part of Funding The Frontlines: A Roadmap To Supporting Health Equity Through Abortion Access
Presented below is the raw transcript of Movement Manager Brandi Collins-Calhoun’s conversation with We Testify storyteller Maleeha about her abortion story.
Okay, um, so if you can say your name, age and where you got your abortion.
My name is Maleeha Aziz. I am 27 years old, and I had a medication abortion. I took the first set of pills in Colorado Springs and the second one in Texas.
Okay. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us and share your story. We really appreciate it. What can you tell me about your abortion?
Okay, I think this was seven years ago, I was 20 years old. I had just moved to America from Pakistan.
To go to college, I wanted to be a chef, and I was going to go to culinary school. They didn’t have a loved one in my country. So, I decided to come here, I was privileged enough to be able to have the opportunity.
I found myself pregnant. I was using birth control, I was using the Nexplanon patches, and it just didn’t work.
You know, for whatever reason. I didn’t want to be pregnant; I was excited to start college. I was young. I was broke. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with my partner, my best friend, and a cat. So, did not have the funds to have a child.
I come from a conservative country. Pakistan is a conservative country, but my family isn’t as conservative. I mean, some people are. So, I wasn’t worried that if I tell my mom or my dad, they’ll throw me out or they’ll kill me. I wasn’t worried about that. But I don’t have a close relationship with my father. If I’m not close to someone, I’m not going to share something so personal with them. So, I didn’t want him to know, I just wanted to deal with it on my own.
I was on his insurance. I didn’t know how insurance is very confusing in America. It’s confusing. It really is. And I was young, and I didn’t know if I went to the doctor, if because he gets the invoices, and he pays for those co pays, or whatever it is, I didn’t know if it was going to say, went to the OB. I just I didn’t really want to deal with that at the moment.
But I knew I wanted an abortion.
WeTestify Founder Executive Director Renee Bracey Sherman writes how we cannot undo the harm of white supremacy without confronting the real experiences of the people it impacts.
Key to that and reproductive justice are the stories — and storytellers — of Black and other people of color.
“They’ve been closest to the pain, so they must be closest to the power. That can only happen if storytelling is invested in as a way of organizing and building the power of people who have abortions, and then seats at the table are created for us to sit in and imagine a different world.”
I texted a relative who just happened to be visiting my sister, actually. And I told her, I’m pregnant, I don’t want to be pregnant. I don’t have money. This happened. And she flew to Dallas. She was in Virginia at the time, and she flew to Dallas, and she helped me pay for everything because I didn’t have any money.
And first that financial strain was very difficult. I worked a job that paid me 10 an hour. And my partner worked at Discount Tire. And we didn’t have the money to pay for all of the costs because it’s expensive. I didn’t know how far along I was because I was on birth control. I wasn’t tracking my period. The only way you know is if you track your period and I didn’t know any didn’t pay attention.
I was also in denial about being pregnant because I was on birth control. So obviously I wasn’t expecting or hoping to be pregnant. My partner told me that his mom has had seven children and I am acting the way that she did when she was pregnant. And he was convinced I was pregnant and kept asking me to take a pregnancy test. After brushing him off and being in denial several times, I gave in, and I said fine. Took it was positive world came crashing down on me because I was like “what in the world why?” but the next step, I was navigating a whole new legal system, new laws, new everything because I just moved here from another country that’s literally north and south pole.
I didn’t realize how many hoops I’d have to jump through and how polarizing this debate was in America till I started dealing with needing an abortion. Yes, in Pakistan, you know, it slid under the rug. And people don’t like to talk about it. But it doesn’t invoke the same kind of shock and horror that it does here in the US, the whole abortion is murder. Like it’s not like that. People there will be pissed off and angry because you had sex before you were married.
But it’s not — abortion is not murder.
According to my religious beliefs, I’m Muslim. Abortion is not murder, and we’re actually allowed religiously to have an abortion up to I think it’s like 120, whatever, through the end of the first trimester anyway, it’s not considered a baby. It’s not considered a soul.
Everyone has different beliefs. But in the US, the Christian beliefs seem to lead this conversation even though there’s the whole separation of church and state and that was one of the first things I learned that was really weird for me because I was like, I get you all have this belief, but I’m not even Christian here. I don’t know why I have to. It was just really annoying.
