Going to work was disturbing for Emily Loen. Every time the brunette stepped from her automotive, she braced for taunts about her look and her morals from protesters picketing close by. That’s as a result of Loen, 35, was a women’s health care employee at a North California clinic offering abortions. (Loen requested for the clinic to stay unnamed to keep away from additional reprisals.) But she additionally is aware of she’s fortunate: Many of her friends encountered far worse, from threats of violence to being trolled and doxed on-line. Loen felt powerless to assist them, so when a colleague proposed co-founding a hackathon to construct instruments for abortion seekers and suppliers, she was all in.
Hackathons are a current cultural phenomenon, a gathering place for civic-minded engineers to compete by constructing prototypes that focus on particular issues. According to Hackathon.com, three,450 such occasions befell final yr, with 1,568 of them in the U.S. The majority, although, deal with business points, and health care is taken into account such a thorny topic even the International Women’s Hackathon shied away from it. But with legislators from Texas to Ohio clamping down on women’s rights, there was a rising name for assist — and, contemplating that two-thirds of abortions are offered by unbiased clinics like Loen’s, their wrestle has renewed urgency.
“I didn’t know any technology that specifically focused on delivery services,” Loen says. She was conscious of We Testify, an internet site launched by the National Network of Abortion Funds, the place customers share private tales, however she needed one thing extra actionable. Loen, who describes herself as “ambiguously brown,” says abortion entry — an issue even in blue states like California — is especially arduous for individuals of shade and gender-fluid people who cope with bias, racism and, in the case of trans individuals, language that excludes them.
Loen traces her sense of civic duty to her household. “They’re all teachers, police officers, small-business owners,” she says. “They fostered the idea you should give back and advocate for your community.” She was attending artwork faculty and trying to channel her activist beliefs into serving to women when she landed a job operating the outreach and schooling division at a women’s health care clinic. Known for her extensive smile, dangly earrings and a voice that accelerates when she will get fired up, Loen says, “If politicians are abusing your power, I can’t sit and watch it.”
With assist from her fraternal twin, Somer, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women, Loen related with startups in the similar area, together with Nurx, an organization offering reasonably priced entry to contraception, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and Plan B. Nurx CEO Hans Gangeskar is keen about Loen’s enterprise. “It’s obviously a long road,” he says, referring to the problem of bringing one thing from idea to scale. “But it’s an important cause; right now, access is under attack.”
Can a handful of apps from weekend warriors actually make a distinction?
Now in its second yr, the Abortion Access Hackathon has grown from roughly 20 individuals at University of California, Davis, to greater than 200 in GitHub’s shiny San Francisco workplaces. “It’s time to disrupt the legal barriers,” says Loen’s former clinic colleague Shireen Dada Whitaker, who conceived of the hackathon after a category in media innovation and group improvement at UC Davis. Together, they crafted a proposal and received sponsorship from All Access, a reproductive rights group.
The second hackathon was held this March, with a give attention to the challenges confronted by suppliers, which embrace harassment, misinformation, anti-abortionists creating pretend clinics, and the scarcity of docs. The new location was because of Kate Bertash, a Bay Area techie who contacted Loen and requested to assist. This time, the hackathon generated considerably extra buzz, a change Loen attributes to anti-Trump voters looking for grassroots methods to push again.
Loen spent a month vetting the 600-plus purposes. “We wanted to make sure they were here to help, not to disrupt the process,” she says — anti-abortion activists are recognized to infiltrate comparable occasions. Lila Rose, president of anti-abortion group Live Action, feels these volunteers’ time could possibly be higher used. “Abortion is never a just or loving solution to the challenges women may face,” she emailed.
Hackathoners typed furiously on laptops, fueled by LaCroix and free pizza, to construct apps and web sites that included a digital doula service, Rhetorical Uterus (a debate platform) and Termina (presenting choices based mostly on a lady’s age, state of residence and being pregnant stage). The temper appeared pleasant and supportive, maybe as a result of 80 % of members recognized as feminine or gender nonconforming — a rarity in the engineering area, the place males make up 92 % of software program builders.
And whereas nobody would argue towards techies utilizing their expertise for social good, can a handful of apps from weekend warriors actually make a distinction? Caitlin Gerdts, vice chairman for analysis at Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit specializing in enhancing women’s health worldwide, says the hackathon spotlights the potential that know-how has to broaden entry to care — pointing to the rising use of Samsara, an Indonesia-based abortion info hotline and app, as one tangible consequence. Gerdts additionally says that large-scale change will probably stem from analyzing state-level abortion restrictions based mostly on proof, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2016 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt provides her hope.
For her half, Loen is assured sufficient to go away her job at the clinic to dedicate extra time to this enterprise. She is presently ready for affirmation that the Abortion Access Hackathon has achieved nonprofit standing and might be internet hosting the subsequent hackathon this summer time, in all probability in Austin, Texas, the place, she says, current restrictions to entry make it crucial that women obtain help.
Loen is aware of the hackathons, whereas worthwhile, gained’t be immediately actionable, and lots of women will proceed to wrestle whereas she distributes fliers and tries to boost consciousness. But she’s not doing this for pats on the again; right here to make incremental change, she is aware of she’s chosen an extended and troublesome street.