The US can ban abortion: a company sells the data of women who visit those clinics

This Tuesday the alert went off when it was leaked that the Supreme Court of the United States could annul the sentence that establishes the constitutional right to abortion. Although the judicial decision is not yet final, there are already those who have seen in this regression of the Women rights a possibility to do business selling the data of those who have attended clinics termination of pregnancy to criminalize them.

The ‘Motherboard’ portal has discovered a data management company that, through the applications installed on the mobile phone, get the location of people. Through this information they can know who visits the clinics where abortions are performed, how long they stay there and where they go next, as well as calculate where they live. This data is later sold to third parties, which can be both insurance companies thirsty to know the clinical history of their potential clients -in order to grant or deny them the service- and public entities.

The company in question is SafeGraph. ‘Motherboard’ managed to contact her and for only 160 dollars (about 151 euros) she was able to buy a week of location data from more than 600 stores in Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services, sex education and abortion.

It is not the first time that SafeGraph has been in the eye of the hurricane. ‘Motherboard’ has also been able to see that this controversial company tracked tens of millions of US mobiles and sold that data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find out if citizens were following confinement measures. This public entity, in charge of fighting the covid-19 pandemic, paid up to 420,000 dollars for that data.

Abortion regression

The US Supreme Court – in the hands of the conservative majority supported by Donald Trump – pointed out that the draft leaked on Tuesday is “authentic”, but clarified that it is from February and does not represent the “final position” of the highest body of the judiciary in the country, which is expected between June and July. The verdict of the caseRoe vs. Wade‘, of 1973, set the precedent that legalized abortion at the federal level. Confirming its annulment would mean ending almost 50 years of that “fundamental” right, in the words of President Joe Biden.

Even so, the right to interrupt pregnancy has been experiencing a significant regression for months in the most conservative states of the USA. This is the case of Texas, which made abortion illegal after six weeks. Oklahoma joined that list last April, banning abortion even if violation and incest under penalty of fines and up to ten years in prison. That criminalization has forced some women who live in those states – those who can afford it – to travel to others where access is easier.

It is in these cases that location data can be key to identifying the women who abort and the clinics that provide that service. Giving them a face and a name could be a way of persecuting them, even more so if the Supreme Court opts for a total ban on abortion. There are states like Missouri that are even considering prohibiting helping other people to have an abortion in other states. Thus, there is precedent for thinking that this tool could serve as a weapon for anti-abortion activists –evangelical christians, many of them – track down women who want to abort and their ‘accomplices’. “It’s crazy dangerous to have abortion clinics and let someone buy the census to know where the people who visit them come from,” researcher Zach Edwards explained to ‘Motherboard’.

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The US can ban abortion: a company sells the data of women who visit those clinics