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Abortion surveillance is nothing new, but scrutiny has increased after Dobbs, activists say • Florida Phoenix

Former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has said that abortion policing is a matter for the states. But for abortion providers and advocates, surveillance and oversight by anti-abortion activists has long been a reality. And after Dobbs, many states are actively seeking to expand government surveillance.

“There is a lot of confusion in our patient population, because most of them come from states that have banned abortion, about the legality of coming to another state,” said Michele Landeau, chief operating officer of Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois.

Across the border from St. Louis, Missouri, Hope Clinic is one of the closest abortion clinics to several ban states in the Midwest and South. After Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, the clinic increased its staff and capacity to accommodate a large number of patients, more than 80% of whom come from outside Illinois, Landeau told States Newsroom. She said the clinic has also seen an influx of protesters, especially on Saturdays, who can sometimes be heard shouting patients’ out-of-state license plates.

“That can cause a lot of anxiety and fear,” Landeau said. “I think the protesters know that and that’s why they do it.”

Since the Dobbs ruling, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes in digital civil liberties, has seen an increase in the disclosure of sensitive information about abortion providers and support groups, said attorney Lisa Femia. Another privacy threat that has increased since the Dobbs ruling, she said, is law enforcement sharing data from automatic license plate readers with law enforcement in states where abortion is not legal.

Illinois is among several states that have embraced abortion rights in the run-up to and after the Dobbs decision, and more recently, travel data privacy protections. A law that went into effect earlier this year prohibits sharing automatic license plate reader data with law enforcement for the purpose of investigating or enforcing a law that “denies or interferes with a person’s right to choose or obtain reproductive health care services.”

But even in this abortion-haven state, Mark Lee Dickson’s Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn initiative helped pass an ordinance banning the mailing or shipping of abortion pills in Danville, a city on Illinois’ eastern border with Indiana, where abortion is not legal. The ordinance — which the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois calls “unlawful and unenforceable” because it violates state law — was passed the same month that an anti-abortion extremist crashed a car loaded with gasoline containers into the building of an abortion clinic in Danville.

Femia said mounting legal challenges have so far failed to uphold laws that attempt to restrict abortion-related travel or information between states, but it is still early days, she said.

“I think we also have to remember that in the scheme of the legal system, it hasn’t been that long since Dobbs and since states started implementing extremely restrictive abortion laws,” Femia told States Newsroom. “So we’re still kind of in the early stages of abortion prosecutions.”

To fight for reproductive health privacy, Femia said the Electronic Frontier Foundation has attempted to pressure the government to enforce privacy protections on the books, as well as educate the public.

This week, nonprofit MSI Reproductive Choices launched a digital guide to safely finding abortion-related information online in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the Vagina Privacy Network, and as part of the launch handed out free burner phones at three separate reproductive rights marches in Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgia.