In an interview with PharmaShots, Sneha Nair, Global Communications Officer and Claire Crossett, Assistant Director at Women First Digital share insight on the launch of the world’s first-ever abortion virtual assistant, Ally, on WhatsApp in celebration of World Health Day’s 2021 theme: Building a fairer, healthier world.
- Ally, the HowToUse chatbot, is equipped to answer all medical abortion-related questions. The chatbot will keep asking multiple questions and provide additional important information which will be very useful if considering a medical abortion
- HowToUseAbortionPill.org (HowToUse), also known as PinkShoes.org in some regions of the world where abortion is criminalized, or inaccessible because of social barriers, is a primary resource for reproductive health information
- One can chat with Ally in English, French, or Hindi. The company is currently working on expanding the language options
Tuba: Discuss the launch of the World’s First Abortion Virtual Assistant, ALLY on Whatsapp.
Sneha: We’re very excited about launching Ally on WhatsApp. For many women, especially in small-town India, WhatsApp enjoys massive popularity and creates a strong sense of community- you see group chats with the ladies from the neighborhood sharing more than just recipes or funny forwards, it’s almost a safe space where they can be themselves.
We hope that this virtual abortion assistant on WhatsApp proves to be that safe space – a space where all their medical abortion-related questions, queries, doubts, and fears will be addressed, minus the stigma and judgment, in a private manner.
Tuba: Unveil the motive to launch it especially on World Health Day 2021.
Sneha: Abortions are a matter of health care and are a gynecological service. By launching it on World Health Day, we’re stating this fact loud and clear. Access to accurate and judgment-free abortion information is crucial to a woman’s health and excluding abortions from this conversation would only further stigma and misinformation around it.
Tuba: Discuss in depth about Medical Abortions.
Sneha: Medical abortions are considered to be one of the safest medical procedures. Also known as abortions with pills, the risks associated with medical abortions within the first trimester are few and in fact, studies have shown that it’s safer than carrying a pregnancy to full term. What we need to remember is that – abortions are common, normal, and often, lifesaving. howtouseabortionpill.org breaks down everything you need to know about medical abortions – from what to consider beforehand, how the pills actually work, and what you can expect after. The site can be translated intro 27 languages including Hindi, Bengali and Nepali, and it also has a very detailed FAQ page that will help in better understanding what happens during an abortion in a language that is simple to understand.
Tuba: Put lights on the key features of the HowToUse chatbot, Ally.
Sneha: Ally, the HowToUse chatbot, is equipped to answer all medical abortion-related questions. The flow of the conversation is purposefully designed to be simple and intuitive. Throughout the conversation, the chatbot will keep asking you multiple questions and providing you with additional important information which will be very useful if you considering a medical abortion. You can chat with Ally in English, French, or Hindi and we’re currently working on expanding the language options.
Tuba: What motivates you to expand HowToUse chatbot Ally to WhatsApp on World Health Day?
Sneha: One word – Access.
Expanding the HowToUse chatbot Ally to WhatsApp immediately increases our reach and the motive is that more women and people need to have access to information on medical abortion that is rooted in facts and science and doesn’t hold any stigma or judgment. A lot of phones come with WhatsApp preinstalled and compared to other apps or a website, one doesn’t need as much internet data to use WhatsApp – which is an important asset in certain geographies where internet connectivity hasn’t advanced yet. Information shouldn’t be a matter of privilege.
Tuba: How can women connect to the Virtual Assistant?
Sneha: For access to Ally, the safe abortion assistant on WhatsApp, all you need to do is save +1 (833) 221-2559 as a contact on your phone and start a conversation saying “hi” on WhatsApp. You can also use this direct link to start texting with her on WhatsApp.
Tuba: How does the HowtoUseAbortionPill platform help women in the regions where abortion is criminalized?
Sneha: HowToUse runs a proxy website called pinkshoes.org. We work under this name especially in regions where it isn’t easy to speak openly on abortions. We also partner with many online and offline organizations that work within the boundaries of these restrictions and create awareness campaigns that aim at educating and informing women on safe abortion practices. Because the truth of the matter is, restricting abortions doesn’t stop abortions, it only makes them more dangerous.
Tuba: Discuss the company’s other platforms that aid women in providing counseling services on safe abortion, contraception, and sexual and reproductive health.
Claire: HowToUse is one of three websites under an umbrella organization, Women First Digital. HowToUse’s two other sister websites are safe2choose.org and findmymethod.org. Like HowToUse, safe2choose focuses on safe abortion access. Safe2choose is a dynamic resource that offers live abortion counseling for people at any stage of the abortion process, as well as local referrals to vetted abortion providers. You can chat with safe2choose counselors in 11 different languages through live chat on their website or through email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Women First Digital also supports FindMyMethod.org, a website dedicated to contraceptive information. Users can review and compare different contraceptive options to find out which method is right for them, all in an environment that is shame-free and sex-positive. Find My Method also hosts Forum, a global platform for conversations about all things sex: users join Forum to share stories, ask questions, give recommendations, and learn from one another. Good sex requires good conversations, and Find My Method is here to support that.
Tuba: WFD is creating awareness on unsafe abortions and contraceptives for the last 5years. What next, we can expect in 2021 and the coming years.
Claire: We’re thinking big: how can we better leverage technology to make sexual and reproductive health more globally accessible? Bots, apps, video training. It’s all in the works. Keep your eye out for us in September of this year, when we plan to release a video series about self-managed abortion in 27 different languages. We’ve been collaborating with Doctors Without Borders and can’t wait to co-release it in celebration of International Safe Abortion Day.
Tuba: Put some light on the impact of WFD’s work globally.
Claire: We’ll start with the numbers: WFD has collectively hosted over 15 million visitors from 180 different countries, all of whom are looking for safe abortion or contraception information. Our teams have supported over 13 million abortions through digital resources and provided direct assistance to over 100,000 women as they navigate the abortion process.
More generally, WFD is bringing something completely new to the SRH space. We’re recognizing that digital spaces are public spaces, and they’re often the most effective channels for sharing information and resources that are otherwise inaccessible to so many.
Sneha Nair is the Global Communications Officer at www.howtouseabortionpill.org. She’s a reproductive rights advocate, an optimist, and lives in Mumbai, India.
Claire Crossett is the Assistant Director at Women First Digital.