NYC Abortion Access Hackathon 2017

Most people in the United States assume abortion is fairly accessible and affordable, protected by Roe. They are often not aware of the restrictions and laws on abortion at the state level, and assume that abortion is more accessible now than in the past.

Sadly, this is far from the truth.

In 2010, 5 million women of reproductive age lived in a state with multiple barriers to abortion. By the beginning of 2015, that number had grown to 25 million women; more than one-quarter of the 1,074 state abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade were enacted between 2011 and 2015. In 2016, nearly 400 new laws against abortion were pending in 45 states across the country.


Reproductive justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. Abortion access is just one of many pieces in the reproductive justice framework.

This past weekend, the Versett NYC design team was excited to participate in the NYC Abortion Access Hackathon at Buzzfeed NY’s office. Abortion Access Hackathon gathers leaders in reproductive justice and tech professionals to modernize healthcare, organizing to better serve abortion providers and groups already working in abortion access. Participants ranged from clinic escorts and service providers, to engineers and UX designers.

A vast network creates and supports direct access to abortions. It may look like there’s a lot of places for things to go wrong but really there’s a lot of places to make a difference. Every single piece of the puzzle is equally important. — AAH Organizer
I think for a lot of developers who specifically work in software development take for granted some of the tools that we use, some of which don’t even require code, are built for us to scale things very big and scale things easier. [They] don’t realize that people [in reproductive justice] don’t realize those tools exist. So there’s things that can help with connecting different services together with a drag and drop API or workflow. I’m used to using them everyday but someone who works over at the NYAF had no idea that they could use [this]…I think it’s because they don’t sit next to a developer every day at their job and the rest of us do. Sharing some of the goodies and magic we get to work with that let us free our brains so that we can get our work done is super freeing. — AAH Organizer

After some socializing and education (as well as beer and wine), the hackathon started with organizations and professionals making 30 second project pitches to the group. Projects included exposing fake clinics, helping minors seeking judicial bypass, hotlines, engaging patients following clinic interactions, redesigning and updating websites, and making grant funding easier. Together with 6 other participants (Yuqi Hou, Garin Marschall, Aleksandra Koneska, Kimberly McCarty, Ting Lew, and Colin Brence) we gravitated towards NIRH’s proposal: highlighting abortion access restriction buildup since 1973.

Partnering with NIRH

The National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) builds power at the state and local level to change public policy, galvanize public support, and normalize women’s decisions about abortion and contraception. At the national level, they engage in groundbreaking public opinion research, proactive policy initiatives, and innovative advocacy campaigns to shape a new national conversation about reproductive freedom.

Over the past few years, NIRH has been collecting information and compiling timelines for each state regarding the buildup of abortion restrictions, which are normally more right-leaning than the state population. They’ve conducted focus groups across the country on how they perceive what’s going on, their views, and how to convey educational information about abortion restriction.

“I know there were certain laws about abortions, [but] I didn’t know some of them were this, I guess, absurd.” — White male, Trump voter, Ohio

Abortion Restriction

Focussing on Texas, one of the more restrictive states, we approached how to convey the buildup of abortion restrictions to allies and the general public in a shareable, interactive way.

After the volunteers from NIRH walked us through the results of their focus group testing, the Versett team lead a group brainstorming session, using Crazy 8s to hone in on both the themes and the framework we would use to illustrate the trends in abortion restrictions. With team members voting on the ideas they thought would be successful, we were able to quickly settle on both a strategy and a format.

Splitting into three teams of visual design (Versett & Garin), content (NIRH), and engineering (Yuqi, Lew, Aleksandra, and Kimberly), we worked to realize the concept using Sketch, Slack, Javscript, and HTML & CSS.

End Result

By the end of Day 3 we had a working demo to present to the group, thanks to the tireless efforts of the engineers. The presentations were incredible; it was amazing to see the solutions people came up with in such a short period of time. Now that the event is over, we hope to continue our partnership NIRH and the rest of the team to see the site launched.

It was a great experience getting to work with people that we don’t normally get to work with from outside the Versett team. I’m also proud to say that 3 out of the 4 engineers we worked with are women!

With the current political climate, it’s easy to feel powerless. This weekend, however, was incredibly empowering for me. I had a great time and met great people. I also learned that I can make meaningful progress in causes that are meaningful to me. Huge thanks to the organizers at Abortion Access Hackathon, without whom this event could not have happened, and to Buzzfeed for the amazing, safe space.


How to Take Action

Code for America does these brigades and likewise a lot of cities have civic hack night and I think that’s a great place to get started. We’re increasingly seeing that a lot of reproductive organizations are being very successfully referred to their civic hack night to pitch a project they want to work on. It’s also great if you find out where your local abortion organization is…make people aware that you exist, donate to them, keep showing up to things that they need. When the organization feels like they’re ready you can be their inside man. — AAH Organizer
Volunteer for a local abortion clinic outside of a tech capacity so you can learn what their work is like and meet the patients who come there for services. All these organizations are starved for volunteers. That’s a great way to learn about the space and one you learn it a little better you can say I see something here that might be able to benefit from a tech solution. — Developer

Also, check out the amazing sponsors for this year’s hackathon!


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