Kelly’s Story: Overcoming S.B. 8 and a ‘Crisis Pregnancy Center’ to Have an Abortion in Texas

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, June 29, just five days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, the New York Times adapted Kelly’s story into an 8-minute video documentary. Watch it here.

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A rally against S.B. 8 at the Texas Capitol on Oct. 2, 2021. (Jno.skinner / Wikimedia Commons)

Through ingenuity, persistence and a little luck, some Texans are wading through the state’s six-week abortion ban and a sea of anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” to find abortion healthcare in a safe and affordable way. Kelly is one of them (her full name and identifying details are withheld for safety reasons).

When Kelly found out she was pregnant, she was eight weeks along. At first, she ended up at a crisis pregnancy center thinking it was a medical clinic. Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are religiously motivated, anti-abortion organizations that masquerade as reproductive health clinics to interfere with access to abortion. The more than 2,500 CPCs across the country provide virtually no medical services, but try to divert women away from abortion by spreading fabricated claims about the dangers of abortion. In Texas, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics nine to one.

Despite dire warnings from people at the CPC, Kelly persisted in her search for abortion healthcare. She couldn’t leave the state because she had a new job, but she figured out how to obtain abortion pills using telemedicine from an out-of-state provider and mail forwarding.

Whereas conservatives states are restricting access to abortion, many other states are expanding access—an effort bolstered by the recent decision of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift a long-standing in-person distribution requirement for the abortion pill mifepristone. As a result, virtual abortion clinics are popping up across the country, providing convenient, private and affordable access to abortion pills by telemedicine and mail. People in restrictive states are finding creative new ways to access these services. Kelly is one of them.

Ms. spoke with Kelly about how she overcame these obstacles, and why she’s speaking out.


Carrie Baker: Can you tell me about your experience at the CPC?

Kelly: In early February, I found out I was pregnant. I have the Flow app period tracker and I go by that 100 percent. I realized I was late getting my period. So I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. At the time, I was starting this new job and I didn’t have health insurance, so I couldn’t pay for an ultrasound. I went on Google and looked up “affordable ultrasounds.” I saw a link that said “free ultrasounds,” It was called a pregnancy health clinic. The reviews said, “They were so nice” and “they were so helpful,” so I gave them a call.

Carrie: What happened when you got there?

Kelly: As they were described, they were very, very helpful, very friendly. This clinic was not in a great neighborhood, but I had no choice. I just wanted to go and get this ultrasound done. And I wanted information on abortion because that’s what they said they provided. I had all these questions lined up and ready. So I went in. They gave me a form to sign.

I just can’t imagine how many women ended up not going through with what they initially wanted. They have this demeanor that they’re there to help you. But on the other side, they have a mission that they need to accomplish and it’s not gonna fit with what you want.

Carrie: Did they ask you for any medical information?

Kelly: Yes. They asked if I had been pregnant before or if this was my first pregnancy. They asked the reason why I was there and the form had abortion as one of the options. Being in Texas, I probably should have been a little more careful. They could have easily reported me.

Carrie: Did you think you were at a medical clinic?

Kelly: Yes. At least that’s how they portrayed themselves on Google.

When I got in, they did a pregnancy test, just to get confirmation. It was like those little ones you see at a Family Dollar. I didn’t think too much of it. I was scared. I just needed help. So I did the test. Then they took me away to this little room, I guess to get to know me. They started asking me questions. She asked, “Do you want to go through with the pregnancy?” I was honest. I was like,  “I don’t want this pregnancy, I can’t have this pregnancy. I’ve been with my partner for only a year. And we’re not ready financially. It’s just out of the question. I honestly don’t see myself being ready to be a mother.” Then they’re like, “Have you considered adoption? Have you considered just going through with the pregnancy?” I’m like, “There’s nothing to consider for me. I’ve thought about it thoroughly. I stand by my decision.”

So they gave me some papers, a little pamphlet about the pros and cons of having an abortion, surgical and medical. They made it seem like abortion could kill you. That it’s the most dangerous option you could choose. That if you were to choose a medical abortion, there’s a chance that you might not make it. She talked about the blood loss and needing to get a blood transfusion. I understand that does happen in some cases, but they were telling me, “Are you sure you want to do this? Because that is what might happen to you.”

I just can’t imagine how many women they’ve given that information to were scared and ended up not going through with what they initially wanted. That’s very scary because they have this demeanor that they’re there to help you. They’re friendly. But on the other side, they have a mission that they need to accomplish and it’s not gonna fit with what you want.

That’s very scary because if I were like 18 years old, and I walked in there, I could have easily been impressionable and listened to them. If they were the only ones providing me this information, I probably would have gone through with it. But I’m 26 currently and this wasn’t the first time I’d been pregnant. I’ve had a surgical abortion in the past and I’ve had a miscarriage when I was 22 or 23. It’s taken me a lot of maturing mentally and growing up and realizing what I want as a young adult now. I realized I shouldn’t allow anyone to change my mind.

