Venture capitalist Mike Edelhart remembers a time when abortion was illegal across the U.S. He was in college, as was his sweetheart, who one day revealed to him that she was pregnant.
“I still think about it,” Edelhart says. His girlfriend told him she wasn’t prepared to have a child, and so the couple “sneaked” around until they finally found someone to perform the procedure. “Back then you would get routed to where you could get it done,” he says. “It’s a devastating emotional choice to make — and I’m a man.”
Edelhart knows from personal experience that abortion, as he puts it, can be a “horrible” thing to go through. But the 71-year-old managing partner of San Francisco-based Joyance Partners argues “that’s a different question from, as a medical procedure, should folks have the right to access it? Of course they should.”
Yet now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion, women in 26 states where the procedure is banned or severely restricted are finding themselves facing the same dilemma that Edelhart and his girlfriend did decades ago. Headlines are ablaze with horror stories about near-death experiences by women with ectopic pregnancies unable to get an abortion and a raped 10-year-old traveling hundreds of miles to obtain one. Meanwhile, an underground railroad is bringing abortion pills from Mexico to Texas.
Behind the scenes, venture capitalists — including some big institutional names like Lone Pine Capital, Bank of America, Blackstone, and Silver Lake — are playing an important role in the abortion battle: financing telehealth companies that are stepping up to the plate to provide abortion access.
To be sure, most of the initial funding for some of the newest abortion providers is coming from small VC funds dedicated to women or social issues, like Edelhart’s Joyance Partners. It has backed Hey Jane, a small femtech startup — as women’s health startups are called — that aims to not only ensure more abortion services are easily available in the states where it is still legal, but to also help women who live in states where abortion is banned, as long as they travel to one where it is allowed. The procedure can be done within days, at home (or in a hotel), by taking two prescribed medications, with a virtual doctor visit.
New York-based Hey Jane is one of two new telehealth startups specifically focusing on these so-called medication abortions. The other is California-based Choix (pronounced “Choice,” the English translation of the French word “Choix”). Both provide a range of care around women’s reproductive health.
Hey Jane made a big splash when a $6 million Series A funding that closed in October was oversubscribed — a move that one investor called a “turning point” in the race to legitimize abortion care with funding dollars. Founded by three women — a former Uber executive, a doctor, and a marketing expert — the company opened its doors in 2019 and prescribes medication abortion in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. Hey Jane says it has already served 20,000 patients and has now raised about $10 million.
For Edelhart and the 16 other team members at his firm, the decision to invest in Hey Jane’s round was clinched by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in June that women do not have a constitutional right to an abortion. (Hey Jane was named after the Jane Collective, a 1960s Chicago feminist group that helped women get abortions in the pre-Roe era.)
“When we first met the company, we hesitated a little bit,” Edelhart explains. “We felt that there were real risks involved in this.” Even before the momentous Dobbs decision, a number of states were already in the process of passing draconian anti-abortion laws. Texas, notably, has threatened to prosecute providers for “aiding and abetting” the illegal activity and hinted it might go out of state to find them.
But after the Dobbs decision, Edelhart says, “we decided it just didn’t matter. It was too important.”
Hey Jane “might wind up in the soup; we might wind up in the soup,” Edelhart says. “But it was really clear in our team — particularly the female members — we were just going to do it. We felt there was a real potential for this to become a valuable and important company because it could be the bridge between the past and whatever the future is.”
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