Fifty years ago this past Sunday, federal abortion rights were seemingly enshrined into law as the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the historic Roe v. Wade case.
Today, federal abortion rights have been stripped away, simultaneously ushering a new era of government control and surveillance. I’ve written previously about Big Tech aiding in the enforcement of anti-abortion laws. Police can use various apps, including social media platforms, to snoop on pregnant people and potential abortion-seekers. And a new report from ProPublica helps show how real that threat actually is.
Last week, ProPublica released an investigation showing several online pharmacies use tracking technology to collect data on users’ web behaviors, and then give that data to third parties like Google to be used for targeted ads … or worse.
According to ProPublica:
Those details include the web addresses the users visited, what they clicked on, the search terms they used to find a website, the previous site they visited, their general location and information about the devices they used, such as whether they were on a computer or phone. This information helps websites function and helps tech companies personalize ads.
So, theoretically, abortion-seekers in a state with oppressive anti-abortion laws could visit these sites in search of refuge, the sites could relay their information to a third party, and law enforcement officials could subpoena that third party for all sorts of data to be used in a criminal prosecution. And let’s be clear: Several Republicans nationwide have shown an eagerness to punish people who seek abortions. All of this speaks to a post I wrote last spring, on the coming age of Big Tech surveillance that would be ushered in after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
For the record, the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, reports that abortions using medication account for more than half of abortions in the United States. With some states already banning in-person abortion care, intimidating abortion-seekers from pursuing the pill would cut off the last remaining lifeline that exists for pregnant people who don’t want to give birth.
Last month, the Department of Justice clarified that it deems it legal for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver pills that may be used for abortions. That memo was meant to include states with strict abortion measures, since the pills authorized for delivery — misoprostol and mifepristone — can be used for nonabortion care.
But the ProPublica report shows there may still be ways for rabid, anti-abortion zealots to make their victims’ lives a living nightmare.