Hollywood tackles abortion as the fight gears up in Washington

PHOTO: Janice, Cody Horn, speaks on the phone with a woman seeking an abortion through the Jane Collective, in a scene from "Ask for Jane."PlayMichael William Bernstein
WATCH The history of abortion laws in America

When Cait Cortelyou first began developing her film, "Ask for Jane," about the pre-Roe v. Wade underground abortion network called the Jane Collective, it was before the 2016 election.

"I thought we would be living in a very different time," said Cortelyou, who said she expected Hillary Clinton to win.

"I had hoped this film would come out and it would be historical relic," she explained. Instead, "It's telling a story that’s still so chillingly relevant."

In fact, the independently produced "Ask for Jane" is one of four upcoming films about the period before Roe v. Wade.

PHOTO: Linda, Megan Channell, is blindfolded to protect the identity of her abortion provider, in a scene from Ask for Jane.Greg Emetaz
Linda, Megan Channell, is blindfolded to protect the identity of her abortion provider, in a scene from "Ask for Jane."

The films, which address the period leading up the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, are particularly timely given that Roe v. Wade is once again at the center of a Supreme Court nomination fight.

Last month, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would retire, opening the door to the very real possibility that Roe could be overturned by the high court. Trump, who vowed that "judges will be pro-life," nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a federal district court judge, to take Kennedy's place.

Activists and politicians on both sides have already geared up for the fight ahead. Now, Hollywood has entered the fray.

"My first instinct is to say it's a good thing," Asha Dahya, founder and editor of GirlTalkHQ, told ABC News. "With safe and legal abortion access hanging in the balance, films have a way to challenge people's perspectives in a way activism cannot."

Three of the films are about the underground Jane network, which provided services to women before abortion was legal. The fourth film, which was first reported on by The Hollywood Reporter, looks at the landmark case itself and stars some of Hollywood's most outspoken conservatives, including Stacey Dash and Oscar winner Jon Voight.

"We need to retell the history of women, because younger women don't know how hard women have fought to have control of their own bodies," Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, told ABC News.

But, she added, "You have to have a good story no matter what your film is about."

PHOTO: The arrested members of the Jane Collective are described in papers as The Abortion Seven, in a scene from Ask for Jane.Michael William Bernstein
The arrested members of the Jane Collective are described in papers as "The Abortion Seven," in a scene from "Ask for Jane."

Cortelyou knew she had stumbled onto a good story when this self-described lifelong feminist and third-generation Planned Parenthood volunteer was hearing about the Jane Collective for the first time two years ago, while watching a documentary on the history of the feminist movement.

She wrote a treatment that same night, then connected with friend Rachel Carey, who co-wrote the script with her and directed the film. Caroline Hirsch, founder of the famed New York comedy club Carolines, where Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Billy Crystal and more got their start, came on board as a producer.

Judith Arcana, an original member of the Jane Collective and one of the "Abortion 7" who was arrested, reached out to Cortelyou when she heard about the film and signed on as a consultant. She also makes a cameo in the film.

PHOTO: From left: Cody Horn attends an event on April 21, 2017 in Las Vegas.| Actress Sarah Steele attends an event on June 29, 2017, in New York City.Getty Images
From left: Cody Horn attends an event on April 21, 2017 in Las Vegas.| Actress Sarah Steele attends an event on June 29, 2017, in New York City.

"It really felt like that the universe was saying this is the film I have to make," said Cortelyou, who also stars in the film alongside Sarah Ramos ("Parenthood"), Cody Horn ("The Office") and Sarah Steele ("The Good Wife").

When filming began, it was the summer after the election, and suddenly, Cortelyou said, the film "felt like a revolutionary act -- like the importance had increased."

Then last fall, the trades reported that another independent feature about the collective was in the works. "Call Jane" will feature "Handmaid's Tale" star Elisabeth Moss as the title character who becomes pregnant unexpectedly and turns to the group of women for help. "My Week With Marilyn" director Simon Curtis is expected to helm the film.

PHOTO: Michelle Williams poses for a portrait while promoting the movie All the Money in the World in Los Angeles, Dec. 16, 2017.Mario Anzuoni/Reuters, FILE
Michelle Williams poses for a portrait while promoting the movie "All the Money in the World" in Los Angeles, Dec. 16, 2017.

In May, a third Jane film was announced, this one by Amazon Studios and slated to star Michelle Williams. "This Is Jane" is based on Laura Kaplan's book "The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service." Williams will play Jane's founder, known as Jenny, and "Boys Don't Cry" director Kimberly Pierce has signed on to helm.

Rather than see the other Jane films as competition, Cortelyou said she agrees with consultant Arcana, "the more the better."

"This is a story that needs to be told," she said. "I'm happy to be part of the zeitgeist."

The fourth film, "Roe v. Wade," is described on its GoFundMe Page as "the untold story of how people lied, how the media lied, and how the courts were manipulated to pass a law that has since killed over 60 Million Americans." The film is already drawing controversy.

PHOTO: From left: Jon Voight attends an event on April 18, 2018, in New York City.|Stacey Dash visits the SiriusXM Studios on June 6, 2016, in New York City.Getty Images
From left: Jon Voight attends an event on April 18, 2018, in New York City.|Stacey Dash visits the SiriusXM Studios on June 6, 2016, in New York City.

The Daily Beast, which said that it obtained a draft of the script, wrote that it was "riddled with typos, inaccuracies and misquotations," including an often-repeated and widely debunked conspiracy theory that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was out to "exterminate the Negro population." The site also quoted crew members saying there are graphic depictions of aborted fetuses written into the script.

Other reports have called the film "embattled" and a "total disaster," with stories of cast and crew members dropping out and locations being rescinded.

But Nick Loeb, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, dismisses the reports.

Although he's forthright about his own anti-abortion views and his motivation for making the film, he called "Roe v. Wade," a "50-50 movie," with a look at both sides of the abortion debate. He said the script draws from 40 different books, court transcripts, speeches and other archival material.

"Our whole slogan of the movie is 'Roe v. Wade': You decide," he told ABC News. "It's essentially the birth of the pro-choice movement versus the birth of pro-life movement."

Loeb, who is probably best known for his court battle with ex Sofia Vergara over frozen embryos, began working on the film two years ago. His motivation, he said, was his own shifting views on abortion, from being pro-abortion rights in his 20s to against abortion now.

"I know a lot of people make the assumption that the reason I'm doing this is because of my pro-life court case," he said. "It has nothing to do with that at all. It really has to do with what I went through in my 20s and the conversion I had."

In the film, he portrays Bernard Nathanson, the doctor who co-founded the National Abortion Rights Action League and later became an anti-abortion activist. He and co-writer Cathy Allyn also stepped in to direct the film after they said the director they hired seemed overwhelmed by the scope of the project.

Allyn, 32, who also considers herself anti-abortion, said she's been called anti-feminist and anti-women since helming the film.

"I guess the optimistic and naive side of me thought a lot of other women in Hollywood would rally behind a female director," she said, "but considering the nature of Hollywood and the left-leaning sensibilities that's just not the case."

The film wrapped earlier this week after shooting inside New York City's famed St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Loeb said he's already received multiple offers for distribution from studios.

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