Out of state abortions under scrutiny, ACLU warns South Dakota women to delete digital footprint

As the dust settles from the Supreme court’s decision, there is talk among some women in South...
As the dust settles from the Supreme court’s decision, there is talk among some women in South Dakota to keep a possible pregnancy secret from their doctor over the fear of the pregnancy being tracked and monitored for an abortion. This fear could result in a lack of prenatal care for those who may need it at a critical time in the pregnancy.(Dakota news now)
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 7:20 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -Governor Noem says those traveling from South Dakota to another state to obtain an abortion are not her focus, but those who provide abortions are on their radar.

During an interview on Good morning America Monday, Governor Noem said there are no plans for women who receive an abortion to be prosecuted or punished.

“That is not the intention at all in South Dakota. It’s to support mothers, see what we can do to help individuals that are in this time of crisis or uncertainty with an unplanned pregnancy, and how we can support them through that. But it would be toward physicians that would knowingly break the law, that there would be penalties for that,” said Noem.

The providers, however, are being scrutinized. The anticipated special legislative session would seek to fine-tune the laws regarding abortion.

Representative John Hansen is part of conversations already underway.

“There’s going to be a lot of ideas kicked around. I mean, you look at our trigger law, and there are some amendments that could be made to it,” said Hansen.

Hansen tweeted his intentions for a special session, including this statement: “Require that out-of-state abortionists refer pregnant South Dakota mothers to third-party counseling to screen for pressure and coercion before abortionists can terminate the life of South Dakota babies across state lines.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz says he’s ready to protect abortion services in his state.

“I will exercise my discretion to decline requests for the arrest or surrender of any person charged with a criminal violation of a law of another state where the violation alleged involves the provision of, assistance with, securing of, or receipt of reproductive health care services,” said Walz.

Janna Farley with the ACLU continues to offer guidance to South Dakota women, such as uninstalling period tracking apps and other digital footprints.

“In 2017, an online search for the abortion medication misoprostol was used to charge one woman with second-degree murder. In 2015, a series of text messages with a friend about getting an abortion helped convict another of feticide and child neglect. And that same year, activists used surveillance technology to target anti-abortion ads at women visiting abortion clinics,” said Farley in a provided statement. “Always turn off the google location history and search history in your google accounts, but first think of using a search engine like ‘duck duck go’ which does promise to be private.”

Farley believes that abortion should be treated like any other healthcare, such as cancer treatment.

“And that our healthcare shouldn’t depend on where we live, but it turns out that it does,” said Farley.

As the dust settles from the Supreme court’s decision, there is talk among some women in South Dakota to keep a possible pregnancy secret from their doctor over the fear of the pregnancy being tracked and monitored for an abortion. This fear could result in a lack of prenatal care for those who may need it at a critical time in the pregnancy.

In the meantime, Hansen is encouraging women who are or think they are pregnant to receive prenatal care.

“I don’t know anyone who thinks that the government should track the pregnancy status of women. Any contention that pro-life South Dakotans want that kind of a big surveillance state is conspiracy-minded absurdity. I don’t support passing bills that criminalize mothers. If you are a mother experiencing an unexpected pregnancy, please visit with your doctor to receive important prenatal care for you and your baby, and know that there are many people and resources available to help you,” said Hansen.

We asked Governor Noem’s office two questions as a follow-up and received their response:

Will the pregnancy status of women in South Dakota be tracked and monitored by the State of South Dakota to monitor for abortions?

Governor Noem’s office responded, “No.”

Would abortion providers out of state be possibly sued by the State of South Dakota for performing an abortion on a South Dakotan outside of the state?

Governor Noem’s office responded, “No.”

The ACLU suggests the following steps to reduce or eliminate your digital footprint:

There’s of course a spectrum of things people can do, from the relatively easy (turn off location history and search history in your Google account, use DuckDuckGo), to the relatively more burdensome (keep location services turned off on your smartphone (or turn it off individually for all apps), use Tor for searching/browsing abortion services, use Signal with disappearing messages enabled to discuss plans).

To reduce the chance of being swept up in a dragnet that identifies everyone who went to a clinic or searched for clinics or medication abortion:

  • Use a more privacy-protective search engine, such as DuckDuckGo
  • Use Tor, a free and open-source software that enables anonymous web-browsing, for searching or browsing abortion services online
  • Turn off Google location history and search history in your Google account settings
  • Keep location services turned off on your phone. If you need location services turned on to use a navigation app (like Google or Apple Maps), disable location access for every other app on your phone, and make sure you disable the recording of location history by the navigation app.

iPhone instructions: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207092

Android instructions to turn location services off: https://support.google.com/android/answer/3467281

Android instructions to deny apps access to location information: https://support.google.com/android/answer/6179507

  • Chat about plans on encrypted apps with disappearing texts, like Signal.
  • Compartmentalize your online activity (i.e. create an anonymous email account and Google Voice number to register for services)
  • Be careful when you read the privacy policies of different apps. Many women have relied on health apps like fertility trackers to better understand their menstrual cycles. However, a number of these apps were quietly sharing user data with third-party services such as analytics partners and marketers.

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