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Anti-abortion group's data trove represents 'serious concern' post Roe

Margi Murphy, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Heartbeat International, an Ohio-based nonprofit, has spent years collecting data on pregnant women to develop better ways to make sure women carry pregnancies to term and to persuade them from getting an abortion.

Based in Columbus, it says that it provides support services to the world’s largest network of “pro-life pregnancy resource centers,” which are also known as crisis pregnancy centers. Such facilities often misrepresent that they provide options for reproductive health services and instead are focused on preventing abortions.

Heartbeat also offers a hotline and website for “abortion pill reversal,” a procedure that medical authorities say is unproven and potentially dangerous. Medication abortion is a two-pill course, and Heartbeat seeks to persuade women who contact them from taking the second pill.

“For instance, we know that 75% of the people that reach out to us for abortion pill reversal do so within the first 24 hours of taking that first pill,” said Jor-El Godsey, the organization’s president. “That’s very important for us, to adjust our services to those who are calling in the future.”

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, data about women seeking abortions — and health-care professionals and others who assist them — has become an explosive issue.

Abortion is now banned in ten states, casting a spotlight on companies and organizations that store information about women inquiring about the procedure.

 

While Heartbeat's policies on data collection have been in place for years, privacy and reproductive rights advocates are paying heightened attention to them now that Roe v. Wade was reversed. Heartbeat’s information — among the largest repositories of data on women who visit crisis pregnancy centers and attempt abortion reversal — could be used to build a case against these clients and their doctors, these advocates warn.

Heartbeat’s information represents a “data honey pot,” said Johnny Lin, chief technology officer at Lockdown Privacy, a company that offers to block apps from tracking users. He worries that information about women who inquire about reversing an abortion pill would be valuable for prosecutors in states where the procedure is illegal.

For instance, Heartbeat’s abortion pill reversal website includes a chatbot that encourages visitors to the website to share their name, whether they have had an abortion and when, and their location in order to direct them to someone in its network who can help with the reversal procedure.

“It’s a more direct route to information on women who have begun an abortion,” Lin said.

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