So I wait like 30 minutes to finally get an ultrasound. This woman comes in wearing scrubs. She tells me to lie back on the bed. They have this whole computer right next to it. She said, “You’re at about eight weeks.” Then she said, “Do you wanna listen to the heartbeat?” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure, why not?” So I listened. And I thought that would really have an effect on me. But it didn’t. I just knew I couldn’t have this baby.

Then she’s like, “Well, you sure you don’t want to record the baby’s heartbeat with your camera so that way you can show the father?” And I was like, “No, I’m positive.” And she’s like, “Okay, well, sometimes when women come in here by themselves, we also like to recommend they bring their partner. That way the partner can have an option too. Maybe it’ll change their mind.” And I’m like, “Oh, well, in this case, my partner and I are very, very firm on our answer.”

I probably told her four or five times as nicely as I could. “No, I do not want to go through with this.”  Of course, they don’t come off as aggressive, but it does seem pushy like they’re really forcing this down your throat. But they’re doing it in the nicest way possible. She had a tone in her voice, like, “I’m here to take care of you, don’t worry.”

At the end of the ultrasound, they offered to pray for me. I’m Catholic. I’m open to that. I just thought that was sweet. They try to sweet talk you out of having an abortion. She was like, “Well, have you ever thought about not having an abortion and maybe putting the baby in foster care?” I’m like, “No, I don’t want to put my child through that.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a positive story about someone coming from the system, at least that I know of.

Carrie: What did she say about the risks of medication abortion?

Kelly: I remember seeing something about breast cancer. And there was a lot about women getting depressed and regretting their decision if they went through with it. They nearly had me on that part. I was like, I’m probably gonna get depressed about this. But it happened and I’m a lot more accepting about this now because this is what I wanted. I was thinking about how this was going to affect me in my later life. I’m just trying to get a career together first. And I’ll see if I want a baby later, but right now, I don’t.

Carrie: Did the CPC say anything about future fertility?

Kelly: I remember hearing something about that. They said, “There’s a chance that you probably won’t be able to get pregnant again.” But I did my research. They’re giving false information. But these poor girls are so vulnerable, and they’re in an emotional state. My heart goes out to those women who feel like they have no choice and they get swindled into this. I really want to prevent that from happening.

She said, “Do you wanna listen to the heartbeat?” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure, why not?” So I listened. And I thought that would really have an effect on me. But it didn’t. I just knew I couldn’t have this baby.

Carrie: How did the appointment end?

Kelly: I thought they were gonna help. They said, “Let’s do another appointment.” I was really distracted by the very motherly, homey feeling from them, the welcoming, “It’s okay, we’re here to help you” type of vibe I was getting. That’s what really made me think, “Okay, they’re here to help.”

They set up another appointment about a week later. They said, “It’s free, no charge, just to keep up on the baby.” I said, “Okay.” I asked her, “Well, what information can you give me on abortion? Can I get it surgically done? What about medically? What can I do to get medication?”

I didn’t get an answer until my second visit about a week later. I asked the same question, “Is there any way you can help me with medical abortion or any information?” And that’s when she told me that they couldn’t do anything for me. She told me, “We can’t provide you with the medicine itself. We can only inform you about it.”

I feel like they didn’t tell me what their purpose was there. They were more focused on trying to have me keep this pregnancy going. My answer was the same: “I’m not going to go forward with it.” They still made another appointment for me, but I felt misled so I didn’t go back. I didn’t want to be forced into doing something that I didn’t want to do.

After I didn’t show up for the third appointment, they called me at work without warning. I told them, “I can’t talk about this over the phone at work.” And she goes, “Are you still pregnant?” At the time, I was still pregnant. And I’m like, “Yes, I’m still pregnant.” She asked, “You didn’t show up to your appointment. Did you have a miscarriage?” I’m like, “No.”

Then just out of the blue, she goes, “Did you get an abortion?” It wasn’t very medically professional and I get it, they’re volunteers, but it sounded more like a gossipy friend like, “Oh my god, did you get an abortion?” And this is over the phone and I’m like, “No, I didn’t, I’m still pregnant.” And she goes, “Okay, well, do you want to set up an appointment so we can meet up?” And I’m like, “I will give you guys a call, I still need to process all this.” She goes, “Okay, well just let us know.” I didn’t hear from them again. At the end of the day, it’s none of their business what I do outside of their clinic. I really didn’t like how that conversation went.

It’s just amazing how they’ll just lie. They’re not even being paid to give you this false information. They’re just willing to convince women because of their religious beliefs. It’s sad.

Carrie: How did you figure out that you were not at a medical clinic?

Kelly: Afterward, I Googled tons of numbers and I spoke with an abortion hotline. That’s when I found out that these people are funded by the church and they have a mission to not have you go through with an abortion. But of course, they’re not going to tell you that. They say it has nothing to do with religion. After that call, I felt like I was finally informed and knew I couldn’t go to that place anymore.

I spoke with an abortion hotline. I found out that these people are funded by the church and they have a mission to not have you go through with an abortion. But of course, they’re not going to tell you that.

