Does Apple have a problem with abortion? The App Store pro-life bias

A little bit of balance, please

By Beulah Devaney January 5, 2016
Prayer Feed app

The last few years have seen more and more women using apps to keep tabs on their health: from period tracking and medical check-up reminders through to pill schedules and nutritional advice. There’s even an app designed to monitor our periods from inside our own bodies!

Unfortunately, one area of women’s health is still uncatered for on the iTunes app store: abortion. If I can track the colour of my period via my iPhone, surely I should be able to get some basic information about abortion the same way. But no! Because while the iTunes app store is rammed full of anti-choice apps there is a complete dearth of sensible advice for women considering an abortion.

One of the many anti-abortion apps available on iTunes
One of the many anti-abortion apps available on iTunes

Apple already have a reputation for anti-abortion bias. Among the onslaught of bugs, glitches, hiccups and headaches surrounding the release of the iPhone 4S in 2011 it was revealed that the phone’s voice recognition software was “operating on Bible Belt family values”. While Siri was happy to tell users where to dump a body or buy a gun, asking for the nearest abortion clinic elicited the response of: “Sorry, I cannot find any abortion clinics”.

This answer remained the same, even when the user was standing within 5 feet of an abortion clinic. Apple denied any deliberate bias but, 5 years later, the iTunes store is full of anti-choice apps tracking appointments made at abortion clinics, helping users pray for aborted foetuses, 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, all of which suggests that Apple still aren’t at ease with a woman’s right to choose.

So what do anti-abortion apps actually do?

Online For Life: Prayer Feed is the stuff nightmares are made of. App users are given a news feed of women who are making appointments at abortion clinics in their state with an option to pray and/or march on the clinic. After downloading the app a week ago I’ve had around 200-300 requests to pray for women who’ve sought consultations.

Once I’ve prayed, I swipe left to log my prayer and then can check my Impact page which tells me how many babies have been saved, how many times I have prayed and, most skin-crawlingly, how many babies I have personally helped save. I have also been offered the chance to join a “Prayer Team” and sent updates of planned demos.

Type “abortion” into the iTunes app store and this is the information that Apple thinks women need. Not medical advice. Not (legitimate) support. Nope, why help vulnerable users when you can instead prioritize an app that violates their privacy and puts them in physical danger of reprisals from anti-choice groups?

Like your Facebook feed but with added bigotry.
Like your Facebook feed but with added bigotry.

Prayer Feed isn’t the only overtly anti-choice app out there and it’s not the first abortion app on the iTunes store. That honour goes to Alternatives: an app designed to help the user talk a friend out of having an abortion. Alternatives is run by the Alternatives Women’s Center and claims to offer “alternative” advice to women seeking abortion. In reality, it’s a series of scare-stories which might as well have a pulp fiction cover entitled ‘When Good Girls Get Bad Abortions’.

The user is encouraged to deliver their friend to an Alternatives Women’s Center, after first checking that no one else knows about the potential abortion. There is also a Foetal Development Card (showing foetal development week-by-week) and a series of psychologically abusive “facts” such as: “Does she know that by 21 days her baby has a heartbeat?” This is the other side to Apple’s anti-choice bias: apps designed to misdirect women considering abortion through scare-stories, misinformation, dodgy-science and faux-concern.

"The first step is to deliver her to us..."
"The first step is to deliver her to us..."

If anti-choice developers were the only people creating apps, the iTunes store bias would be slightly more understandable. But, of course, they’re not. In 2015, abortion activist group Women on Waves (WoW) launched an app designed to help women locate abortion pills: Safe Abortion With Pills (SAWP). WoW are the same group that used drones to send abortion pills into Poland earlier this year and they are experts at using technology to help women access safe abortion.

SAWP is available on the Google Play Store but Apple users are reliant on desktop downloads as it still hasn’t shown up in the iTunes app store. Rather than host SAWP, Apple provides users a series of shady anti-choice apps and a couple of general health apps which offer vague platitudes about “women’s issues”.

It’s not enough to protest apps like Alternatives and Pray Feed – we need apps like SAWP to actively educate women about abortion. Women considering abortion will naturally intimidated by apps that appear to track their medical appointments, no matter how questionable the algorithm used. There are anti-choice groups willing to put in the hours to tell women that abortion will make them infertile (nope), harm their future children (nah), or fund drugs cartels (yes, they actually said this).

All of these things create a climate of misinformation, intimidation and misogynistic twattery that Apple should be protecting its users from. Instead of which there is anti-abortion propaganda cluttering up iTunes and apps that might actually help women are being ignored. It’s time for Apple to start questioning its own anti-abortion bias and for users to start demanding better, smarter, apps.