Commentary Media

What Siri’s Blind Spot on Women’s Health Really Means

Cecile Richards

This week, blogs erupted with news that Siri had a "blind spot" when it comes to women's health. Apple should fix this immediately.

This week, blogs erupted with news that Siri had a “blind spot” when it comes to women’s health. Ask Siri, Apple’s latest app, a voice-activated personal assistant, where to get an abortion or where to find emergency contraception, and it typically replies, “Sorry, I don’t see any places matching [your query].” Or worse, as some media outlets reported, Siri only provided locations for “crisis pregnancy centers,” unlicensed clinics that don’t actually provide health care. Instead, they target women with misinformation and propaganda.

No one owns the Internet, and we tend to assume that no one can control it. But this issue with Siri does show how easily a piece of code can shape our choices by limiting or controlling our options. Siri is amazingly adept at finding what you’re looking for. Ask it for the nearest hardware store, reservations for two at your favorite Italian restaurant, where to buy Viagra, and presto — you’ve got names, maps and phone numbers. Yet the trusty little wizard suddenly gets amnesia when asked about birth control or abortion care.

While this may be nothing more than a programming glitch, it is a modern-day example of the historic struggle women have always faced in getting access to health care and health information. The episode underscores the importance of being vigilant about the availability of information and services, especially critical health information, as new technologies emerge.

Apple’s oversight, however innocent, highlights a threat that none of us should take lightly. The Internet can be a liberating force — it has largely eradicated the kind of censorship that once choked people’s reproductive rights.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

But even as the old barriers fall, technology is erecting new ones that are less visible and more insidious. When search engines shape our knowledge of the world, their blind spots become our blind spots. And when they anticipate our needs — by automatically narrowing search results to reflect our past preferences and interests — they can replace open access with the illusion of open access. Tools that could lead us to new information and insight serve mainly to reinforce our biases.

Apple should fix this immediately. And digital developers need to adopt a new ethic, and a new set of rules, to address this emerging hazard. Meanwhile, the Siri episode should remind us that search engines can hide the truth and propagate misinformation. Abortion care is still safe, legal and accessible. So is birth control, and so is emergency contraception.

So if the wizard on your smart phone is puzzled by questions about women’s health, use the phone’s browser to visit plannedparenthood.org. It’s fully accessible on mobile devices, and it won’t mislead you about where to find the health services you need. The humans who manage it make sure of that.

News Abortion

Health Insurer Kaiser Distances Itself From Employees’ Anti-Choice Activities

Nicole Knight Shine

Active since 2014, if not earlier, Kaiser for Life appears to oppose what it describes as "late-term" abortions performed at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California.

Kaiser Permanente is disavowing an anti-choice group called Kaiser for Life, telling Rewire that the $60-billion company wasn’t aware of the group, apparently comprised of Kaiser Permanente doctors and patients, and that the company is “not lending our name to it.”

The group Kaiser for Life is taking part in the July 23 summit for Californians for Life, which opposes abortion rights. Appearing on a list of “Pro-Life Doctors, Nurses, and Medical Clinics,” Kaiser for Life is described as being made up of “doctors, nurses, patients, staff, and administrators who want to end abortion, helping both women and babies THRIVE.”

Kaiser Permanente has used the word “thrive” to market itself for more than a decade.

Active since 2014, if not earlier, Kaiser for Life appears to oppose what it describes as “late-term” abortions performed at Kaiser Permanente facilities in Sacramento and elsewhere, according to Sacramento Pro-Life News.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

A representative from Kaiser for Life didn’t respond to an inquiry about the group by press time.

A Kaiser Permanente spokesperson told Rewire that the Oakland-based health-care provider’s policies permit employees to take part in political activities, as long as workers are off the clock, off premises, and avoid the appearance of representing their employer.

Asked whether participating in Kaiser for Life might violate company policy, the spokesperson would only say that the nonprofit has no immediate knowledge of the organization or contact with it.

A Kaiser Permanente logo can be seen accompanying a brief 2014 story about Kaiser for Life by Sacramento Pro-Life News.

“Kaiser Permanente is committed to providing the full range of comprehensive, integrated women’s health services for our members,” the spokesperson noted in an email.

The spokesperson said “elective” pregnancy terminations are performed at some Kaiser Permanente facilities, “usually as a result of complications or multiple fetal anomalies,” while other abortion services are provided through Planned Parenthood and Family Planning Associates.

Anti-choice advocacy by doctors and nurses isn’t unheard of, and the Californians for Life website lists participating groups like the Association of Pro-Life Physicians and California Nurses for Ethical Standards, which “promotes respect” for the “preborn.”

Conversely, anti-choice groups routinely target companies that, among other things, allow voluntary employee-donation programs to Planned Parenthood. Bank of America, as Rewire reported, was subject to an anti-choice boycott late last year.

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights.