How one simple app is giving women control over their bodies during coronavirus panic
Euki, an app designed to spread inclusive and accessible information is on the market now.
Since the onset of social distancing and self-quarantining due to COVID-19, there has been a boom in the use of technology to keep us moving forward. Video conferencing platforms, social media, movie watch parties, food delivery apps, and more have helped us stay safe and sane while it feels like the world has ground to a halt.
But another piece of technology — one that has been operating effectively since the Fall of 2019 — has people’s sexual and reproductive health in mind. Euki is a smartphone app created to be customizable, private, and secure, giving users control over the information they need — exactly what users need during this crisis.
I sat down with the two powerhouses behind the app: Susan Yanow, a cofounder of Women Help Women, and Caitlin Gerdts, Vice President for Research at Ibis Reproductive Health, whose organizations contributed the research behind Euki.
We discussed the various barriers to sexual and reproductive health care that folks are facing due to the Coronavirus, how Euki can help, and how information about our bodies can liberate us. Below is the transcript of our conversation.
**edited for length and clarity***
Steph: I’d love to hear from both of you about your perspective on some of the barriers that folks are facing because they’re stuck at home in regard to their sexual and reproductive health. Are these unique barriers or are they new because of the lockdowns? Are they being exacerbated by the lockdown?
Susan Yanow (SY): COVID- 19 has highlighted and lifted up inequities and disparities that already existed. It’s made life harder for everybody, but as always, people with resources are finding solutions, and people who weren’t finding solutions before have even less of a chance of finding a solution now.
Caitlin Gerdts (CG): What we’re seeing play out in the pandemic is a spotlight on the broken social infrastructure that we have. Women and people who need abortions specifically are impacted by the lack of a social safety net and structural racism and structural inequalities across the board. This is being highlighted by the pandemic.
In addition to what Susan was noting, I think the pandemic is heightening the need for access to reproductive health care services and abortion.
Research tells us that things like heightened economic security, increased levels of intimate partner violence, higher levels of child and elder care responsibilities, are all contributing factors as to why people seek abortions and contraception.
In the midst of all of these concerns created by COVID-19, you have a very reasonable concern and fear of entering a health care setting. The uncertainty being sewed in conservative states (which is absolutely intentional on the part of politicians) in an attempt to restrict access to abortion and reproductive health care services is going to negatively impact people’s preferences for the kinds of abortion that they might want influence whether or not a clinic-based abortion is right for them, given the absurd obstacles that have been placed in their way.
We need to recognize that self-managed abortions with medications, which is a safe W.H.O. recommended method of abortion will thus be relied on more and I think we will see an increased demand for abortion medications.
SY: This pandemic has shined a light on the price we pay for the politicization of women’s health services. Abortion has been sidelined from mainstream medicine. Abortion is only available in clinics that are not part of primary care. It’s more vulnerable but also less accessible. And that was true before COVID-19, but now it’s really true because these clinics can be shut down. Nobody’s suggesting shutting down community health centers.
On the other hand, the barriers that the medical profession, including those who provide abortion care, have been holding onto are falling away at this moment. We’re seeing a group of experts come together to come up with something called no-test/no-touch abortion, which is essentially a phone call made by a pregnant person, a doctor believing what the person says to them, and providing them the medicine needed to have an abortion.
This no-test/no-touch protocol that’s being pushed in some abortion clinics for the safety of staff and patients and for ease of access is essentially a self-managed abortion protocol. Those of us at work in the self-manage space have always said there needs to be less of a barrier between the formal and informal health care system. There needs to be more collaboration and cooperation and appreciation of data from both sides, learning from both sides, methodology, and protocols from both sides. And it’s happening right now.
CG: I couldn’t agree more. There’s a real opportunity here. I think we may finally be at a point where we can have a conversation about what demedicalization of abortion with pills looks like and stop fear-mongering about these medications.
Steph: How can Euki help facilitate the choice between clinic or self-managed abortion that pregnant people have, both during coronavirus and after?
