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Planned Parenthood’s new tool can help navigate the dizzying world of abortion laws

The website aims to help women navigate an increasingly complex network of regulations around abortion.

Planned Parenthood’s new tool can help navigate the dizzying world of abortion laws
[Photo: Philip Rozenski/iStock]

The closest abortion clinic to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is 43 miles away. To qualify for a medical abortion at the Little Rock Aldersgate Road Health Center (the only kind of abortion available) a person needs to be less than two weeks along and make two visits to the clinic—one for an information session and one to get the pill. If this clinic is booked, the next closest clinic is in Tennessee, which has a whole different set of rules around abortion.

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To help women navigate the increasingly complex landscape of abortion laws, Planned Parenthood has launched a new tool demystifying the rules in each state. When visitors now go to Planned Parenthood’s website, they’ll see a section called “Abortion Care Finder.” People can search for all nearby Planned Parenthood clinics with abortion services. The organization says it would like to include listings of independent clinics in future iterations, but for now does not. When searching, the website will ask for a person’s age, zip code, and the last date of their period. The tool, which is the organization’s latest push into digital health, serves up a list of abortion providers along with what kind of abortion services are available and relevant state laws that might require extra paperwork or the presence of a guardian. The finder updates in real time to reflect statutes as they go into effect.

The interface, on both its web and mobile site, is simple and easy to understand. Icons indicate whether the in-clinic or at-home pill abortion is available and whether the state requires two trips or a parent’s sign-off for minors. Clicking on the icons releases a drop-down section that explains the rules in more detail.

[Animation: courtesy of Planned Parenthood]
User-friendly tools like this one may be one of the best ways for women to navigate increasingly complex laws around abortion. Since 2010, states have been tightening the rules, but 2019 has been a particularly active year for legislators. In the first six months of the year, 12 states adopted full or partial bans on abortion services. Other states have passed laws that place limits around when and under what circumstances a women is allowed to seek out an abortion.

While the constitutionality of many of these rules are still undetermined, the increasingly restrictive environment has created a confusing landscape for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. It’s also potentially leading to closures. Earlier this year, University of California San Francisco researchers determined that roughly 275 clinics with abortion services have closed since 2013, as reported by The New York Times.

“Six states currently have one health center that provides an abortion, and we’re already seeing people hopping across state lines to access reproductive healthcare including safe and legal abortion,” says Ambreen Molitor, senior director of the Digital Products Lab at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In addition to the growing legal battles at the state level, Planned Parenthood has seen challenges at the federal level as well. The organization was forced to refuse federal funding under Title X that helped pay for birth control to low-income women, after President Trump made it illegal for Title X recipients to refer patients to abortion services.

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While a loss of funding has the ability to affect Planned Parenthood’s services and centers, the organization’s push into digital products helps it scale its ability to reach women. The abortion services finder has been in the works since 2018, and it is far from the first digital product the organization has launched. Last year, Planned Parenthood launched an app that gives users the ability to get both birth control and medication for urinary tract infections through the mail. The organization says the app will be able to reach patients in all 50 states by 2020. This year, it debuted Roo, an artificially intelligent interface for teens to ask their most burning questions about sex. The organization also connects clinicians and patients over text and has an app for fertility and period tracking.

This expansion into the digital may help women access reproductive services even as some states attempt to make seeking them more difficult.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Planned Parenthood’s clinic listings included non-affiliated clinics, which it does not. 

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About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.

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