Reproductive rights, as we have long understood them, are dead. But while history seems to be moving backward, technology moves relentlessly forward. “Femtech” products, a category of consumer technology addressing an array of “female” health needs, seem poised to fill gaps created by states and stakeholders eager to limit birth control and abortion access and to increase pregnancy surveillance and fetal rights. Period- and fertility-tracking applications could supplement or replace other contraception. Early digital alerts to missed periods can improve the chances of obtaining a legal abortion in states with ever-shrinking windows of availability or prompt behavioral changes that support the health of the fetus. However, more nefarious actors also have interests in these technologies and the intimate information they contain. In the wrong hands, these tools can effectuate increased reproductive control and criminalization. What happens next will depend on whether we can improve accuracy, limit foreseeable privacy risks, and raise consumer awareness. But the current legal and regulatory landscape makes achieving these goals difficult, and it is further complicated by political influence and a conservative Supreme Court. This Article assesses multiple solutions involving diverse stakeholders, concluding that a multifaceted approach is needed to keep femtech’s dystopian future from becoming a reality.
* Leah R. Fowler is a Research Assistant Professor, University of Houston Law Center, and Research Director, Health Law & Policy Institute. Michael R. Ulrich is an Assistant Professor of Health Law, Ethics, & Human Rights, Boston University School of Law and Boston University School of Public Health, and a Solomon Center Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Yale Law School.
We would like to thank the organizers and participants of the Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice and the Information Society Project’s Ideas Workshop; the Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford Law Schools’ Fifth Junior Faculty Forum for Law and STEM; the Loyola Chicago Wiet Law and Life Science Workshop; and the University of Houston Law Center Faculty Works-in-Progress Workshop. We are profoundly grateful to Yonathan Arbel, I. Glenn Cohen, Doron Dorfman, Dave Fagundes, Claire Horner, Alyssa Ladd, Seema Mohapatra, Stephanie Morain, Jessica Roberts, Rachel Sachs, Lauren Schoen, Kayte Spector-Bagdady, Nicolas Terry, Stacey Tovino, Deborah Tuerkheimer, Tracy Weitz, and Patti Zettler for their deep engagement with our work; for the feedback, advice, and support from our families, friends, colleagues, and mentors; and to Amanda Watson with the University of Houston Law Center library for exceptional research support. Finally, thank you to our editors at the Stanford Law Review—especially Chris Huberty, Sam Joyce, Grace Rehaut, Isaac Shapiro, Caro Sundermeyer, and Mitchell Wong—for their diligence and thoughtfulness in bringing these ideas to print. All errors are our own.