Anyway, I learned pretty quickly what saying abortion in a conversation does to that conversation here in this country. It was weird. I reached out to my cousin who was in med school at the time. I told her because we’re close, my sister doesn’t live here, but my cousin did. I figured she’d be able to help me out. I told her I was pregnant; she was very kind and respectful about the fact that I didn’t want to be. And I told her, I didn’t want to use my dad’s insurance to go and get an ultrasound because I would need to know how far along I am. And I asked her, if she knew somewhere I could go, it wouldn’t cost me so much money, or if I could get it for free somewhere.
She googled a couple of things. And she sent me a list. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t know this either at the time, but on that list for crisis pregnancy centers because that’s just seems to pop up. They claim to do low cost or free ultrasounds, or whatever.
My boyfriend and I at the time, looked at the list, and we’re like, okay, these look close by let’s go here, and just at least figure out how far along I am. Because, until I knew how far along I was, I couldn’t proceed with any decision, because and I’ll get to that, but we went to White Rose Women’s clinic was one CPC near us.
The second that we walked in, I knew what it was, thankfully. Not many people do. I call it Jesus-y. I have no issue with religion whatsoever. I just don’t want someone else’s religion pushed on me. Like it wouldn’t push mine on anybody else’s, you know, it’s just, and I don’t like any show up religion in a medical setting, just because I feel like it brings in bias and discrimination if I don’t subscribe to that religion.
You know, like, for me, medical spaces are supposed to be completely neutral, because that’s all that matters is the person’s health, not their belief. If I would feel uncomfortable going to a medical setting where there’s a cross, or where there’s some kind of Islamic imagery, or any religion, I don’t want that, you know, even I went to a therapist once and there was a cross.
And I’m like, this makes me uncomfortable. Because I’m not here for this. I’m not here for Christian counseling. I’m not here for Muslim counseling. I’m just here for counseling with evidence based, you know, so for me, that’s what matters.
When I walked into the clinic – the CPC, not a clinic, the crisis pregnancy center – there was biblical imagery. And I was like, okay, I was like, I just needed I just need a sonogram I need to get out. And there are these two women dressed in lab coats and they were older. They gave you a doctor feel, but it was clear that they were not doctors. I later learned that they’re not even medical professionals. And there was the lady who does the sonograms was in scrubs. They asked me questions and lots of questions.
I asked my partner, my partner and I looked at each other, and we were good at reading each other’s body language. And he knew and I knew we needed to play along. We just knew I looked at him. And he understood, because my goal was to get a sonogram, figure it out and get out. We played along, we had to pretend to be excited about wanting to keep a baby even though it was a pregnancy I had fully intended to abort you know, I did not want to have a baby. We pretended to be excited about it, to convince them that we weren’t going to have an abortion and it was really weird, but we had to pretend to talk about names and genders and just things like that to kind of get them off our tail and just do what we can get out.
Even after that, they wanted us to sit in a room for 30 minutes and watch a video. They didn’t lock us in but they kind of closed the door and told us we have to watch the entire video. Shittiest video ever seen it was complete propaganda and it was so poorly made like I don’t like it wasn’t the least bit convincing, but it was literally some person who said he was a doctor talking about how abortion is and showing pictures of babies and their body parts being pulled.
I just went like whatever what would a trashy video but I’m just thinking of all the people they do that to that have actually that have had actual miscarriages and that’s a major trigger.
You know, why would you put somebody through that? Yes, someone’s having an abortion, and that’s different. But there are lots of people there that have had miscarriages and have actually lost children. You’re showing them these graphic images with no sensitivity whatsoever. They’re not trauma informed at all.
So that really angered me. First couple of minutes we watched, and we just made fun of it. We were like what is this and then I just didn’t want to watch it anymore. We just had a conversation to distract each other. The lady cannon came in after that and asked us about the video. I thought as I told you, we pretend that to play along.
After that they told me that they would do a sonogram. I wanted the sonogram, but I was a little scared. I always am I’m a survivor of sexual assault. And that gave me a condition called vaginismus.
I have to explain what it is not everybody knows. But it’s a condition where it makes pelvic exams or any kind of pelvic checks anything down there very difficult because my muscles sort of contract, it’s just like a psychological thing. And to the point where it almost shuts anything out. So, any doctor, anyone trying to do an ultrasound, or even using a tampon even sexual intercourse, it feels like, forceful, and it hurts a lot, it starts to be very painful. I always have anxiety, even if I go to a doctor that I love and trust, before sex, it’s just something that I still deal with on a daily basis, because I’m a survivor of sexual assault.
