BY CLARE HOWARD
Julia Sun and Celina Crisman were roommates at Cornell University. Sun graduated with a degree in engineering. Crisman went on to medical school and is now a surgeon.
The two friends, supporters of Planned Parenthood, watched sweeping nationwide restrictions on access to reproductive choice and decided to help.
They designed an app called Cara accessible on iTunes that asks women for their zip code and how many weeks pregnant they are, and then it locates the closest clinic available for an abortion.
Sun and Crisman had to research how to separate fake religious and political clinics from authentic medical facilities.
They found about half of all women’s reproductive health clinics are fake.
They made more than 1,100 phone calls. Dr. Crisman vetted the authenticity of each location.
“Celina and I are both scientists. We are keenly aware of biology. When women are pregnant, time is so important,” said Sun who now works as a journalist hosting TV and radio programs. “There are many places out there that disguise themselves as abortion clinics, but they do not provide procedures. They try to talk women out of procedures.”
The fake clinics play on emotion and run down the clock to eliminate women’s choices.
“They tell women abortion is shameful and refer them to adoption agencies. They pretend to be a resource for women but they take away choice,” Sun said.
When women use google to search for an abortion clinic, about half the places that come up are not real clinics, she said.
Those fake clinics use search engine optimization. They embed key words women search for: Abortion. Pills. Procedure.
“Women can’t separate real from fake,” Sun said. “I’m a reporter and I do my research and if I can’t tell the difference, how can we expect a 21 year old to figure it out when emotions are high?”
That’s where Cara comes in.
The two women went to “five of our richest friends from college” and secured the funding to create Cara.
The app asks only two questions. Zip code and number of weeks pregnant. It then locates the closest authentic clinic licensed to provide abortion for women in their specific trimester.
Both Sun and Crisman are in New York City where women have multiple choices and accessible clinics. Women in rural areas and in conservative states, however, face restricted access.
The burden of restricted access falls most heavily on rural and poor women.
A woman who once worked in the only legitimate abortion clinic in North Dakota now works on a daily basis updating Cara data to reflect legislative changes nationwide.
Cara went live in November 2016 during the presidential election when a feminist who supports universal access to safe, legal abortion won the popular vote by 53 percent but lost the electoral college.