Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Report, May 24, 2022: “Abortion rights will soon be a thing of the past for millions of Americans. At the time of publication, a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion shows a majority of justices are poised to strike down Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and any federal constitutional right to abortion. But repealing a half century of reproductive rights won’t transport Americans back to 1973, it will take us to a far darker future, one where antiquated abortion laws are enforced with cutting edge technology. Sweeping abortion laws are already on the books in many states, primed to go into effect the moment the Supreme Court’s decision is published. But those sprawling bans won’t enforce themselves. Police, prosecutors, and private anti-abortion litigants will weaponize existing American surveillance infrastructure to target pregnant people and use their health data against them in a court of law. This isn’t speculation—it’s already happening. Abortion opponents surveil pregnant people and abortion providers to chill their reproductive freedoms. Hospitals track pregnant patients with suspicionless drug testing. while police harness surveillance to enforce existing abortion laws. Nearly every aspect of pregnant peoples’ online lives is already targeted—including search histories, online purchases, and messages—while cellphone location data is used to track their movements in physical space. If this is the state of surveillance today, in an America with abortion rights, what surveillance will we see in a post-Roe future? Lawmakers will likely pressure police and prosecutors to use all of the tracking tools they have to target health providers, pregnant people, and anyone helping them to access care. And with all mass surveillance, there will be countless bystanders targeted, too, those who will be jailed because of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and inaccurate data. This is a bleak forecast for the future, but there are still steps that providers, lawmakers, and members of the public can take to protect pregnant people from this looming surveillance state, if only we act now.
Current Analog Surveillance of Pregnant People – For 49 years, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey promised pregnant people significant reproductive autonomy. Although states dramatically expanded abortion access restrictions in the decades since Roe was decided, its core holding—granting pregnant people the right to determine whether to seek abortion prior to viability—remained a key pillar of American constitutional law. However, abortion rights have often been far more limited in practice than they appear on paper. Non-state actors use surveillance as one of many tactics to harass pregnant people and providers, chilling their exercise of reproductive rights. Activists film and publicly identify abortion seekers and medical staff. They map patients’ social networks and contact their families, leading to familial coercion and even violence. They track the license plates of people entering clinics. One anti-abortion advocate even created a website listing the names, addresses, phone numbers, and photographs of reproductive healthcare providers…labeling each doctor as “working,” “wounded,” or “fatality.” While courts later ruled this website was an unlawful threat, all the other surveillance described was perfectly legal, even in a world where Casey and Roe remained the law of the land. It’s impossible to know just how many pregnant people were intimidated not to pursue abortion care through surveillance, even though it’s their right…”