Abortion Access Is Under Attack. Next? Our Private Health Data

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The Systemic Attack on Our Private Health DataAlan Oliver

I’ll never forget where I was on June 24, 2022—the day that the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, and I suddenly had fewer constitutional rights than my mother and grandmother did. I had just left an Abortion Task Force meeting at the DCCC, where my colleagues and I were strategizing about how to mobilize voters around abortion rights. We were feeling energized, motivated, and prepared.

Then I got a news alert on my phone: the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling was out, and Roe v. Wade was dead. I was so angry that I was literally shaking. As one of the few women of reproductive age in Congress, I instantly knew what this meant: that millions of people would now be forced to carry unwanted or dangerous pregnancies, and without access to the care they need, people’s lives would be at risk. I also knew that MAGA Republicans were far from over in their mission to end all abortions in our country. And today, we see that’s true as the Supreme Court hears a case that could impact even more people than the Dobbs decision.

Today, the Supreme Court begins oral arguments in a case that could limit access to mifepristone—a commonly used abortion pill that is safe, effective, and has been on the market for decades. We don’t know how the Court will rule, but the decision could prevent mifepristone from being mailed to patients, require multiple in-person doctor visits for a prescription, or limit the number of weeks into pregnancy it can be used. Medication abortion makes up the majority of all abortions in the U.S.—and more and more people are turning to telehealth to access it, so this decision could be devastating. Ultimately, it could wipe out mifepristone access for 40 million women, even in blue states like California, which I represent, despite our strong abortion protections.

These coordinated, systemic attacks on abortion access have been in the making for decades. But one of the biggest differences between now and the pre-Roe era is that there’s an entire, unregulated digital marketplace that exists to collect and profit from our personal information, including our health data. Right now, most state laws target abortion providers or people assisting people seeking abortion. But it’s only a matter of time until laws start targeting abortion-seekers themselves. We need to recognize that our vulnerable consumer data will be one of the best ways MAGA Republicans have to investigate and prosecute people seeking abortions, as well as those trying to help them. And that’s because there are almost no federal protections for reproductive health data in the consumer marketplace. It’s not even protected by HIPAA.

The information you leave behind in your period and fertility tracking apps, ride-sharing apps, search and browsing history, location data, and more can be sold and shared without your consent and weaponized by law enforcement. So depending on how the Supreme Court rules, if you’re searching for mifepristone online, visiting a website that provides it, or messaging about it with a friend—all of that information could be vulnerable and used to enforce anti-abortion laws.

That’s why I introduced the My Body, My Data Act to create a new national standard to protect our reproductive and sexual health data. Under my bill, companies can only collect and retain information that is strictly needed to provide their services. That means if you use a period or fertility-tracking app, a company couldn’t, for instance, also store your location data. You’d also be able to ask companies to delete your data at any time, and they couldn’t sell or share it. You’d also have the power to sue companies if you think they’re misusing your data.

We’ve already seen this personal information weaponized in the post-Roe era, and knowing MAGA Republicans, they’ll only get more savvy and creative in finding new ways to obtain this information and wield it. In 2022, police used Facebook messages between a mother and daughter in Nebraska as evidence to prosecute an abortion that was illegal under state law. Last year, a data broker shared cell phone data with an anti-abortion political group that then dispensed disinformation about reproductive health to people who visited 600 abortion clinics in 48 states. And they’re just getting started.

My bill is necessary to win this next generation of abortion battles, because they will be markedly different from the battles fought by our predecessors. As a 35-year-old millennial, I live so much of my life online, as do Gen Z and Gen Alpha. It’s normal for us to buy groceries online, shop online, talk to our family and friends online, and yes, access and research our health care options online. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice connectivity and convenience out of fear that our online activity will be weaponized against us or used to restrict our bodily autonomy.

The fight for our abortion rights is waging on, and we need to get ahead of it.

Rep. Sara Jacobs represents California’s 51st congressional district and is running for re-election.

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