Heagen founder Kiki Friedman launched a virtual abortion care startup in early 2021 after the last abortion clinic in Missouri, where she attended college, nearly closed. Following the Supreme Court’s June decision to end the constitutional right to abortion, she is focusing on raising awareness about abortion pills and asking to combat misinformation that is rampant on social media. She spoke to CBS Moneywatch about the benefits of telemedicine and how Hagen helps patients access abortion pills. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CBS Moneywatch: What inspired you to find Heijn through a digital health care clinic and providing abortion pills to patients?
Kiki Friedman: Heijn was prompted by the last abortion clinic in Missouri, where the school I went to, was nearly closing. It seemed insanely dystopian that there would be a state where there would be absolutely no access to abortion. Looking back, it has become strange compared to where we are today.
What attracted you to telemedicine?
I was interested in the rise of digital clinics and how they increase access to tarnished products, mostly in a convenient, discreet way., I was interested in how this could be implemented to provide access to abortion care.
What kind of patients does Hagen usually serve?
Our patient population roughly mimics the entire population of abortions. It’s a bit low-income – 50% of our patients make less than $25,000 per year. They are racially and geographically diverse. A lot of people are in school right now, and about half of our patients already have children and are making conscious decisions about how to plan their families going forward. Till now, we have served more than 15,000 patients.
How has the Supreme Court’s decision to quash Roe v. Wade (known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) affect your business? Is Heagen seeing increasing demand for its services?
In the days following Dobbs’ decision, traffic to our site increased 10 times. We saw 10,000% growth and traffic to our site and our patient demand doubled. We’ve certainly seen a consistent, higher level of patients coming in than before.
Has the makeup of your patient population changed at all?
Instead of a change in demographics, we have seen a change in tone – we have seen a significant increase in anxiety in our patients. We see this as when they can’t discuss treatment with their personal support network, they rely more on our team as support and a beacon of hope.
And a great deal of emphasis is placed on privacy and discretion. It’s always been really important, but the fears surrounding it have grown too much. That’s why we’re doing more to highlight how we protect patient data and keep it private.
Where do you work and who is eligible to receive care?
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 treatment with Hagen. They do not need to be residents.
Think of it as going to the doctor’s office while traveling. Our cost is $249, we partner with amazing abortion funds in all of our states to provide financial assistance to those who need it.
Are you 100% virtual? What are the benefits of telemedicine in taking abortion pills?
We are completely virtual, and we serve the full spectrum of patient needs. Patients have access to medicine that is shipped at their doorstep. Layered on top of that we provide emotional support and community support. We want to ensure that patients feel normal, supported and validated in all aspects of their journey.
One advantage of going virtual is that, for example, we had a patient who lived in a small town and people from nearby clinics were close to the patient’s family members. The patient was anticipated to lack confidentiality at the local clinic, so they came to us instead.
Another patient was unfortunately pregnant as a result of sexual assault and did not want to touch or leave her home, so this was another instance in which we saw telemedicine valuable.
What are the biggest challenges facing you today?
Our clinical team has found that many patients end up, That’s where they start and they eventually find us. Before Dobbs, there were four times more crisis pregnancy centers than abortion clinics. This is even more exaggerated now.
These are organizations that exist as abortion clinics, but are propaganda weapons of religious organizations that prevent people from getting abortions by providing fake medical information and using coercive practices including guilt and shame.
They are massive and can be very persuasive. And now, given that there really aren’t abortion clinics to offset them, when people are searching online for information in hostile states, that’s where they’re ending up.
We are verified on social media platforms, but we are still surrounded by anti-like people who try to censor our content.
One of the major efforts we are focusing on at this time is to create awareness about the safety and effectiveness of abortion pills. Before Dobbs, only one in four people knew the abortion pill existed. We are trying to create awareness that it is an effective option for many people.
What is your advice for patients seeking care in states where abortion is not legal?
It really depends on the individual and what resources they may have access to. It is important to know that it is still legal to travel to other states where it is supported. Seventeen states have “shield” laws that protect patients and providers if they are subject to scrutiny related to reproductive health care.
That said, traveling to another state is not a viable option for everyone, as it is expensive.Those who offer practical support, who may be able to help facilitate the journey, are worth a look.