Tia Lessen, Emma Pildes, Loretta Ross & Heather Booth at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.
HEATHER BOOTH: And now, we have Emma, Loretta, and Tia.
[MUSIC PLAYING - ANDERS LEWEN AND HENRIK WIKSTROM, "POWER TO THE WOMAN"]
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HEATHER BOOTH: It is amazing to be in the presence of such heroes. By the way, hero was a woman.
This film is now going around the country. By the way, you should rent it, see it, provide it for your companies, for your families, for your social gatherings. It is generating an extraordinary response. I wanted to ask, first, the filmmakers and then Loretta, why you made the film? And what you think its importance is right now?
EMMA PILDES: Yeah. Tia and I are filmmakers, you know? So we felt like this was something that we could contribute. It's about doing what you can in these fights for justice. So we felt that we could, you know, leverage the things in our life to make this film and to make this contribution to the fight.
You know, it's been 50 years that Roe has been the law of the land. And now that it's gone, there's so many people that didn't know what that looked like when women didn't have the right to choose, what that felt like, the isolation, the fear, the condescension, the injury, the death that went along with that, because women don't stop getting abortions, they stop getting safe abortions. So we felt like if we could give a platform to you, extraordinary women, and let you bear witness to what all that looked like and felt like, that that would be a very meaningful contribution that we could make as filmmakers.
TIA LESSEN: And we wanted to strike a balance. As storytellers, you know, we wanted to show this grim reality that Emma talks about, but we also wanted to show this extraordinary, inspiring, and hopeful story about a group of infinitely resourceful, inventive, dynamic women who banded together defying the Catholic Church in Chicago, defying the mob, defying the state legislature. They banded together to help women in need and to save lives. And they exemplify this extraordinary power of agency and collective resistance and really just common decency.
HEATHER BOOTH: And what incredible foresight, as well as a COVID delay, that meant that the film came out just at the time that it's also one of the hottest political issues in the country. I mean, really, I really want to thank them again for making this film and providing this resource.
And Loretta, I wondered, what you make of the film and how your experience resonates with the story told in the film?
LORETTA ROSS: Well, again, I want to thank you all for doing the film. I deal with a lot of young women who treated us like Cassandras, when we would say, you know, the sky is falling. They're going to take away abortion if they can. And they said, oh, you're overreacting, you're being hyper or whatever. So we're dealing with a lot of young people who don't know the reality, and yet it's their wombs that are at risk. I mean, they ain't coming after my womb. It ain't my womb. So they're coming after theirs.
And I'm really pissed off because I had an abortion in 1970 in Washington, DC, three years before Roe because Washington, DC, decriminalized three years before Roe. So I had a perfectly, safe abortion at the Washington Hospital Center. No problems basically. And it should not be harder now to get an abortion than it was in 1970. So call me pissed off.
HEATHER BOOTH: I want that button-- I'm wearing the Planned Parenthood button, "Bans off our bodies," but I want the button that says, "Call me pissed off." Talking about being pissed off, I wondered what you see as the reaction now to the Supreme Court decision, particularly how you see what's happening since the Supreme Court decision, both nationally as well as in the States. I understand there are 18 states where most abortions are banned, or at dates that are so earliest before most women even know they're pregnant.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, I have to say as a Black woman, I have not had the history of relying on the Supreme Court to provide my liberation, just saying, because we've been disappointed too many times. At the same time, though, it is part of this global resurgence of authoritarianism and fascism that starts with people's bodies, but as you mentioned, with voting rights, with killing the environment, with all of the deformation of democracy that we're looking at.
And let me also be quite blunt, I don't believe that the restrictions on abortion and birth control and sex Ed are about encouraging more Black and Brown babies to be born because they kill the ones we have. I think it's about trying to coerce white women into having more babies, because they're afraid of this great replacement theory thing going on. And it's really up to white women to understand the racial politics of reproductive oppression.
HEATHER BOOTH: Racial politics of reproductive oppression. And also, what are some of the things in the movie that underscore what life was like then that people may not know about and that are returning?
TIA LESSIN: Well, we saw in the film exactly what you're talking about, Loretta, we learned that when abortion was legalized in New York State but it was still illegal in Illinois, women with means were able to make their way to New York from Chicago.
I mean, it's no picnic to have to travel across state lines for an abortion, but those were the lucky ones. Women who didn't have child care couldn't take time off of work, were in abusive relationships and couldn't leave for an afternoon, much less two days, and women who couldn't afford the transportation or taking time off work, they were left behind.
Those were the women that the Janes served, and they were disproportionately Black and Brown communities. Those are the women who will continue to be harmed today, are being harmed right now when abortion is banned.
EMMA PILDES: I mean, one of the other things that we saw to your question, Heather, in making the film that was a terrifying revelation for us was the existence of the septic abortion wards across this country. There was whole wards in city hospitals devoted to women that were dying of sepsis from self-imposed abortions or back alley abortions, whole wards of women.
We focused in the film because it's about Chicago on the Cook County Hospital Ward. It was a 40-bed war that was full all the time, every bed. We spoke to a doctor that did his rounds on that ward who said there was an eerie silence because there was no family members visiting, and these women were so ill. And that he called the morgue once a week because one of the women had died.
So as far as then and now and cause and effect, I think we're really concerned that we're headed right back that way. When Roe passed within the year, those words became obsolete. We created those words by this legislation. So there's a lot of parallels. What Tia is talking about, when things go on the state level to Black and Brown and underserved communities, and then also very tangible medical effects and death and physical injury.