SY: My true belief is when people understand these pills, when they’re demystified and demedicalized, people make better decisions about where, when, and with whom to use them. And it’s a win if people feel well-informed and decide they don’t want an abortion. It’s a win if people are well-informed and decide they want to have an abortion with a clinic and it’s a win if they understand how to do it themselves without a clinic. With good information, people can make good decisions. That’s the foundational philosophy of Euki.
Steph: What can Euki do to address some of those barriers we talked about before? How is Euki useful specifically in this pandemic?
SY: Well, Euki is a useful tool at any time, right? Because if a person is pregnant and doesn’t want to be pregnant, it’s not like the methods of ending the pregnancy have changed because of COVID-19. It’s just the where, when, and how of ending that pregnancy that has changed. Euki’s information is very simple in that regard. That information was the same before COVID. It’s the same during COVID. And it will still be the same after COVID.
So, I think the difference is that this is a moment where people don’t have as easy access to other ways of getting information, like going to a clinic and hearing all the options from the beginning, because all clinics have really streamlined and distanced the amount of face interaction. So even if a pregnant person is still going to an abortion clinic, they can still use Euki to bolster the information they need or want.
CG: Euki is a really important tool because at this moment where clinics are potentially overwhelmed and services are restrained and face time is limited, having access to reliable, clearly communicated information that you can navigate on your own will be critical in preparing for a clinic-based abortion or self-managed abortion.
I’m thinking about the social isolation that’s happening and how we have been cut off from other people, our networks, and the in-person support that we might normally rely on in these moments to help us make decisions. That’s what Euki was built to supplement. One of the things that participants in the research told us over and over again was that they wanted an app that they could see themselves in, something that they felt like was supportive, that they could trust, that was able to be adapted and modified to their particular needs.
What resulted was a really warm and interactive and customizable app that helps people feel supported by something that isn’t their normal social network. And Euki is not just abortion specific; it sees people’s reproductive experiences in a holistic way and includes abortion as one part of the reproductive experience.
I am hopeful Euki can be a source of virtual support, even if it’s not an actual person.
Steph: Can either of you give me some more information on Euki? How does security and privacy work?
CG: The biggest theme that people asked for during our research phase was privacy by design. I don’t think that people are so much worried about having a self-managed abortion and then some prosecutor knocking at their door. But they are thinking about the particular relationship that they’re in or the fact that their mom might have access to their phone or even just wanting to be able to keep their own information to themselves.
The first time you download the app there’s a very simply articulated note about privacy.
It just says you can set a password if you want, but make sure that you remember that password because none of this data goes anywhere else. It is only yours. And if you forget it, it’s not stored anywhere in a cloud. There is no one collecting an email address. The data that is stored on your phone will be gone because you’ll have to delete the app.
You can set a password. Then, the app tells you that if somebody were ever to ask you or forced you to get into the app if you enter a false password, 0000, it will kick them out of the app and onto a Google search page. It’s a false screen. There are lots of ways to explain that to someone, like the app may be being glitchy or that you don’t remember your password.
Another element of privacy is that when you close out of the app, it locks. So unlike other apps that stay open when you switch to another app, with Euki if you close out the app, you have to enter your password, if you choose to even set one, to get back in.
It’s a way of acknowledging that for different people at different times in their reproductive lives they have different needs and they may have different privacy concerns.
Steph: This sounds like Euki is an app about control — controlling privacy, controlling information, and controlling one’s body.
SY: The philosophy of self-managed abortion, which Euki amplifies, is really centering the person and giving the control back to them and trusting that with good information, they will use that control in a way that makes sense for them, without judgment. It’s also trust. It’s truly believing in the moral and intellectual capacity of people who can get pregnant to make good decisions. And so, giving them control is part of that.
CG: Apps on the market make so many assumptions about who people are, about the kind of sex that they’re having, about the kind of partners that they have, about the reasons that they might be using the app. But what those people might want from an app are as diverse as the people themselves. So, centering each individual user means that the app has to be customizable, flexible, and ready to address an incredibly diverse range of views. It’s that simple. And that’s what Euki does. That’s pretty incredible.
Download Euki here.
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