How brands can step up to protect reproductive rights

From reviewing data practices to vocally supporting the right to abortion in brand messaging and internal policies, there are many ways brands should take a stance in post-Roe America.

Pro-choice activists in Greece protest against the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

The Roe v. Wade fight is at the intersection of culture and technology, something most brands strive to understand and engage with, even if they don’t want to wade into the murky waters labeled “politics.”

The problem for brands that strive for neutrality is, at this point, you cannot excise politics from culture or technology, and if brands haven’t realized that over the past several years, to badly paraphrase Desmond Tutu and/or Etsy word art, they have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Why should brands support reproductive justice and abortion rights? In short, 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. That number ticks up slightly for women, naturally. That majority of Americans likely includes a brand’s target audience. Beyond that: abortion is healthcare. So if you’re a brand that: 1. targets women; 2. is in the health space, or strives to be health- and wellness-adjacent; or 3. serves an American audience, you should care, and be actively doing what you can to help your audience and your employees get the healthcare they need. 

Period tracking and data privacy

We know that anti-abortion activists are already collecting the data they’ll need to prosecute people who get abortions now that Roe is officially overturned. They’ve used body cams and license plates to intrusively surveil people seeking healthcare long before the Roe draft was leaked. Moreover, new health tools — wearables, health-tracking apps, etc. — can, and likely will, be weaponized against people who want an abortion.

For example, fertility apps often fall short of protecting user privacy. Information stored in menstrual-cycle-tracking apps isn’t covered by HIPAA, so companies creating these apps have broad leeway in terms of how they use the data and who they can share it with, and data shared with third parties is often hard to track. While data from period and cycle tracking apps doesn’t appear to have been used to prosecute pregnant people in the U.S. at this time, data collected by other apps has been used for that exact purpose. 

In terms of wearables, as makers endeavor to add new features to their products and gain a competitive edge, many are looking to add fertility and cycle trackers, which historically have been underserved areas. The smart ring Oura, for instance, has added period prediction to its generation three smart ring to predict when a user might get their period up to 30 days in advance. While Oura specifically said they do not “have any plans to share” user data with third parties, the company’s privacy policy states that they would share personal user data in response to subpoenas or legal obligations. 

These apps are just one of many digital touchpoints that could be used to penalize someone for getting an abortion: a Mississippi woman hospitalized after delivering a stillborn fetus was indicted for murder because her internet search history included how to induce a miscarriage. 

For brands, the path forward is clearer: 

  • Ensure that any personal data collected is properly encrypted and protected. 
  • Anonymize any personal data collected so it can not be used to identify individuals.
  • Make sure your consumers fully understand how their data is being used to better their customer experience.
  • Implement an “opt-in” system for all personal data collection to ensure consent.
  • Work with data partners that are credible and that prioritize privacy.
  • Avoid geo-targeting based on proximity to any health location.
  • Ensure your brand is not running directly or programmatically in inventory across period tracking or pregnancy apps.
  • If your brand even brushes against reproductive health, do not sell the data you collect or share with third-party partners.
  • Consider this as an opportunity to begin phasing out some forms of data collection and usage, in preparation for stricter personal data privacy laws.

Brand values and messaging 

Outside of the data element, there are other ways brands can help support people in the 26 states whose access to abortion has just all but disappeared. As stated, the majority of Americans do support abortion rights, and the actions taken by various state governments to criminalize abortion directly contradict what their constituents actually want. 

This is good news for brands! The collapse of trust in public institutions opens the door to brands to step in for gridlocked governments, and to take action based on their values. When the majority of your audience believes in the right to abortion, your brand has the right to vocally support the right to abortion. 

This can be done from a messaging perspective. How can you highlight the stories of people who have had abortions? What did that form of healthcare unlock for them? All sorts of people have abortions, not just single, childless women. Married women with children also have abortions, as do men and non-binary people. There is an opportunity to mitigate the stigma around accessing abortion by uplifting diverse voices, specifically showing how their procedures enabled them to better support their family, or pursue an education or a career, or simply, have a better quality of life. These are typically the values a brand likes to highlight, and they are the exact things that abortion can offer.

Beyond that, consider how your category relates to the fight for reproductive justice. How can you support rights to body autonomy with the products or services you offer? Travel and hospitality brands can work with organizations helping people that need to travel out of state, offering free lodging and travel. Lyft and Uber, following Texas and Oklahoma’s abortion outlaws, are working with health providers to cover the costs of rides for people seeking care, and both companies pledged to pay the legal fees for any of their drivers sued under anti-abortion laws. Fashion brands have also shown their support for abortion rights with products highlighting the historical fight for reproductive rights, and donating the proceeds to organizations like Planned Parenthood. 

Unsure how to align your brand with reproductive rights? Post resources about accessing an abortion on social media. Follow the example of the many companies who have already stated they’d cover the costs of their employees’ reproductive care, and ensure that you’re covering all your employees, not just the desk workers. It is critical to ensure that your external values, messaging, and media activity are reflected in how you approach your brand internally. Otherwise, people will inevitably move on to the many brands that have already done this important work.

Where we are today

The fight for reproductive rights in the US is still ramping up, and it’s clear that many states will move to outlaw other means of body autonomy — birth control, Plan B, etc. — in the coming months and years. Therefore, it’s critical that brands clearly and loudly support these rights, and do what they can to materially support the people to whom they want to sell their products.

Katy Geisreiter is senior manager of strategy at IPG Media Lab. This column first appeared on campaignlive.com.