HEATHER BOOTH: Because they only need to organize and respond offensively. There are two other things I just add for things that we're hearing now that are happening you may know about. There's now a Bounty system in some states where you can get money even $10,000 I'm told in Texas if you report on someone else who was involved in providing services for an abortion.
It might have been the taxi driver, it might have been your sister, it might have been the doctor. I thought this is something that only happens in authoritarian regimes in other countries, a police state.
A second thing that I understand, I just heard Senator Tammy Duckworth describe how people are being prosecuted for miscarriages and for in vitro fertilization because, who do those cells belong to? So the implications are wide ranging. I wondered also what you think has changed since Roe that is more-- some things that are more challenging and some things that are more hopeful than in the years before Roe, more challenging and more hopeful.
EMMA PILDES: Go ahead, yeah.
TIA LESSIN: I would say-- as you say, there are some laws that are actually more punitive and more restrictive. And that law, the Bounty Law in Texas and Oklahoma, was modeled after the Fugitive Slave Act. Those are the direct parallels.
I think we have increased possibility of surveillance because of technology so that prosecutors can more easily bring charges against people who aid and abet abortions. And I think abortion remains stigmatized. That's a challenge on the hope side, and I'd love to hear your answers.
There's Kansas, that six landslide of people in the state of Kansas of conservative state voted to reject this referendum, this constitutional Amendment on banning abortion. We're going to have a referendum enshrining abortion rights in Michigan, so we'll see how that goes in November. But hopefully there'll be a groundswell. They'll continue to be a groundswell of people rising up and saying this is a right we need to keep.
HEATHER BOOTH: Loretta?
LORETTA J. ROSS: What has changed? It's hard for people to remember that it was actually Republicans back in the late 60s and 70s who supported family planning. Nixon is the one that authorized the first grants for family planning because it was pitched to them as a way to reduce the populations in Brown and Black communities. So they liked it then, but then when white women started using the clinics, that's when everything changed. And
So what has changed now is that we used to believe that these heartless men mostly just didn't know, but we've been forced to concede that they know and they don't care. And that's a different project.
HEATHER BOOTH: I want to-- we've got time for one last question, though I actually feel this could go on for quite a while. I would say the one other thing that I think that's changed that's hopeful is all of us.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, that's true.
HEATHER BOOTH: We all did not exist, not in the same way, with the same ideas, with the same ability to speak, with the same resources, and we have to use those resources. The last question though is, what do we do? So what are the action steps on any level? And maybe we'll go 1, 2, 3, and a final comment here.
LORETTA J. ROSS: I mean, I'll go micro, talking about it. Talking about abortion with each other, telling our own stories to each other. The stigma, the silence is a tool of oppression. It's how they keep us in place. That we feel too ashamed to be able to talk about it with each other and then organize. So I would say that. I would say have full-throated conversations about abortion. Say the word. And just that little bit can create effect big change.
And then quickly, the other thing that I would say is remember your own personal power. That we all have the ability like the Janes to do the right thing, to do the decent thing for one another. When somebody is suffering in front of you, to do something about it and to organize on small levels and big levels. They were ordinary when we think they're pretty extraordinary, but they were ordinary women that organized to help other women in need. And we all have the ability to do that.
TIA LESSIN: Well, many of you work for companies. I hope that you've asked your employers to take a stand on this issue, and at the very least, cover transportation to places where abortion is legal if you live in a state with an abortion ban. And stop supporting candidates who don't believe in abortion rights.
As far as the film goes, we are airing on HBO right now. People can see this film on HBO Max. If you're interested in showing this film to your company, if you're on a college campus, if you are connected to a non-profit, we're eager to show this film, especially to young people. We're doing 50 screenings in the next 50 days, and we'd love for your community to be part of that. You can request the screening at the janesfilm.com.
HEATHER BOOTH: By the way, I spoke to someone here from Hanover Insurance who said that their company is-- my sister. Y'all my sister-- that their company is now covering transportation from one state to another for states that are not allowing the procedure in their own state. It's just one example.
TIA LESSIN: That's great.
HEATHER BOOTH: Loretta.
LORETTA J. ROSS: I love that, but that also pisses me off, because we should not have an underground railroad for women to secure their human rights. I'm sorry. Replicating the 19th century is not a solution in the 21st century. And so I think the thing that I want to urge people to do is to keep the most vulnerable women in the center of your lens, because there are many women who can't travel.
Most of the women seeking abortions are already mothers. They're struggling to take care of their kids already. And so we need maybe a couple of hundred Jane collectives to be put together so we can both do legal and extralegal things to make sure that women don't die, because that's our priority. Women should not die while the boys fight it out.
HEATHER BOOTH: Couple of final thoughts on this. If we have two more votes in the Senate, and if a House that still supports women's reproductive freedom, we will codify Roe nationally.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Call Georgia.
HEATHER BOOTH: And there are four M's I want to leave you with, a way to think about what we can do, what you can do. And actually almost make a note. You know how you're writing notes to yourself to be sent in a year, make a note, what will you do of these four M's? One, members. Will you recruit people? How many people to do the work, whether it's at the centers or on the issue or-- but people, members, message.
What will you say? Will you say the words? Will you speak about it? Will you use a language that people can relate to? We keep repeating the most intimate decision in a person's life about freedom people relate to that more, members, message, money. Money matters. You both have corporate money. You have personal money. It matters.
There's enormous-- what they're calling-- dark money on the other side that you don't even know where it comes from, and movement. We need to show up. You've shown up here. We show up for each other. We build this movement. And with love at the center, when we organize, we will change this world for the better. Thank you all for everything you've done.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.