And I told – made the mistake of telling the lady that I was scared, and I wanted to know if they were going to do a transvaginal ultrasound, or they were just going to do the abdominal one. I have no issues with the abdominal one. And that’s what I was hoping. And she asked me why. And I explained to her that this is the issue that I have. And it’s because of this and they were very insensitive, and they didn’t get it.
She said something like, oh, honey, you’re pregnant, you should learn to deal with pain. Nobody wants to hear that. But it was pretty messed up to say that. So, you know, showing people image that graphic imagery and then completely dismissing a survivor’s trauma.
I was just – I was ready to get out. But I was like, okay, we’re not there yet. But whatever.
The lady said, its abdominal. I was like, okay, well I was thankful for that. They did the ultrasound. And they put me in eight weeks. The other thing was, there’s medication abortion, there’s a surgical abortion, but for the reason they told you my vaginismus, there’s nothing wrong with surgical abortion, but it’s penetrative. It’s more invasive in my trauma, and my body couldn’t handle that because of my sexual assault. So, for me, even though medication abortion hurts more and takes longer, it was something that I felt was more manageable for me personally, because of my previous experience.
Which is why I also needed to know how far along I was because while I could have had a DNC later into pregnancy, it’s not the same with medication abortion, because you can only use it up to a certain amount of time. So, I also needed to make sure I was within that timeframe.
Luckily, I was, or as the CPC put me, at eight weeks – they could have been wrong. They’ve been wrong. I didn’t know at the time that they weren’t medical professionals, but they weren’t off by that much for me personally. Um, so yeah, that was my CPC experience.
Oh, and the other thing that really caused panic was they told me that the pill was so dangerous in Texas. it was banned. And that’s when I really started losing, you know, I was like, no, I need a medication, abortion, it’s banned. And so that was false information. Because the pill was never banned in Texas. It’s something that they told me. And that freaked me out because, and my boyfriend could see me breaking out because he knew that was my only option.
Like, for me personally, that was the only option. And I was about to cry, but I just had to like, hold it together a little bit longer.
In the end, before that, they were just talking about how dangerous abortion was. I don’t know why even though I told them that we weren’t planning to I was, but I didn’t know that. But they kept going on about how dangerous abortion was. The pill was so dangerous that made so many people bleed out that they banned it in Texas. It gives you breast cancer, causes infertility, like lots of lies, straight up lies, and I think they don’t like if I were to get breast cancer and my future.
That’s because I have the braca mutation, literally genetic mutation that puts me at a 90 something percent risk, it’s not going to be because I’ve had an abortion. I also have a daughter. Clearly infertility wasn’t an issue. And all doctors have dismissed those claims. But for some reason they continue to be those lies to people say that.
But my ‘Oh Shit’ moment was literally when they told me the pill was banned.
But anyway, at that point, we were dying. And we had gotten out of there. They took a lot of my information. I wish I had just given them the wrong numbers or something, but they called me for months and months after I left that place. Asking me if I wanted to sign up for WIC and chip and I don’t know all the different things and I just I eventually blocked their number because they wouldn’t stop calling me.
And now till this day if I drive there or drive past a White Rose women’s clinic or something. I feel have to like to stop this urge to just go up there and yell at someone.
I hate CPCs. It’s been so traumatic for me and my experience [is why] I hate CPCs.
That was my CPC experience.
Eventually I did [get an abortion.] My, my sister, my cousin my family got together, and we started looking for clinics, we could go to thinking that the medication abortion was banned in Texas.
We were like okay, well, we can’t do it in Texas. I could have but I didn’t know, and I was a mess at that point. t I wish I’d done more research but I just I was scared. I just wanted to get an abortion because I was also pretty close to the mark of when the medication abortion would no longer work.
We looked and looked. I looked at Louisiana and eventually found Colorado Springs because they were probably the most communicative when I called and decided to go to Colorado Springs. My sister paid for everything because I didn’t have the money she paid for my flight, my partner’s flight. Thankfully, she was in a position to.
I think my partner and I had money to cover Lyft or Uber over there and some food in the hotel room, but she paid for our flights, and she paid for the procedure.
In Colorado Planned Parenthood, the one that was actually attacked a year after I’d gone there it was that’s the one that was actually attacked. But the doctor there was really kind and said, a lot of crap about Texas and politicians rightfully so gave me the mifepristone and told me I can take the Misal when I go back and wrote me a prescription for pain pills, which I didn’t realize it couldn’t fill in Texas because it was a Colorado prescription. I couldn’t get it. But they were nice enough to write a different prescription for different pain pills that I could pick up here in Texas.
