Confronting The Reality Of Anti-Abortion Centers

Confronting The Reality Of Anti-Abortion Centers
Photo by Benyamin Bohlouli / Unsplash

At twenty, Maleeha found herself with an unplanned pregnancy. She had come to America just a year before and was a college student in north Texas. Maleeha had been on birth control and didn’t think it was possible for her to be pregnant. After eight pregnancy tests, though, she could no longer deny her reality. She was pregnant, and she knew she did not want to be. At this time in her life, Maleeha simply had no room for a child. She knew she needed and wanted an abortion.

Maleeha reached out to a cousin because she was still unfamiliar with the laws in Texas. She also needed an ultrasound to determine how far along she was in her pregnancy because she had not been tracking her period. With her cousin’s help Maleeha went the White Rose Women’s Clinic.  

When she and her partner at the time entered the clinic, they were immediately weirded out by some biblical imagery on the walls. But, Maleeha dismissed it as something innocuous, after all she was relatively new to America and Texas. Two older women in lab coats greeted Maleeha and her partner. They took a urine sample and confirmed her pregnancy.

Even though Maleeha never uttered the word “abortion,” the women in lab coats begun inundating them with information about the procedure. It would cause breast cancer and infertility. Maleeha became even further alarmed when they told her women in Texas who were taking the pill were bleeding out and dying.

Maleeha and her partner were left in their room alone, but a video was started for them to watch. A man was posing as a doctor on the screen and going through what he claimed was a medical abortion. It was extremely graphic, according to Maleeha.

Next Maleeha was to undergo an ultrasound. She was apprehensive that this could cause pelvic discomfort. “You are pregnant, you are going to have to deal with pain,” was what a woman told her. Luckily for Maleeha, the ultrasound ended up abdominal. When that was done, she was told she should not tell anybody in her family that she was pregnant, in case she miscarried or they disapproved. 

What happened next is something Maleeha will never forget. The woman who had administered the ultrasound told her that the abortion pill was so dangerous, it was now banned. 

Shocked might be too light of a word to describe what Maleeha felt at that moment. Now in a frenzy she began calling clinics outside of Texas. She located a clinic in Colorado Springs. But driving there would be extremely difficult because Maleeha had a condition that was making her extremely sick in this pregnancy. A family member intervened and helped her and her partner buy plane tickets and a hotel room.

If this story of what happened to Maleeha sounds like the ramifications of the Texas abortion ban, it’s not. This occurred about a decade ago. Abortion was legal in Texas at this time, but Maleeha had entered an anti-abortion center and believed their lie.

Flash forward about ten years and Maleeha now works with Texas Equal Access Fund, an abortion fund group that helps low-income Texans access abortion. It wasn’t until her first day working for the group when she realized she had gone to an anti-abortion center that had lied to her. It’s difficult for Maleeha to assess her feelings about that realization, but in her conversation with Texas Signal she made an attempt. “There was a lot of anger, betrayal, and disbelief about how this was a thing.”

Every year, thousands of people will enter an anti-abortion center and not even realize it. And now, where the reality now matches the incendiary rhetoric Maleeha heard ten years ago about abortion being banned in Texas, anti-abortion centers continue to peddle misinformation – with taxpayer dollars.

Maleeha, like many in the reproductive rights movement, no longer uses the phrase crisis pregnancy center because they do not believe these places adequately address those that are actually in crisis. Before Senate Bill 8 went into effect in 2021, anti-abortion centers outnumbered abortion clinics nearly 9 to 1 in Texas. In the last two years, Texas has poured $100 million into anti-abortion centers. Many of these centers will find strategic locations, like near a college campus, and advertise free services in order to reign in unsuspecting patients. 

Erika Galindo, who is an organizer with the Lilith Fund, another abortion fund in Texas, sees this every day in her occupation. “It’s just so common, unfortunately,” she told Texas Signal about patients she meets who have previously been to an anti-abortion center. “The thing I find scary about it, is that it’s funded by the state,” says Galindo. 

Abortion storytelling, a tool that many reproductive rights organizations utilize to combat against the stigma of abortion has also helped many former patients of anti-abortion centers begin to process and heal from their experience. Galindo describes the work of abortion storytellers who talk about that “weird and ugly feeling” somebody might have felt at an anti-abortion center as vital. “You’re not alone in that,” she says.

On their website, Lilith Fund has a letter from a client, Melissa, who was at one time a patient of Dr. Ingrid Skop, an anti-abortion doctor who has claimed that children as young as nine can safely give birth.  Melissa ended up seeing another doctor and realized while watching hearings about Dr. Skop’s background. “After hearing your testimony, and learning you run crisis pregnancy centers, or anti-abortion fake clinics, I thank my lucky stars you played zero part in my pregnancy journey,” she writes.

Maleeha also has a familiarity with Dr. Skop, who was recently named to a maternal mortality committee in Texas. She testified at the same congressional hearing as Dr. Skop in 2021. Maleeha would end up switching seats with Dr. Ghazalah Moayedi, who was also testifying, because of her anger and frustration at Dr. Skop’s role in perpetuating anti-abortion centers in the state (among many other actions).

TEA Fund has created a whole campaign spearheaded around anti-abortion centers. The My Choice: Not a Crisis campaign will simultaneously tell the stories of people harmed by anti-abortion centers while also working towards dismantling their power in a state like Texas.

Even being in a state with a near-total abortion ban, Maleeha doesn’t feel like the work of organizations like TEA Fund has changed. And the work is even more necessary. “If anything [anti-abortion centers] are more emboldened because they are the [often] the only place people go to now with that factual misinformation.”

Maleeha recently learned of a woman who believed she was making an appointment at a clinic in New Mexico for an abortion. Despite financial hardships, she traveled hundreds of miles only to learn when she arrived that the “clinic” was actually an anti-abortion center.

It took Maleeha back to her own experience. “I can’t imagine how angry I would be if that happened to me.”