A year ago, Roe v. Wade was overturned and the state of reproductive rights in the United States nosedived into a terrible new reality. While some states remain relatively safe places to seek legal abortion care, other states rushed to pass fascist restrictions, some of which not only stripped people of the right to an abortion but also criminalized it. As of June 26, The New York Times abortion ban tracker shows 20 states that have banned or restricted abortion.
This state of emergency prompted sustainable, gender-inclusive period care company August to launch a campaign increasing awareness around how anti-abortion states are using data surveillance—direct messages, cookies and search history—as circumstantial evidence in court to prosecute menstruators who are suspected of having abortions. Partnering with VMLY&R, a creative agency, Plan C, a company providing at-home abortion pills, and Stix, a vaginal and reproductive health company, August has made the center of their campaign the Tampon Test. It’s a discreet pregnancy test hidden inside a tampon wrapper. (The product is fictional and not available for sale on August’s website, but other items including tampons, pads and liners are part of August’s real-life offerings.)
Part of August’s pro-abortion campaign involves giving advice for how to protect digital privacy post-Roe v. Wade, like using DuckDuckGo to search instead of Google or Firefox Focus instead of your phone’s default browser. August also suggests using encrypted email services like Proton Mail or end-to-end encrypted chat like Signal, Wire or Matrix.
As far as the pregnancy test, August co-founder Nadya Okamoto says that while the product is fictional and created solely for this campaign, the reality is that many menstruators do not feel safe buying pregnancy tests or keeping them in the home, especially in ultra-restrictive states like Texas. In May, for example, a Texas man killed his girlfriend after she got an abortion. Another Texas man is suing his ex-wife’s friends for helping her obtain an abortion. And Texas law has said that citizens can receive a $10,000 bounty for reporting people who’ve gotten an abortion.
Imani Wilson-Shabazz, partnership manager at Plan C, tells Sweet July that data privacy is something the organization is passionate about, especially considering their mandate. “At Plan C, we’re aware that unjust criminalization remains a risk for people who manage their own healthcare,” says Wilson-Shabazz. “Pregnancy and abortion information, and data, should be private so that people can make informed decisions about their healthcare without the threat of criminalization.”
Wilson-Shabazz adds that the non-profit is “excited about this partnership with August, because the Tampon Test is our way of informing people about the available options and resources, like the Digital Defense Fund, to keep their pregnancy and abortion data as secure as possible.”
Worth noting: this isn’t August co-founder Okamoto’s first rodeo. When she was 16 years old, Okamoto founded Period, a non-profit focused on addressing menstrual equity and period poverty, which is the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management and education. “I was thinking critically about the tampon tax and period poverty, and was looking for an organization to volunteer with,” says Okamoto. “There just wasn’t one, so that’s how Period came into being.”
After writing a book, Period Power, in 2018, Okamoto ran Period as an executive director for six years, eventually handing over the reins to go into branding, where she worked with period care companies. “It made me passionate about starting August because it felt like the solution to a lot of the challenges that I was seeing both in media and politics and just the overall grassroots advocacy space,” she says. “I felt like I could make such a bigger difference if I was building a brand that could really live and breathe the changes that we wanted to see.”
Okamoto tells Sweet July that her team would be open to exploring whether this fictional product should become a real product, especially as the status of legal abortion rapidly changes throughout the country. “If the reaction is an overwhelming amount of requests, that would be terrifyingly dystopian,” says Okamoto. “But if that is the result, we absolutely would look into leaning more into something like this.”