Going Underground in the Abortion Wars

By Jose Olivares

When we first received our theme and mentors for the 2016 Next Generation NPR Boot Camp at the University of Nevada, Reno, I couldn’t have been more delighted. I had known my mentor for a while, and the theme opened the door to so many creative and wonderful opportunities. The “Odd Jobs” theme made me think of dancing, acrobatic children in my hometown Mexico City performing for tips during stoplights on the greasy gravel.

I then realized we were in Reno, Nevada; a small city of about 250,000 people in which “odd jobs” are not as easy to find as in a big metropolis. My mentor, Nico Colombant and I wracked our brains, tossing around ideas that could best fit this theme. From fetish models to farm animal saviors—our ideas were applicable, but lacked a larger socio-political theme.

One night I remembered an extraordinary woman I had met a year ago. “Jane” was what she called herself. Her “normal” work was just that: normal. But what she did — and does— under this pseudonym continues to astound me. She provides low-cost and free abortions at people’s homes in and around Reno. This work is illegal. It’s a felony. The risks she takes to provide this service to people who need it are astronomical. I was sure that neglecting this story would warrant a slap in the face by my future self.

Photographing Jane. ( Photo by Nico Colombant.)

Photographing Jane. ( Photo by Nico Colombant.)

Anonymity

I was worried about compromising her anonymity and putting her in any danger. However, having Nico Colombant, an adjunct professor, at the University of Reno, Nevada, as my mentor allowed me to relax. I trust Nico, so I knew his meeting of Jane would not compromise her security.

Asking Jane to take part in the story was easier than I expected. When we met, I was expecting her to be hesitant. She wasn’t. She was willing to share her story and include her voice in the larger narrative about abortion rights in our country. Our prior encounters — and the fact I knew Nico well — put her at ease. We agreed that we would both look out for any information that would even slightly point toward her “above ground” life.

The Process

Beginning to work on this was exciting. The topic of abortion obviously causes fiery debates and even violence, so jumping into the discussion was thrilling.

Nico and I discussed some of the ethical implications of my reporting with another professor at the journalism school. Her sobering words made me slightly nervous. Having information on Jane could potentially put me in danger as well. I set the nerves aside and decided to pursue the story anyway.

We began by visiting the only abortion clinic in Reno. The dedicated protesters outside the clinic with their attention-grabbing signs were happy to speak with us and get their two cents in. We didn’t explain that our larger focal point of the story was Jane, but it was still an interesting contrast with what was to come.

The first time I had ever interviewed a pro-life protester. (Photo by Nico Colombant)

The first time I had ever interviewed a pro-life protester. (Photo
by Nico Colombant)

Interviewing Jane

We met with Jane and collected all of our material. Our time with Jane was well-spent: we shared laughs, thoughts, and stories. Every sentence she spoke grasped me. I continued to be in awe of her bravery. She is risking so much to provide others a much-needed service.

As I complete the 2016 Next Generation Radio NPR Boot Camp, I can’t help to think of the people I’ve worked with throughout the process: the pro-life protesters, Jane, Nico, my colleagues, the other mentors and the wonderful Next Generation editors and producers. They have all been such a big part of this week, in their own individual way. I cannot thank Nico enough for his hard work, genius insight and support. I am also incredibly appreciative of Traci, Doug and Tom, and their incredible support base.

Jose1

I was surprised by the manual extraction kit, made with a mason jar and common supplies. (Photo by Nico Colombant)

I also have to thank Jane for her time and of course, the risk she has taken to let me share her story.

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