As it appears increasingly likely the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, there has been no shortage of hysterical takes on what will happen if the power to decide abortion laws returns to the states.
One such take is a warning to women who use apps on their phone to track their menstrual cycles, according to activist Elizabeth C. McLaughlin.
If you are using an online period tracker or tracking your cycles through your phone, get off it and delete your data.— Elizabeth C. McLaughlin (she/her) (@ECMcLaughlin) May 3, 2022
Combine that with location tracking information and when you last menstruated and where you are seeking healthcare and you have a target on your back.— Elizabeth C. McLaughlin (she/her) (@ECMcLaughlin) May 3, 2022
On Thursday, Twitter promoted McLaughlin's tweet, along with Taylor Andrews' piece from PopSugar, "Should We Delete Our Period-Tracker Apps? Experts Explain."
Andrews' very first sentence is all for promoting the hysteria. "Ever since the Supreme Court's draft opinion on Roe v. Wade leaked, the media world has exploded — and rightfully so," it reads.
Andrews notes that they "decided to fact-check whether you should be wary about having a period-tracker app on your phone. Here's what experts have to say," the short answer being "Potentially," with whether one lives in a state where there will abortion bans or not being that factor.
Even with apt points about privacy and data being made, the hysteria is still the takeaway:
Since period-tracking apps have no HIPAA protection, this means app developers do not have to protect your personal information. And since "any free app collects information from you in order to make a profit, depending on the laws created, most of your digital information will be able to be subpoenaed by a court of law and thereby used against you if the actions you are taking are somehow deemed illegal," Bellin confirms.
For this reason, Bellin says that you should probably avoid using period-tracking apps — and any tracking app in general — since "they gather highly personal information and are not required to keep it confidential." Does deleting these apps seem like a lot and maybe even a little excessive? Maybe. But the thing is, we won't know what type of implication period-tracking apps will have in legal cases until Roe v. Wade is officially overturned.
This includes Andrews' closing, which with original emphasis, reads: "All in all, know that conversations like this are not meant to scare you — though we admit, they can be scary. But in a time when people are at risk of losing the right to bodily autonomy, it's important to do everything in your power to protect yourself — especially when it's apparent the government does not want to protect you. So if you feel better deleting your period-tracking app, you should feel empowered to make that decision. If you don't want to, you should also feel empowered to make that decision. Because after all, it's important you have a choice to do whatever you want — in every facet of your life."
Pop Sugar is hardly the only outlet to indulge. Other examples include:
- The Washington Post's "Your phone could reveal if you’ve had an abortion" by Geoffrey A. Fowler and Tatum Hunter
- TechCrunch's "As Roe v. Wade reversal looms, should you delete your period-tracking app?" by Carly Page
- BBC News' "Period tracking apps warning over Roe v Wade case in US" by Shiona McCallum
- Ms. Magazine's "Will My Period Tracking App Betray Me? Menstrual Surveillance in a Post-Roe World" by Michele Gilman
- NPR's "How period tracking apps and data privacy fit into a post-Roe v. Wade climate" by Rina Torchinsky
- Yahoo! Finance's "Menstruation app data in spotlight after leaked Roe v. Wade draft ruling" by Mike Juang.
- Slate's "Do You Really Need to Worry About Your Period Tracking App in a Post-Roe World?" by Jane C. Hu
PolitiFact on Thursday published a fact-check on "Should you worry about data from your period-tracking app being used against you?" In it, Victoria Knight and Hannah Norman note "Could this data be used in a criminal prosecution? Experts said the short answer is yes."
These articles had a most glaring omission in common: the proper emphasis on how women will not be criminalized for their abortions, but rather the abortion provider will be.
Hu's piece for Slate is perhaps the worst of all, in that she writes:
Currently, such data might not have much utility to them, but if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that could change. Experts say that in a post-Roe world, it’s likely we’ll see more charges brought against people who have abortions or whose behavior might have contributed to a miscarriage or stillbirth...
There have been hundreds of such cases since Roe v. Wade was established in 1973, but many cases have been dismissed because the ruling prevents states from prosecuting people for abortions and in utero deaths. “When Roe goes away, there’s nothing to prevent states from prosecuting people as part of anti-abortion or murder and manslaughter statutes,” attorney Nina Ginsberg says. Some states are already laying the groundwork for this kind of prosecution; in the wake of news about the draft Roe decision, Louisiana advanced House Bill 813, which declares that a fetus’s rights to “human personhood” from the “moment of fertilization.” That bill would only outlaw any abortion, but it also effectively criminalizes miscarriage; a person carrying a fetus could be charged with that fetus’s death, should anything happen to them in utero.
So, yes—it is possible menstrual app data could be used to prosecute people...
House Bill 813, has received lots of attention over classifying abortion as homicide and concerns that women could be criminally prosecuted for obtaining abortions. As I highlighted last weekend, though, when writing about the bill and concerns, the language does not indicate that women will be prosecuted.
Pro-life legislators need to do a much better job preempting false claims about their bills.— Ed Whelan (@EdWhelanEPPC) May 6, 2022
If you see a claim (especially by someone as untrustworthy as @mjs_DC) that a pro-life bill is doing something unprecedented, be suspicious and seek to verify. (I failed once on this.)
Nevertheless, pro-life advocates were also concerned with the bill, especially since it was arguably not as clear as it could have been. Louisiana Right to Life, the state chapter of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), was notably opposed.
More than 70 leading pro-life organizations release open letter to state legislators: criminalizing women who have abortions is not pro-life. https://t.co/swhYzAvsex— NRLC Communications (@nrlcomm) May 12, 2022
The bill has now been tabled.
It has long been a pro-life position that women ought not to be prosecuted for their abortions, but rather that the charge ought to be for the abortion provider. As Americans United for Life (AUL) has highlighted, women for not prosecuted for their abortions even before Roe v. Wade.
Clearly, the attorney Nina Ginsberg doesn't care to get to know the pro-life movement. But what can one expect when it comes to such fear-mongering.