Carrie: What did you do next?

Kelly: So I went on Google and found a place with an affordable ultrasound and a totally different atmosphere. It did feel like a doctor’s office, whereas the other place was like walking into a gift shop at Galveston, Texas. It was very beach-like, now that I think about it. I don’t think I saw a medical license anywhere in any of the rooms. What I did see were these little diagrams of how the fetus would grow with little pictures of newborn children.

I made another ultrasound appointment at the new place that following week. Luckily, I was able to be seen on a Sunday. This was a very affordable ultrasound for me, considering my insurance didn’t kick in at this new job yet. So I go get checked, real fast and simple. And they had a really nice display screen where I could see the whole ultrasound was very clear. When I got that ultrasound, I was 10 weeks and three days. I had to get this done right away because I didn’t know if I would be eligible to get the medication considering where I reside in Texas. This was very, very scary for me because the new law kicked in for us in September. I was just freaking out. I was just trying to find answers.

Luckily, I follow this forum on Reddit. It’s an abortion forum with a lot of women that go on there. They have either questions or they give advice on where to go, or where to be seen. There are women who are truly helpful on that forum. If it wasn’t for that, I honestly probably would have had to go out of state to get a surgical abortion. But there was no way that that could happen for me.

Carrie: Why was that?

Kelly: Mainly because I had started this new job not even two or three weeks before and there’s no way I could have taken an eight-hour drive during the work week to drive to a clinic out of state. I just really wanted to find a way to do it in Texas.

This one post said, “I don’t know what to do. Can someone help me? I don’t think I can get a surgical abortion. This needs to be discreet. I can’t have my mother finding out.” And this one answer said, go to Plan C. So I go on the website and it asks you, “Where do you currently live?” I looked up Texas for telehealth and thankfully, they gave a very thorough example of what to do for a Texas resident.

I followed every step. I was around 11 weeks pregnant at that point, so I was trying to get the soonest procedure done as quickly as possible. I did that and it was really simple. I felt really safe and I felt assured. I was just so grateful that I was able to succeed with this. And I would definitely recommend it.

I felt super comfortable with the provider I found. I was nervous because it was a phone call. On Plan C, it said they wouldn’t ask you where you are, but I was still a little worried. But she didn’t do that at all. She was just super helpful. And she answered all my questions. I felt like I got thorough answers. And I got the help that I truly needed. She really lifted that huge weight off my shoulders. She said, “Don’t worry. You’re being taken care of. I’m here to help you.” And I truly thank her for that. She kept in touch with me for a follow-up.

I had started this new job not even two or three weeks before and there’s no way I could have taken an eight-hour drive during the work week to drive to a clinic out of state. I just really wanted to find a way to do it in Texas.

Carrie: How did you get the pills?

Kelly: On Plan C, I read about a mail forwarding service. I was able to rent out a little mailbox in another state. It was like about nine or 10 bucks for that month. I gave my provider my mail forwarding mailbox. She told me the processes would take about three to five business days, so I asked her if I could do it overnight and she was more than happy to do the overnight for me.

Once that happened, I had the mail forwarding service ship the pills directly to my address here in Texas. And in knowing how discreet they are with the packaging, I was very relieved. It doesn’t just blatantly say, “These are abortion pills” on the package. This felt very safe and secure.

Carrie: Was setting up the mail forwarding box difficult?

Kelly: It was straightforward. I was just worried it was gonna take like five days to get notarized for the postal code but it was no more than two days for sure. I had to get it notarized on a web call. The whole thing took less than five minutes.

Carrie: How long did it take to get the pills?

Kelly: No more than three days. I talked to her at the end of the week, a Thursday or Friday, and I got them the following Wednesday. At the time when I got the pills, I was a day before turning 12 weeks.

Carrie: Did they work?

Kelly: Yes. That’s what I was concerned about. When I was reading on the Reddit forum, some were saying, “I did this when I was nine weeks.” I only read one woman that said she did it at 12 or 13 weeks, and she said it still worked for her. But of course, I did read the 1 percent stories where it didn’t take. I was worried I was gonna have to have a surgical abortion. I was just super worried.

But it worked. It just felt like a really heavy period. I did feel nauseous from the pills. And I found it much easier to go through the process standing up in the shower. That really helped and calmed me down. And I was finally able to sleep after that. It was a four-hour process. This was a really positive experience for me.

Carrie: Why did you decide to tell your story?

Kelly: I’m telling my story because I had no idea about these “pregnancy health clinics.” Women should not feel obligated to keep a pregnancy. I don’t think those women at CPCs should be saying, “Oh, I’m here to help women.” They’re not helping if they’re making women feel bad for their decisions, period. If you’re not about abortion, that’s totally fine. If you are, that’s great. But I wouldn’t ever try to change someone’s mind and make them agree with me. I just feel like young women should be informed. I want to let them know to avoid these places at all costs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For questions about your legal rights to end your own pregnancy, contact the Repro Legal Helpline.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.