How Kiki Freedman of Hey Jane Steers Her Online Abortion Clinic In a Sea of Regulatory Changes

Hey Jane founder Kiki Freedman.
Hey Jane founder Kiki Freedman. Illustration by Grey Thornberry.

First came skepticism around online medicine. Then came the repeal of a woman’s constitutional right to choose. These are turbulent times for a medication abortion startup.

Kiki Freedman had a revolutionary idea: providing medication abortions via telehealth.

As of 2018, there was only one abortion clinic left standing in Mississippi, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and other states such as Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri seemed to be on a similar trajectory. A digital clinic model could not only address the increasing scarcity of abortion clinics across the country, Freedman figured, but it could also allow those seeking abortions to be far more discrete about it, she told Inc.‘s What I Know podcast.

When Freedman started seriously thinking about launching the idea while pursuing her MBA at Harvard Business School in 2019, there wasn’t enough clarity surrounding the legalities of online medications. Despite her professors’ skepticism about being able to solve for regulatory issues, Freedman spent the year creating the framework for a company that would become Hey Jane, an online clinic that delivers abortion pills through the mail.

The pandemic helped pave the way for a successful launch in January of 2021 by normalizing telehealth and easing federal restrictions on mailing the abortion pills. (Medication abortions accounted for more than half of all abortions in the U.S. in 2020 according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute.) Freedman quickly recruited a team of licensed physicians and nurses to consult with patients virtually, before sending them medication that can safely take care of abortions at home for those up to 10 weeks pregnant; the clinicians provide support before, during, and after the process.

But just ahead of a year into the business, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, taking away a woman’s constitutional right to choose and throwing into question whether mailing abortion pills would remain legal in certain states. A later decision by the court deemed that states may not forbid the use of Mifepristone, the main FDA-approved pill used in medication abortions, but surrounding regulations for pill-based abortions can vary state-by-state.

Freedman made the decision that Hey Jane would only serve people with a mailing address in states where abortion is legal. She also relocated some of her remote staff from states where private citizens are now empowered to sue people providing abortions, such as Texas and Idaho, to protect them from legal retribution for doing their jobs.

Finding investors was difficult at first, but Freedman and her team have raised increasingly significant rounds of venture capital funding amidst the political and legal turmoil. “VCs have seen it’s impossible to stay neutral in the state of the world that we’re in right now,” Freedman says. “There’s been a much more explicit showing of how vast the support for abortion access is.”

Indeed, Hey Jane has raised $9.7 million in funding to date. While it currently delivers only to eight states, Freedman hopes to slowly begin serving others where abortion is entirely inaccessible — as was her original goal — once regulations shake out.

“Being completely consumed and focused with the end goal is what helps you get through it — and having a team that shares that value,” Freedman says. “You should always be willing to be able to push through those walls. But often finding a path where you don’t intersect the wall, or where you could find a way to walk around it or climb over it, can be incredibly useful.”

To listen to the full interview with Freedman, click on the player above, or find What I Know on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere you get your audio.