As lawmakers across the country began debating and then passing a flurry of anti-abortion measures this past spring, Planned Parenthood took note of a spike in searches on both their website and online for the phrase, “abortion near me.” There was rampant confusion, the organization said, with women unsure whether the procedure remained legal in their state.
On Tuesday, the organization unveiled an online tool that it said would offer clarity to those seeking an abortion. Called the Abortion Care Finder, it shows the nearest available Planned Parenthood abortion providers who are legally able to perform the procedure based on the user’s age, ZIP code and last menstrual cycle. Its launch comes just months after some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country was passed in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.
As states passed laws to limit abortion access, Planned Parenthood’s clientele became increasingly desperate for information, said its acting president and chief executive, Alexis McGill Johnson. In May, following the passage of the Georgia law, which effectively banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Planned Parenthood Southeast set up an automated phone line to let patients know that abortion in that state remained legal.
“Restrictions have just been coming so fast and furious,” Ms. McGill Johnson said.
The Abortion Care Finder shows the nearest Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and explains any relevant state laws and abortion methods, as well as clinic-specific services and financial assistance. It comes on the heels of the organization’s interactive abortion access map, which details restrictions across the country.
If the nearest Planned Parenthood is more than 60 miles away, the tool refers users to a map created by the National Abortion Federation, which includes independent providers. Though it offers more expansive results and describes abortion laws by state in greater detail, that organization’s map does not give customized results based on personal details or exact location.
The Abortion Care Finder’s Planned-Parenthood-only results can be misleading in states like Kentucky or Mississippi, where the sole remaining abortion clinics are not run by Planned Parenthood. But since people had searched the Planned Parenthood site for information, “we wanted to make sure that we were connecting them directly to our centers,” Ms. McGill Johnson said.
The Abortion Care Finder is not the first tool to offer such guidance. A small, privately-funded iPhone app that combines the customization of Abortion Care Finder with the options of the N.A.F. map has been on the market for a few years. Cara, which launched the week of the 2016 presidential election, lets the user specify her location and how far along she is. Its purple interface then generates a list of all abortion providers in the area, along with their websites, phone numbers and state-specific legal information.
When they first built Cara, the co-founders Julia Sun and Dr. Celina Crisman split duties: Ms. Sun, a former engineer, worked on tech while Dr. Crisman, a neurosurgeon, vetted providers. The two, who met as college roommates at Cornell, compiled their database by cold-calling more than a thousand purported abortion clinics. One of their main goals in crafting Cara — partially inspired by episodes of “Law and Order” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” — was to cut through the slew of evangelical pregnancy centers posing as abortion clinics online.
They said that they viewed their work on the app, which they make no money from, as a moral imperative. “We want a world where no one needs to use this,” Ms. Sun added. “We think abortion is such a fundamental human right.”
The tide of anti-abortion legislation across the country came in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court appointment of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, a move that rallied conservatives.
Legislatures in several states passed laws banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected, measures that could effectively prohibit the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women do not yet know they are pregnant. The laws were all blocked from taking effect by preliminary injunctions issued by federal judges.
A federal judge in Alabama last month temporarily blocked a near-total ban on abortions from going into effect this week, ensuring it remains legal in that state as the law winds its way through the courts.
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