New York comedy queen Caroline Hirsch has produced a film that is nothing to laugh about.
The woman famed for spotting talent from Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart to Dave Chapelle and Michele Wolf has co-produced “Ask for Jane,” which tells the story of a women’s collective in Chicago that counseled women before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.
Now that Alabama and other states are re-criminalizing abortion, the film couldn’t be more timely.
“All of the stories in the film are true, although the names have changed,” Hirsch said. “The irony is that we screened the film on Tuesday, as the news from Alabama was coming out.”
Cait Cortelyou, a 31-year-old producer and star of the film, said they had no idea womens’ rights could turn so fast.
“I thought we were making a period piece about what life was like 50 years ago,” Cortelyou said. “Then we walked out of the theater, turned on our phones and learned about Alabama. It’s happening all over again. It’s horrifying.”
Cortelyou said she is a third generation Planned Parenthood volunteer, but that she had never heard of the Jane Collective until she watched a documentary, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”
“It was mentioned for about two minutes. I thought it was such an important story, it needed to be told. I’m the third generation in my family to volunteer at Planned Parenthood. If I hadn’t heard of it, I was sure no one else had either.”
The Jane Collective launched at the University of Chicago in 1969, when a student helped her roommate get an abortion after the woman tried to kill herself. They operated like a mobbed up spy network, with blindfolds, code names, and fake store fronts, just like the mob. Women would be taken one place and then taken out a back door and driven, blindfolded, somewhere else.
The women in the Collective were eventually arrested and faced 150 years in prison.
At the time, doctors would not prescribe birth control unless women were married and had their husbands’ permission, which led to desperate measures. About 5000 girls and women died each year trying to end their pregnancies.
Scenes in the film were straight from real life. A schoolgirl killed herself with rat poison, another jumped off a building, a third’s wealthy father wanted her to marry the man who raped her while another was refused life-saving surgery in order to save a fetus even though the woman already had children who needed her.
Cortel you said she hopes the movie can be seen by “both sides” in Alabama and across the country.
“We are just telling women’s stories.”
The movie is not preachy. It brings the stories of women back into the conversation and shows how women are impacted by policies,” Cortelyou said.
Work began on the film before the 2016 election.
“Right after the election, we knew we were on to something,” Hirsch said.
“If a woman has no reproductive control over her body, she has no power whatsoever. It is a way to keep women down,” Hirsch said.
The first “Jane” volunteers included a young woman forced into an unhappy marriage after she got pregnant and another woman who was raped at 13 years of age by a 35-year-old man at her synagogue.
“Back then, if you needed an abortion, you went to the mob,” Hirsch said.
“There was a terrible stigma of being pregnant and unmarried. But any time you repress women over their reproductive rights, you are suppressing their freedom and trying to keep them down in the world. This is why women are powerful and people are scared about how powerful women are today and trying to suppress them.”