Then I had my abortion at home. I took the second set of pills at home surrounded by people I loved my partner at the time, my sister and my cousin my cousin’s wife, like you know a friend. I had a houseful and not many people do but I had a whole house full, and I was grateful. Someone brought me soup, a heating pad, I was really well cared for. And I was watching Vampire Diaries through the pain.
It took seven hours; I think seven hours.
Yes, it hurt. Nothing unbearable, but it did hurt. So, you know, just heating pad through the pain. Trying to watch Vampire Diaries talk, just doing what I need to get through it. And then the worst was over, and I did pass the pregnancy, I flushed it down the toilet as they told me to. And that was it. That’s my experience.
Thank you for sharing that. I’m sorry that you went through that. Crisis pregnancy centers have been a pain in my life. In the south, when I was living in North Carolina, and all the way down to like the name of the clinic that like that’s the kind of stuff that frustrates me. It’s like, why would you think that they don’t provide adequate care or information? I just had like a few questions. I know, you said that they called you a few times after you visited the center and had mentioned things like coordinating WIC, different kind of support. Do you remember when you went like what kind of other services, they provided other than like ultrasounds and pregnancy test?
Um, I don’t remember about White Rose specifically. But I’m also an organizer for Tea fund. And we’re working on a crisis pregnancy campaign.
I also talked to other storytellers that have had encounters with CPC. So I know that there’s some CPCs that also do things like free diapers and baby bottles, baby supplies, birthing classes, things like that. Some of them do that kind of thing. They help you sign up for WIC, chip or infant. Maybe even food stamps, things like that.
Some do not all do. But some do. I think that’s their only appeal.
Okay. And I know you, you mentioned that you organized with the Tea Fund, which is a fund that is NCRP adores, we work with them on our abortion fund factsheet that we released in January. Was your abortion what led you to do this work? Or was this work that you were already holding?
I have two causes in my life that are very important to me.
I was working for a rape crisis center. Before this where I was training cops on trauma informed care and trauma informed interviewing, because a lot of times they call it like sexual assault or interrogate but you’re not supposed to interrogate a survivor. You’re supposed to interview a survivor. I was basically doing that work at DARCC, Dallas Area Crisis Center, where I designed a training for them so that they would know how to talk to survivors without re-traumatizing them and get information they needed to help with their case.
That was what I was doing. And I felt a calling to switch over to this other cause that I care about.
After my abortion, I was actually I was going to University of Texas at Dallas and I I was looking for community. I had my abortion. I was in the US. I didn’t know too many people that had abortions and I was looking actively looking for someone, a group or something. And I found the pro-choice feminist alliance in UTD. And it was wonderful because I joined it. And they introduced me to Tea Fund because they had invited Tea Fund at Planned Parenthood for a sex education day and an abortion day were, you know, both funds came set up tabling and I bought one of Tea funds t-shirts, because I’m a cat person, and they had a T shirt that said fund abortion now, and it just stuck. It was so catchy it stuck.
When I was at Darcy, I started looking into abortion opportunities, you know, working in this movement, and Tea Fund had an opening. And sure enough, I got the job. So that’s, that’s how I started working for Tea Fund.
Awesome. I think that is a that is something that a lot of us hold that like, politics are personal, like we do the work from, a very personal experience. And then my last question is, what does abortion storytelling mean to you?
It’s empowering, it’s liberating. I call it my superpower, because in most other spaces, abortion shuts conversations down. But in this space, I feel all powerful, because when I talk about my story, I feel good, I feel supported. I feel it’s cathartic. And I make friends. I feel like when I share, sometimes there may be someone that is being scared, and then they feel empowered to share too. I make friends through my story, because there are other people with shared experiences. I love storytelling, and I love all storytellers. It’s also important because it’s relatable. I have shared it with some politicians, and it’s just sometimes people just get it. I’ve actually had more than one abortion to what different circumstances and this for my second one when I shared a representative actually related to the condition that I had, and I made a public comment about it in front of so many people during session. To me, that was just that was my moment. I felt it felt amazing.
Wow, I really, really appreciate you finding time and capacity to speak with me to share your story. And you know, as I’ve mentioned, I’m really thankful for We Testify in abortion storytelling, because it’s important that philanthropy hear your experience and sees you as more than a number and a great report. I’m really, really thankful for you.
Funding the Frontlines:
A Roadmap to Supporting Health Equity
through Abortion Access
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