Call Jane star Sigourney Weaver was in her early twenties when the Supreme Court passed down the original Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
“I remember what it was like before Roe vs. Wade was passed,” Weaver told MovieMaker. “The idea that we’re back there again is honestly — it’s completely unthinkable to me, what’s happened. Over 51% of the population now has no agency over their bodies.”
Weaver stars as Virginia in Call Jane, Phyllis Nagy’s second feature film. It’s based on the true story of The Jane Collective, a secret group that helped women access safe abortions in 1968 Chicago. Weaver’s character is the leader of the Janes, and she stars opposite Elizabeth Banks as Joy, a woman who seeks an alternative after she is denied a hospital abortion despite the life-threatening nature of her pregnancy.
The message behind Call Jane is “even more urgent because of the reversal of Roe vs. Wade,” Weaver said. “This is about women’s reproductive freedom and our fundamental human rights. This is such an important fight, and I’m proud that we have met it head-on.”
Weaver and Nagy shot Call Jane in the early days of the pandemic, before Roe was overturned in June.
“I think we all knew that there was a possibility,” Weaver said. “I think everyone involved, including the crew, was very aware that we were coming up to a time when there would at least be a dialogue about Roe vs. Wade, and we wanted this story to help the cause.”
To Nagy, that frightening possibility was always looming.
“I knew in shaping the beginning and the end of the piece that we were heading down a road that was going to be a replay of something that’s been going on for a long time, which is women’s rights are either taken away from us, or you take one step forward to go three steps backward,” Nagy said.
Weaver was just out of college in 1973, the year of the first Roe vs. Wade decision. During the time when the film is set, five years earlier, she was studying at Stanford University.
“I was in college during the Vietnam War and at our university, one of the research groups had done a lot of research on napalm. So that sort of radicalized our campus because we wanted that research lab thrown off campus, and so our campus was very active protesting the war,” Weaver said.
Though Weaver wasn’t involved in any groups like the Jane Collective, she could immediately relate to the story of Call Jane when she first read the script.
“To me, it’s such a moving story about the sisterhood of women,” she said. “I’m very glad our movie is coming out. To me, it’s a story of these women and their commitment to each other, their commitment to justice, how they grow by participating and helping each other.”
Nagy knew that Weaver would make a great fit for Virginia because of the actress’ knowledge of the political climate at the time.
“She understood immediately what kind of woman this was,” Nagy said.
Nagy, who earned two Emmy nominations for her directorial and screenwriting debut, Mrs. Harris, and an Oscar nomination for best-adapted screenplay for Carol, says Call Jane is a reminder of all that women stand to lose.
“It’s a fictional story about one woman’s journey through the kinds of decisions that a lot of women were navigating then, and still are, and will navigate,” she said. “What does this mean now for doctors who treat women with life-threatening conditions?”
Weaver believes there is still hope for women’s reproductive rights to be restored in America.
“There’s no way that the Supreme Court can undo the decades of progress women have made in so many fields. Not having to have children against our will and being able to have a family when it’s right for the woman and right for the offspring has, I think, liberated women, and they’ve had so many huge achievements in so many fields, and I don’t think any of that would have been possible if Roe vs. Wade hadn’t been passed,” she said. “The last thing any American wants, frankly, in my opinion, is to have the government, or lawyers, or judges, involved in what is a very personal, private decision. And I just don’t think the law can stand.”
Though Nagy doesn’t expect to change the minds of any pro-lifers, she does hope that it can offer a new perspective to people with an open mind.
“People who have watched the movie have come away saying, ‘Oh, well, you didn’t yell at me or lecture me and I appreciate that,’” she said. “It’s about the way that collective action works. The challenge, for me, was finding a script that would allow me to do this without preaching only to people who agreed with a certain point of view.”
“Choice is the operative word, and if people understand that, that’s a huge win,” she added. “Because it means that people will think about, ‘Well, wait a minute, it’s my choice not to have an abortion — I don’t think I can impose my choice on the person who wants one.’”
Call Jane is now in theaters, from Roadside Attractions.
Main Image: Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver in Call Jane