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Allie Talk: Period Tracking Apps Are a Health Right

When I first heard about the Roe v. Wade decision, I had a bit of an out of body experience. My entire life, the right to an abortion has been an established legal precedent. The fact that it was overturned nearly 50 years after the issue was settled has been shocking and scary. Access to abortion is not just a human right, it is an essential component of women’s healthcare, and its restriction will put women’s wellness and lives at risk. 

As I’ve been learning more about this ruling’s potential ramifications on things like period tracking, my outrage has only increased. Tracking apps have only been around for about a decade, but they’ve already made a profound impact on women’s health. Using an app has helped me get in tune with my body, understand symptoms, and make decisions on a whole host of health issues beyond questions of fertility.

I think the most important revolution period tracking apps have brought about is even more simple than that: it's educating women about their own bodies. When I talk to my friends, whether they grew up in New York City or Texas, we all had the same experience of teenage sex ed — there was a lot of emphasis on the sex and prevention messages and complete silence on the education part of the equation. None of us could name the phases of the menstrual cycle or understand the far reaching impact of hormones until we were well into our 30s.

The proliferation of period tracking apps has started to change that. They have become a necessary tool for empowerment. According to NPR, the two biggest apps, Flow and Clue, report having 43 million active users and 13 million, respectively. Now, in the wake of the Roe decision, there is rising concern that voluntarily tracking your menstrual cycle information in an app could become problematic. There is a growing fear that this personal data could be obtained by the government or advocacy groups and used as evidence that a woman has had an abortion.

My core beliefs — the beliefs that led me to start Veracity — are that every person has the right to understand what is going on with their health and the right to control what happens with their personal data. While we probably won’t know for a while if the fear surrounding tracking apps is valid, it is something that I have been thinking about a lot.

Our healthcare system now revolves around trying to treat symptoms, but not doing the work to figure out and treat the underlying root cause of those symptoms. And we’ve all had to become experts at self-diagnosing. When I was trying to get pregnant, I was seeing a dermatologist to treat some dry skin I was having, a fertility doctor to treat my infertility, and an endocrinologist to treat my Hashimotos. They were all investigating their own little areas of concern, so it took a long time and a lot of work on my part to connect the dots: the skin issues were a sign of a thyroid disorder which was causing my infertility.  

Plus, we all know doctor visits have become like the Starbucks mobile pick-up line — the faster the visit, the better. This has led to diagnoses and treatments that are often based on the most common answer rather than determining the specific answer for a specific patient. This is one of the reasons that something like PCOS, which officially affects 1 in 10 women, is believed to actually affect more like 1 in 4. Yet, so many women are given birth control for period irregularities with no further investigation, resulting in a hormonal disorder that goes undiagnosed.

This system needs to change, and I believe that the health revolution starts by empowering people. Having access to and understanding personal data plays a big part in this effort, whether that’s tracking your period symptoms and cycles with an app or getting your hormone levels checked through an at home test. .

Women have only recently begun to have access to the education and tools we need to make informed decisions about our health, and now that ability is again being threatened. Women have so much sh*t to worry about. Increased and unnecessary difficulty navigating our own healthcare issues shouldn’t be added to the pile.

For all people, knowing and understanding health data is a right. Being able to choose who you share that data with is a right. And having access to abortion and to making decisions about your own health and body is a right, no matter what the Supreme Court says.

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