According to a 2015 survey by technology giant Salesforce, 60 percent of millennials (those born between the 1980s and 2000) want to use “telemedicine” so they won’t have to physically go to the doctor’s office, and 71 percent want their providers to use an online app to book appointments, share health data and manage preventative care. Planned Parenthood, which performs more than 300,000 of the nation’s abortions annually, has been sensitive to the changing marketplace and the tech-savvy nature of young people, and it has effectively begun to use telemedicine to steer women in crisis pregnancy situations to abortion.
In response, Obria Medical Clinics, which operates full-service medical clinics in Southern California offering women alternatives to abortion, launched its own app, Obria Direct, for Apple and Android smartphones this year.
“Right now, a young woman in a crisis pregnancy situation, while sitting alone in her bedroom, can get on her smartphone and within 15 seconds get connected to a representative of Planned Parenthood,” said Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of the Obria Foundation, formerly known as Birth Choice. “They can schedule her for an abortion at one of their clinics or get her RU-486 so she can do an abortion on her own.”
RU-486, or Mifepristone, is a medication taken with misoprostol to cause an abortion. Together, they are known as the “abortion pill,” and are typically used in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20 percent of abortions are caused by RU-486, and Eaton Bravo believes the abortion industry wants to increase its use significantly, as the woman administers her own abortion while the abortion facility profits from the sale of the drugs.
Eaton Bravo added, “When RU-486 was approved in 2000, I said that it would have a more profound impact than Roe v. Wade.”
Eaton Bravo, a Catholic who had an abortion herself 36 years ago before becoming involved in the pro-life cause, noted that in her own situation, “I could put some of the blame on the abortion facility, the doctor and the staff. But now, we have women taking the abortion pill by their own hands. It’s going to lead to a whole generation of upset and mentally troubled women.”
Clare Venegas, president of Obria’s medical clinics, said the Obria staff noted the increasing success of Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine, and thought, “Why not learn from our competitor?”
Obria’s key demographic, young women ages 15-25, readily access their smartphones for all kinds of services, Venegas said, including abortion.
“Their social behaviors center around being connected; that’s how they live their lives,” Venegas said. “Our strategy is to be where they’re at, to offer them abortion alternatives.”
She freely admitted that they were copying Planned Parenthood’s strategy, which the abortion provider has been testing in such smaller population states as Iowa, Minnesota and Maine.
Support on-site and online
Obria’s five clinics offer such services as pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, STD testing, well-woman exams (including pelvic exams and pap smears) and prenatal care. They also offer counseling on the risks of contraceptives, emergency contraception and abortion, and they provide parenting education and adoption services.
Obria has also begun offering “abortion reversal” services for women who have taken RU-486 but change their mind before the process is complete. Venegas said that such situations are “a race against the clock” and must begin in the first 72 hours of taking the drugs.
Services are offered on a similar fee structure as abortion providers, however, indigent women are provided services free of charge. Obria does much of its marketing online, including at popular “hook up” websites where promiscuous behavior often leads to unwanted pregnancies. They served a total of 3,700 patients last year, to whom they provided 12,000 services.
Obria’s staff of 25 includes a designated telemedicine nurse who is available through texting or live video chat, depending on the comfort level of the patient. The challenge now, Eaton Bravo said, was to hire the staff needed to man the computer 24-7, because with a single staff person, the service is down in evenings and on weekends, which is often a critical time.
Eaton Bravo said she first realized Obria needed to invest in telemedicine after talking to an 84-year-old donor from San Diego. She had long wondered how Obria could reach an abortion-minded young woman sitting in her room late at night after discovering she was pregnant, when the man told her how he used his iPad to contact his doctor’s office to ask a nurse practitioner simple questions online, or to schedule appointments.
“It was a God moment,” Eaton Bravo said. “I spoke to my spiritual director, who said to me, ‘Aren’t you excited that God has answered your prayer?’
“I realized that this would take the pro-life movement right into the bedroom of that young woman who is pregnant and afraid, offering the help and support she needs so she’ll choose life.”
The project was dubbed “click and mortar.” Eaton Bravo was able to secure $300,000 in seed money to launch the first phase, which included setting up the virtual medical clinic online and hiring the telemedicine nurse, and she is raising an additional $580,000 for the second phase, which includes a social media marketing campaign and translating the app to Spanish. A third and final stage will follow, which includes tracking the success of the app and efforts to advertise it.
Obria will soon open two additional clinics under the Obria name in California and may soon affiliate with pro-life clinics in Florida and Minnesota. Venegas said she believes Obria’s telemedicine model will be attractive to other pro-life clinics — she’s unaware of any others that have adopted it — which will lead to more affiliation opportunities in the future.
Venegas is excited about the possibilities telemedicine will offer Obria.
“We are the pilot program for the telemedicine platform; we’re road testing the technology here. We look forward to bringing what we’ve learned to other parts of the country,” she said.
“Considering the prevalence of the technology, we think getting involved in telemedicine is the right response at the right time.”
Jim Graves writes from California.