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Abortion care startup touts merits of telehealth after Roe v. Wade ruling

Demand for abortion pills expected to rise
Demand for abortion pills expected to rise if Roe v. Wade is overturned 06:19

Hey Jane founder Kiki Freedman launched a virtual abortion care startup in early 2021 after the last abortion clinic in Missouri, where she attended college, nearly closed. Following the Supreme Court's June decision overturning the constitutional right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade, she's focused on raising awareness of abortion pills and combatting the misinformation she says is rampant across social media. She spoke to CBS MoneyWatch about the merits telemedicine and how Hey Jane helps patients access abortion pills. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hey Jane founder Kiki Freedman launched the virtual abortion care startup in 2021.  Courtesy of Hey Jane

CBS MoneyWatch: What inspired you to found Hey Jane and provide abortion pills to patients via a digital health care clinic?

Kiki Freedman: Hey Jane was prompted by the final abortion clinic in Missouri, where I went to school, nearly getting shut down. It seemed crazily dystopian that there would be a state with no abortion access at all. In retrospect, that has become quaint compared to where we are today.

What drew you to telemedicine?

I was interested in the rise of digital clinics and how they increase access to stigmatized products in a convenient, discreet way, mostly for erectile dysfunction and hair loss. I was interested in how that could be applied to providing access to abortion care.

What kind of patients does Hey Jane typically serve?

Our patient population roughly mimics the abortion population as a whole. It skews slightly lower-income — 50% of our patients make under $25,000 per year. They are racially and geographically diverse. A lot of people are presently in school, and about half of our patients already have kids and are making a conscious decision about how to plan their families moving forward. To date, we've served over 15,000 patients.

How has the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade (known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization) affected your business? Is Hey Jane seeing increased demand for its services?

In the days after the Dobbs ruling came down, our site traffic went up 10 times. We saw a 10,000% uptick and traffic to our site and our patient demand doubled. We have definitely seen sustained, much higher levels of incoming patients than before. 

Has the makeup of your patient population shifted at all?

Rather than a shift in demographics, we've noticed a shift in change in tone — we've noticed a marked increase in anxiety among our patients. We see it in the form of them relying more on our team as a beacon of support and hope when they can't discuss treatment with their in-person support networks. 

And there is much more emphasis on privacy and discretion. That has always been really important, but fears around that have become much more magnified. So we are doing more to highlight how we protect patient data and keep it private.

Where do you operate and who is eligible to receive care?

We are live in seven states — California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Washington  — and patients need to be physically located in one of those states in order to receive treatment with Hey Jane. They don't need to be a resident. 

Think of it as visiting a doctor's office when traveling. Our cost is $249, we partner with wonderful abortion funds across all of our states to offer financial assistance to those who need it. 

Are you 100% virtual? What are the merits of telemedicine in getting abortion pills?

We are completely virtual, and we serve the full spectrum of patient needs. Patients have 24/7 access to medication that is shipped to their doorstep. Layered on top of that we provide emotional support and community support. We want to make sure patients feel normalized, supported and validated in all elements of their journey.

One upside of being virtual is, for example, we had one patient who lives in a small town and folks at nearby clinics were close to members of the patient's family. The patient anticipated a lack of privacy at the local clinic, so they came to us instead. 

Another patient was unfortunately pregnant as a result of sexual assault and didn't want to be touched or leave their home, so that was another instance in which we saw telemedicine being valuable. 

What are the biggest challenges you face today? 

Our clinical team has found that a lot of patients are ending up at crisis pregnancy centers. That's where they start and they eventually find us. Prior to Dobbs, there were four times as many crisis pregnancy centers than abortion clinics. That's even more exaggerated now. 

These are entities that present as abortion clinics but are propaganda arms of religious organizations that dissuade people from getting abortions by providing fake medical information and using coercive practices, including guilt and shame.

They are rampant and can be very persuasive. And now, given that there aren't actually abortion clinics to offset them, when people are searching online for information in hostile states, thats's where they are ending up.  

We're verified on social media platforms, but we still get brigaded by anti-choice folks who try to get our content censored.

One of the major efforts that we are focused on at the moment is creating awareness around the safety and effectiveness of abortion pills. Before Dobbs, only one in four people knew the abortion pill existed. We are trying to create awareness that this is an effective option for many people. 

What is your advice to patients seeking care in states where abortion is not legal?

It really depends on the person and what resources they may have access to. It's important to know it is still legal to travel to other states where it is supported. Seventeen states have "shield" laws in place that protect patients and providers if they are subject to an investigation related to reproductive health care.

That said, traveling to another state is not a viable option for everyone, because it's expensive. There are resources like abortion funds that offer practical support, that may be able to help facilitate travel, that are worth looking into.

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