Texas teens can now use a texting app to message for birth control

By Melissa Locker

If you’re a Texas teenager facing an unwanted pregnancy, you can now text for help.

Texas nonprofit Jane’s Due Process (JDP), which helps teens navigate a complex legal system to gain access to birth control or abortions, was looking for a way to help the vulnerable population they work with that didn’t involve asking a teenager to make a phone call to a hotline.

“The reality is that most often teens text rather than call. It’s how they communicate with each other, and it was essential they were able to communicate with us in the same way,” said Eleanor Grano, Community Outreach and Youth Engagement at JDP.

Unfortunately, according to Grano, the group found that “directing these messages to our volunteers securely, confidentially, and at scale needed expertise and technology that was really hard to find and prohibitively expensive.”

Mike Gozzo, the CTO of Montreal-based startup Smooch, heard about JDP’s plight at an Abortion Access hackathon in San Francisco in 2017 and knew just what to do. “I knew with our platform that we could create a totally secure solution allowing any number of young women to simply send an anonymous SMS message and receive the help they need,” said Gozzo.

Smooch had previously developed SextEd, an anonymous and secure text-based sex education and dating advice site for teens run by the Montreal-based AIDS Community Care. They had the skills to set up an SMS hotline for JDP that would securely route messages to its team of trained volunteers, while making sure contact information remained secure and anonymous.

Now Smooch has partnered with JDP to help teens across Texas get legal access to birth control and abortions through the creation of a secure, scalable, and confidential text hotline. It’s working, too: “Already, the number of people contacting JDP via messaging far outweighs those using the hotline, so we’re incredibly excited to see that it’s having a positive impact,” Gozzo said.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, has its own text-based app: Roo is an artificial-intelligence driven chatbot that can answer teens’ most pressing questions, helping them find honest, fact-based information that doesn’t just preach abstinence.

You can learn more about JDP’s text-based services here.

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