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Chatbot Charley provides reliable abortion advice while safeguarding user privacy

In the years before Roe v. Wade decriminalized abortion in the United States, the Jane Collective served as an underground network providing comprehensive reproductive resources and services. Those faced with unwanted pregnancies would dial a local number — often that of a private home or college dormitory — and were instructed to ask for Jane. Now, as legislative restrictions proliferate in the post-Roe era, a chatbot named Charley has emerged as Jane's digital descendant. 

With privacy as its utmost priority, the bot asks no identifying questions and stores no user data as it guides people through details on abortion methods, nearby clinics, accessing abortion pills and other forms of support, all based on the latest information on state abortion restrictions and vetted by doctors, reproductive health experts and lawyers.

Charley's privacy-centric, conversational approach seeks to destigmatize abortion and streamline the process of understanding personal choices without fear of repercussions — its founders wanted to make getting accurate abortion information 'as easy as texting a trusted friend.' The app is available in English and Spanish, and was recently nominated for two Webby Awards.

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The need for a service like Charley reflects broader societal trends — the polarity surrounding abortion rights, eroding public trust in institutions and digital platforms and — on the bright side — innovative responses by civil society when individual liberties come under threat. Ethical, decentralized technology with a friendly interface can empower people to make deeply personal decisions free from corporate tracking and surveillance.