro-choice movement. This weekend they'll premiere an hourlong documentary on the volunteer group, which broke the law to ensure that women had access to safe abortions.

In four years of direct service--1969 through 1973, when Roe v. Wade resulted in legalized abortion--Jane coordinated more than 12,000 procedures. "And not one fatality," Kirtz says with wonder. "No degrading questions either. For the Janes, a key issue was to gain the trust of the women, and the fact they succeeded wonderfully was a testament to the emerging solidarity." Like the women they helped, the Janes came from various backgrounds, though Lundy says quite a few "were intelligent, funny Jewish mothers." Some Janes, she adds, might not have resorted to abortion themselves but they believed that women shouldn't be punished for having sex and should have control over their own bodies.

The documentary combines archival samples of the media's treatment of abortion and present-day interviews with six of the Janes, who disclosed their identities publicly for the first time.

"In chronicling Jane's efforts, we also try to dispel the revisionist view of those times," Kirtz says. "I think we need to put things in truthful perspectives again, especially in a time when feminism is facing a backlash from white male rage and abortion [is] restigmatized. On TV the 60s have been pigeonholed to sell Coke, and the protests trivialized." Echoes Lundy: "We present the 60s matter-of-factly. Women back then led lives neither as victims nor as heroes. As one of the Janes said, "Don't make us perfect. We were just ordinary folks who did extraordinary things together."'

The Janes: A Women's Underground Abortion Service will be screened at 8 PM Friday and Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers' Kino-Eye Cinema, 1543 W. Division. A panel discussion with Kirtz, Lundy, and several former Janes follows the Friday show. Admission is $5. For more info call 384-5533.

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