HeyJane founder Kiki Friedman launched the virtual abortion startup in early 2021 after the last abortion clinic in Missouri, where she attended college, nearly closed. After the Supreme Court’s June decision to abolish the constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade, she focused on raising awareness about the abortion pill and combating the misinformation she says is being spread on social media. She spoke to CBS MoneyWatch about the benefits of telemedicine and how HeyJane is helping patients get abortion pills. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HeyJane founder Kiki Friedman launched a virtual abortion startup in 2021.

Courtesy of HeyJane

CBS MoneyWatch: What inspired you to start HeyJane and provide abortion pills to patients through a digital health clinic?

Kiki Friedman: HeyJane pushed the last abortion clinic in Missouri where I went to school that almost closed. It seemed like a crazy dystopia that there would be a state in which there would be no access to abortion at all. In retrospect, it has become amazing compared to where we are today.

What drew you to telemedicine?

I was interested in the rise of digital clinics and how they are expanding access to stigmatized products in a convenient and discreet way, mostly in erectile dysfunction and hair loss. I was interested in how this could be applied to providing access to abortion.

What kind of patients does HeyJane typically serve?

Our patient population roughly mimics the general abortion population. This skews slightly lower income—50% of our patients make less than $25,000 a year. They are racially and geographically diverse. Many people are now in school, and about half of our patients already have children and are making an informed decision about how to plan their family going forward. To date, we have served more than 15,000 patients.

How has the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade (known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) affected your business? Is the demand for HeyJane services increasing?

Within days of the Dobbs ruling, traffic to our website increased 10-fold. We saw a 10,000% lift, traffic to our website and demand from our patients doubled. Certainly, we have seen a sustained much higher rate of patient admissions than before.

Has the composition of your patient population changed at all?

Instead of a change in demographics, we noticed a change in tone – we noticed a marked increase in anxiety among our patients. We see this in them relying more on our team as a beacon of support and hope when they cannot discuss treatment with their personal support networks.

And there’s a lot more emphasis on privacy and discretion. It has always been very important, but the fears surrounding it have increased significantly. Therefore, we are doing more to highlight how we protect patient data and maintain their privacy.

Where do you work and who is entitled to help?

We live in seven states—California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington—and patients must be physically located in one of those states to receive HeyJane treatments. They do not need to be a resident.

Think of it like visiting the doctor’s office while traveling. Our cost is $249, and we partner with great abortion funds in all of our states to offer financial assistance to those in need.

Are you 100% virtual? What are the advantages of telemedicine in obtaining abortion pills?

We are completely virtual and serve the full range of patient needs. Patients have 24/7 access to medicines delivered to their doorstep. In addition to this, we provide emotional and community support. We want to make sure patients feel normalised, supported and validated in all elements of their journey.

One of the advantages of virtuality is that, for example, we had one patient who lives in a small town, and people in nearby clinics were close to the patient’s family members. The patient expected the lack of privacy at the local clinic, so he came to us.

Another patient was unfortunately pregnant as a result of being sexually assaulted and didn’t want to be touched or leave the house, so that was another case where we saw the value of telemedicine.

What are the biggest challenges you face today?

Our clinical team has found that many patients quit crisis pregnancy centers. That’s where they start and eventually find us. Before Dobbs, there were four times more crisis pregnancy centers than abortion clinics. Now it’s even more exaggerated.

These are organizations that present themselves as abortion clinics but are propaganda arms of religious organizations that dissuade people from having abortions by providing false medical information and using coercive methods, including guilt and shame.

They are irrepressible and can be very persuasive. And now, given that there aren’t actually any abortion clinics to reimburse them, when people search for information on the Internet in enemy states, that’s where they end up.

We are scrutinized on social media platforms, but we are still inundated with anti-choice people trying to censor our content.

One of the main efforts we are currently focusing on is raising awareness of the safety and effectiveness of the abortion pill. Before Dobbs, only one in four people knew about the existence of the abortion pill. We are trying to make it clear that this is an effective option for many people.

What advice do you have for patients seeking care in states where abortion is illegal?

It really depends on the individual and what resources they may have access to. It’s important to know that travel to other states where this is supported is still legal. Seventeen states have “shield” laws that protect patients and health care providers when they are the subject of investigations related to reproductive health.

However, traveling to another state is not an option for everyone because it is expensive. There are resources like abortion funds which offer practical support, which can help make travel easier, which are worth exploring.