For those women who are considering terminating their pregnancies, a new chatbot called Charley aims to help them start the process of getting an abortion.
The chatbot, which launched on Sept. 12, is available on Charley’s website, greeting visitors with the message, “Need an abortion? Let’s get started.”
On its website, Charley is described as “designed by abortion experts, made for abortion seekers.”
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One of its co-founders is Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood. Richards “oversees legal, political, and policy matters and leads fundraising efforts” for Charley, according to the chatbot’s website.
Another co-founder is Tom Subak, former chief strategy officer at Planned Parenthood.
Charley isn’t an app — it lives online, on its own website.
While individuals can freely visit the site, the company is also seeking medical providers who will agree to embed the chatbot directly on their own websites, “to meet abortion seekers wherever they are online,” said Nicole Cushman, Charley’s New York-based content manager, in an interview with Fox News Digital.
Cushman, who has held leadership positions at Planned Parenthood, said the idea for the chatbot came about after Roe v. Wade was overturned — with the goal of “improving people’s online search experience.”
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“Our research showed that people were turning primarily to Google for information about abortion options in the post-Roe landscape, and that it was very challenging for abortion seekers to connect to available options,” she said.
People “were ending up in an endless Google loop.”
“This was particularly the case if they were living in a state with an abortion ban or restriction — they were ending up in an endless Google loop.”
Charley’s creators envisioned a “simple, effective way to pull together information from a range of sources” and “cut through the confusion,” Cushman told Fox News Digital.
How Charley works
Unlike large language models like ChatGPT, Charley doesn’t allow people to type questions. Instead, the chatbot uses a “decision tree” format that guides visitors through a series of pre-written prompts, including the desired type of abortion and the date of their last menstrual period.
It also asks for a zip code to determine the specific abortion laws in the visitor’s state of residence.
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For example, when Fox News Digital entered a zip code in Ohio, the response was: “Currently, abortion care is legal in Ohio, but only up to 22 weeks. This means that, if you act quickly, you‘ll be able to get abortion care in your state. If you need more time or can’t get an appointment before then, you may still have options in another state.”
For abortion seekers under 18 years of age, Charley notifies them whether state law requires a parent’s permission to get an abortion — and also offers assistance for minors to ask a judge for permission to get the procedure on their own.
At the end of the series of questions, the chatbot provides a summary of expected costs, alternate funding options and a directory of resources to find an abortion provider.
“Those resources might include a link to a directory to locate the nearest clinic, a link to telehealth providers — or help lines for legal, medical, financial or emotional support,” Cushman told Fox News Digital.
“Our research showed that people were turning primarily to Google for information about abortion options.”
The pre-scripted information provided by the chatbot was developed by a team of “medical and legal experts,” she added.
Potential risks of the abortion chatbot
Charley is designed as a “triage solution” to provide information and education so that people can make “an informed decision” about their next steps, Cushman said.
“For some people, the next best step may be to make an appointment to see a provider in person, or to call a hotline for more direct support,” she noted.
“There’s no harm in chatting with Charley, but it’s not the end of their journey,” she also said.
At some points during the chat, Charley may quickly hand off the visitor to an external resource — for example, if she is experiencing a medical emergency or potential pregnancy complications, Cushman noted.
She also said, however, that not all pregnant women require in-person care before seeking an abortion.
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“Plenty of research shows that telehealth is a safe and effective way to access medication abortion,” Cushman told Fox News Digital.
“If there are no extenuating circumstances — especially if someone is earlier in the pregnancy — they can navigate through Charley to access additional resources or other hotlines.”
Security and privacy has been an area of “heightened concern” among people searching for abortion care online, Cushman said.
The chatbot does not ask for any identifying information, she pointed out — just the person’s zip code and date of her last menstrual period.
“We put fear of surveillance and criminalization front and center when designing Charley,” she noted. “We don’t use any tracking tools, cookies or pixels, and we don’t share information with any third party.”
All conversations are deleted from their system “regularly,” Cushman said.
Experts stress face-to-face discussion
Dr. Kecia Gaither, a double board-certified OB/GYN and director of maternal fetal medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, described Charley as a “brilliant tool to assist women in locales where reproductive options are either restricted or prohibited.”
“Given the reality that almost half of the U.S. has banned or restricted reproductive options, Charley will likely serve as a lifeline to many women,” she told Fox News Digital.
“Compassionate and comprehensive care is essential, especially during something so personal as an abortion.”
Gaither said there are a “multitude of reasons why reproductive options are needed,” pointing to scenarios like “congenital fetal anomalies” or issues where giving birth could “compromise the mother’s health or even kill her.”
The doctor did add, however, that face-to-face discussion with a health provider is always recommended as the first avenue for any woman seeking reproductive options.
Dr. Laura Purdy, a board-certified family medicine physician in Brentwood, Tennessee, said she values in-person interaction to ensure that women who are considering abortion are aware of the emotional implications of their decision — which can range from anxiety to grief.
“Chatbots are a great way to offer advice, and I can understand their appeal,” she told Fox News Digital.
“However, the health of women is a very personal matter that demands a lot of attention.”
“I would recommend thoroughly researching the side effects that an abortion can have on a woman’s body, and see a doctor after that decision to ensure that your mental state is being cared for.”
“I think compassionate and more comprehensive care is essential, especially during something so personal as an abortion.”
Purdy, who practices telemedicine herself, said that she “very much values technology to improve women’s health care.”
But with telehealth, she said, “you are still talking to a real human, who provides empathy and individual care.”
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“Ultimately, it is a preference, but I would recommend thoroughly researching the side effects that an abortion can have on a woman’s body, and see a doctor after that decision to ensure that your mental state is being cared for,” she recommended.
Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, said that while he is a “big believer” in AI applications in health care, “I don’t think this one works.”
To test the bot, Siegel entered information as if someone in an early stage of pregnancy, he told Fox News Digital.
“It is front-loaded with basic information regarding where and how, and [offers] options, but is less interactive than I was expecting,” he said. “It is also kind of clunky, which is especially problematic in an area where sensitivity and empathy are required.”
The doctor also noted that the chatbot has an orientation in the direction of “subtly moving people toward abortions by not providing an alternative focus of valuing the life that could come from this.”
Dr. Siegel added, “Imagine if the bot started out by asking, ‘Do you know how many women wish they were in your position? Do you know how many have tried to become pregnant but can’t? Here are those statistics.’”
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Source: Fox News