Data Privacy in the Wake of the Roe v. Wade Overturning Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade triggered abortion bans and restrictions in at least a dozen US states this summer. As women across the country wrap their heads around what this new reality means for their lives and sexual rights, there is growing concern about how online data can potentially be used against women who consider terminating their pregnancies.

Millions of women use mobile apps for period and fertility tracking to track their various reproductive goals, from conceiving to preventing pregnancy to simply preparing for their monthly cycle. Women are also accustomed to using their phones to search for information or conduct intimate conversations with loved ones – and that activity may include information about their intention to obtain an abortion.

The safest way to avoid creating a digital footprint is to stick to a paper calendar and only communicate offline. But we know that isn’t always realistic. We’ve compiled a few tips/insights to help you manage your digital footprint and protect your data, if the need arises.

Choose period tracking apps judiciously. Over the past few months, multiple period tracking apps have issued statements around their privacy promises. European based company, Clue, has emphasized that they are held to stricter data privacy policies and vow to never sell users’ data to be used against them. Conversely, popular app Flo has come under fire for allegedly selling users’ data to Facebook, although the company denies the allegations.

As a general rule of thumb, paid apps are less likely to sell user data since they don’t rely on advertising to generate income. Also, consider using apps that track data locally on your phone – such as Drip, Euki, and Periodical – versus on a cloud or on their network. Remember, despite all the best efforts any period tracking app is susceptible to a data breach.

Manage location tracking. Location tracking on mobile phones can provide insight into a user’s whereabouts and potentially incriminate women who are pursuing an abortion in a state with restrictions. The best way to avoid having your location tracked is to put your phone in airplane mode, especially if you are in a place that performs abortions. If that isn’t feasible, make sure to turn off location tracking both on your phone’s general settings and for individual apps (such as Google and Instagram) that also capture your geodata.

Avoid texting or maintaining notes about health concerns. This recent case in Nebraska showcased a third-party company’s ability – and willingness – to share user data and aid in an abortion prosecution; however it is also possible for law enforcement officials to issue a subpoena to collect information that’s stored on your phone. Minimize your communications and web searches for abortion related content – and be aware that even if you perform a factory reset on your phone, there are methods by which your data can be retrieved.

Be mindful of your online activity. In addition to your browsing history being uncovered as part of a subpoenaed search, the data you enter into websites can be used to collect personal information as well. Beware of bogus sites that are managed by pro-life activists and designed to identify women who are trying to get an abortion. Especially in states like Texas where there is a financial incentive to report abortions. Try to use public computers for abortion-related searches. Even using undercover mode in a search engine, such as Google’s Incognito feature, does not fully protect your data.

Want to learn more about your state’s abortion laws and regulations? Check out this great state-by-state resource from the Center for Reproductive Rights.


  • Brandi Sinkfield

    Dr. Brandi, is a Board-Certified Anesthesiologist, who was inspired by her mother, a registered nurse who graduated with a degree in information technology. Through tough love and support from her father, extended family, and friends she attended Case Western Medical School and received her M.D. She completed residency training at Cleveland Clinic and dual fellowship training at Stanford Anesthesiology in Perioperative Management and Digital Health. Growing up she experienced the lack of transparency, shame and secrecy surrounding women’s health and body confidence driving her to imagine a pathway for her own daughter and other women to access information that empowers them and inspires confidence.