In a post- Roe v. Wade environment, founders and investors in women’s health startups say there’s an urgency to navigate a new landscape.
“The overturning of Roe has fundamentally changed the basic healthcare assumptions that we've had for 50 years, which is that every woman has a right to make their own healthcare decisions with their physicians and their families,” said Lori Evans Bernstein, CEO of women’s health startup Caraway, which launched this week.
“It’s the trigger point. It will have—and already has had— a profound effect on women's health and sexual health. It will add even more barriers to access and care,” Bernstein said.
Despite this uncertainty, investors are more enthusiastic than ever about femtech health, a term that describes women’s health-focused startups.
The urgency has also brought the community together since the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion in June, said Dr. Mitzi Krockover, managing director and co-chair of the health sector at angel investor network Golden Seeds.
“Conversations are happening en masse as everyone is trying to figure it all out,” Krockover said. “There is no clear direction as to how the most extreme issues will be dealt with from a prosecutorial standpoint, if abortion is going to be criminalized.”
Privacy is a big area of concern for these stakeholders, Krockover said. There are a lot of questions around patient data tracking functionality and how the information could be used against patients them in states where abortions are illegal.
Dr. Brittany Barreto, co-founder at venture firm Coyote Ventures, said a lot of femtech health firms typically have cookie-cutter privacy policies that need to be updated in the post Roe v. Wade era.
“Previously that wasn’t a big issue because if you were just tracking your period, that’s not too big of an issue,” Barreto said. “But with the Supreme Court case, having period information on your phone could literally cause you to be charged with a felony if it was discovered you had an abortion.”
One period tracking app developer, Flo, said it was launching an incognito mode after the Supreme Court decision was announced. In the past, these apps have shared their data with companies like Facebook and Google. The Federal Trade Commission penalized Flo for failing to obtain users’ consent before sharing their personal health information with Facebook, Google and other companies.
While it’s unclear how zealous law enforcement agencies will be in using data from smartphones to track reproductive health activity, there is a lot of concern among maternal health companies, experts say. For instance, companies that help with the fertilization process through technology tools are unsure how they can operate legally in certain states.
Read more: With abortion laws shifting, in vitro fertilization providers wonder if they're next
This uncertainty comes as the digital health industry is facing macroeconomic challenges that have resulted in a market correction and fewer dollars poured into digital heath startups.
Despite this, Bernstein said the Supreme Court decision should be enough of a reason for the femtech industry to continue its momentum from 2021, when women's health-focused startups accumulated a record $1.9 billion in funding, according to data from Pitchbook.
Bernstein, along with co-founder Joshua Tauber and venture capital firms 7wireVentures and OMERS Ventures, launched Caraway out of stealth mode two days ago with $10.5 million in seed funding. The company aims to provide mental, reproductive and physical healthcare services via its mobile app for college-aged women.
“There are a multitude of crises facing college-aged women,” said Bernstein, who pointed to the erosion of reproductive rights, an unprecedented need for mental health services and unprepared universities that lack adequate care options. “For college-aged women, aged 18 to 26, the developmental window is crucial for the integration of physical and mental health. As we talk to universities, it's clear that they need a lot of help in addressing all of these crises.”
Those in femtech say that the industry’s momentum will continue to flourish. Barreto said 80% of companies in femtech are working in other areas of women’s health that are unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision. Those companies are serving a need that hasn’t been met by traditional healthcare organizations, she said.
Read more: Startups are disrupting a ‘dehumanizing’ experience for women
“Women are still going to get their periods, get pregnant women, have babies, breastfeed. We're still entering menopause,” Barreto said. “I really don't see women's health as like a commodity that someone would say, ‘take it or leave it.’”
Krockover agrees and said there are a lot of areas of femtech filling an unmet need. As such, she is bullish on femtech, despite the outlaying challenges regarding the Supreme Court and the economic downturn.
“I think because of the decision, a lot of women are going to want to take healthcare in their own hands and be more private and more proactive” Krockover said. “I think that that speaks well for this area in general.”