‘Call Jane’s’ abortion scene gets right what ‘Blonde’ got wrong +2023

It’s rare to hear the term “abortion” in a Hollywood film. It’s much rarer to actually see one depicted on screen. Call Jane — available today on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu and more — does both, and with one brilliant scene breaks the stigma surrounding society’s taboo practice.

Based on the true story of underground abortions in 1960’s Chicago, Call Jane stars Elizabeth Banks as a dutiful housewife named Joy who becomes pregnant with her second child. When she is told she will likely die in childbirth and is denied a life-saving abortion, Joy finds her life in the hands of an underground network of reproductive activists called “The Janes”. The Janes used code names, safe houses and fronts to covertly make the then-largely illegal procedure available to hundreds who needed it.

Joy is driven by one of the network’s leaders, Virginia (played by the always-amazing Sigourney Weaver) to a secret location where a male doctor working with the network is performing the procedure for a hefty fee. Unlike Virginia, this doctor, Dean (played by Cory Michael Smith), expresses no sympathy for Joy. His bedside manner is non-existent. He offers no assurances; he just starts poking around in Joy’s cervix and – in a cool, distant voice – explains step by step what she’s going to experience next.

Unlike the abortion scene in Andrew Dominik’s controversial Marilyn Monroe biopic Blond– which included both a POV “cervix shot” and a CGI speaking fetus begging for its life –Call Jane Director Phyllis Nagy (aka writer Carol) does not use graphic images to increase shock value. We stay on Banks’ face for most of the procedure as she struggles to contain her fear. The camera does not crop. It creates a veil of intimacy between the viewer and Joy; the viewer sympathizes with her in ways that this stranger poking around in her clearly does not.

And yet, while it’s clearly terrifying, Joy’s abortion isn’t portrayed as overly traumatic. She doesn’t run off the table screaming (like Ana de Armas in Blond). She doesn’t shed sobbing, guilt-ridden tears for her unborn child. Nothing goes wrong. There are no complications. It’s just a routine – albeit stressful and scary – medical procedure. Anyone who has ever felt stressed, anxious, and scared in the presence of an unsympathetic doctor can and will tell.

in the an interview with Indiewire, Banks said that was exactly the emotion she was aiming for when filming the scene. “Women … we give our bodies to medical professionals all the time. And these procedures, none of them are fun. Your annual exam isn’t fun. And it’s invasive. Honestly, it was a lot of meaningful memories,” Banks said. “I’ve had this experience of being in someone else’s hands, in the hands of a man, in the stirrups and not letting any empathy come my way. I just wanted to build empathy in the audience for this woman and the other women in the story by going through this type of procedure where you literally give your most intimate body to strangers.”

When you see Joy lying on that table, you’ll be amazed at how taboo that scene feels. There’s no nudity or blood, but it feels wrong—almost forbidden—to be allowed to see it. But how many times have we watched a woman give birth on the screen? How many TV shows have featured chemotherapy treatments, CAT scans, and brain surgery? Although it’s getting harder and harder to get one in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people abort every year.

But for such a common procedure Call Jane is one of the few films brave enough to show abortion for what it really is. Now more than ever, that’s what post-Roe audiences need to see.

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