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Siri, find me an abortion provider: Apple's weird anti-choice glitch is finally on its way out

5 years after promising a fix, Siri will no longer direct abortion-seekers to "crisis pregnancy centers" instead


Mary Elizabeth Williams
January 30, 2016 1:45AM (UTC)

If you were waiting for Apple to fix that feature in Siri that was directing women seeking abortions anywhere else instead, you're in luck. Just hope you didn't need that information urgently, because it took them about five years to get on that.

As Fast Company reports this week Apple Maps seems to be  finally "fixing a flaw in its algorithm that had been directing people seeking information about abortions to fertility centers and adoption clinics." Which is, you must admit, a pretty huge misdirect. The problem first gained attention back in 2011, those bygone days of the iPhone 4S. That's when feminist bloggers began noticing that while Siri would provide you her famously sharp responses for everything where to hide a dead body to whether God exists, she was remarkably reluctant to cough up some basic geographical data on where a woman might exercise her constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. At the time, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook to ask the company to fix the issue. "Anti-choice groups created [crisis pregnancy centers] to look like comprehensive health clinics, but many do not provide women with accurate pregnancy-related information," she wrote. "Ultimately, many of these centers can be harmful and do nothing to help women locate the services they requested from Siri."

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Company spokesperson Natalie Kerris responded by saying, "These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone. It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks." That was in 2011.

Writing now in Fast Company, Christina Farr notes that just earlier this month, testing Siri in various locations around the Bay Area provided the same discouraging results they did when "Entourage" was still on the air. "We were directed to a domestic and international adoption agency almost 30 miles outside of the city called Heartsent Adoptions," she says, "and no abortion providers were included in the search results." Clearly, this wasn't a problem just for women in traditionally conservative geographic areas, where access to abortion services is limited. I live in New York City, and in October, when I experimented with asking Siri where I could get an abortion, the reply came back, "Sorry, I do't see any abortion clinics in Manhattan." Other friends, conducting similar tests across the country, were similarly told there were no local options, directed to Heartsent Adoptions, or directed to, of all things, preschools.

Additionally, writing in Gadget earlier this month, writer Beulah Devaney noted that iTunes is chock full of anti-choice apps "tracking appointments made at abortion clinics, helping users pray for aborted fetuses, and suggesting ways to talk friends out of abortions. Searching for 'abortion' even brings up baby lullaby and adoption apps – the last thing someone in a desperate situation needs to see. Meanwhile, apps that might actually help women seeking abortion are missing from the store."

Most agree the omission was never intentional — abortion providers often don't call themselves as such by name, making it harder for the software to find them. Yet in the past few days, there's been a change. "After performing identical searches to earlier ones," Farr writes in Fast Company, "we received a more comprehensive list of Planned Parenthood facilities and other abortion providers. Adoption clinics continue to pop up, but near the bottom of the list." And on Friday, when I asked Siri about abortion providers, this time I was offered a comprehensive list of my local Planned Parenthoods and doctors — and one early childhood learning center. Progress, not perfection, right? And now at least when Siri asks, "What can I help you with?" she's a lot closer to giving women an honest answer.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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