In the immediate aftermath of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, women worried data from their period-tracking apps could be used to prosecute them for having an abortion. Now, women and people with uteruses need to consider what they write in chat logs, direct messages and search bars online.
A report from Insider notes that ProPublica found that at least nine online pharmacies that sell abortion medication — Abortion Ease, BestAbortionPill.com, PrivacyPillRX, PillsOnlineRX, Secure Abortion Pills, AbortionRx, Generic Abortion Pills, Abortion Privacy, and Online Abortion Pill Rx — were sharing information like users’ web addresses, relative location, and search data with third-party sites like Google. That kind of exchange opens that data up to discovery as part of law enforcement requests.
But requests from law enforcement are nothing new.
Insider points to the case of Jessica Burgess, who is accused of helping her daughter perform an illegal abortion in their home state of Nebraska. A key piece of evidence in the case against Burgess was chat logs provided to law enforcement by Meta that discuss finding abortion medication on Facebook. The request for evidence was made before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Social media companies are often legally required to comply with law enforcement requests for user data. Unlike public user content, which can be viewed by anyone and used in a court of law, private user content like location, search, or messaging history must be obtained via warrant. As of June 2022, Meta said it receives more than 200,000 requests for information and complies about 76% of the time.
In 2022, Google announced that it would auto-delete the location history of users who visited abortion clinics. Google said it would “oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable” when it comes to using data as evidence, but as Mashable’s Alex Perry notes, that statement leaves plenty of wiggle room.
But Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, told Insider that social media is simply a “pawn” in law enforcement’s larger game of prosecuting women for having abortions.
So what can you do to minimize your risk? Know that most of what you say online can be used against you when it comes to abortion prosecution in states where abortion is illegal. Talk to people you trust in person instead of over the phone, by text, or on social media. In the meantime, here’s how to donate to abortion funds and reproductive justice networks across the country.