Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.

Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:

Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view

whats new at ieet

Douglas Rushkoff joins IFTF as Research Fellow

This virtual lab will revolutionize science class

William James: Once Born and Twice Born People

Will World War 3 Be Prevented Because of Global Interdependence?

The Injustice of Sexism

NASA Can Get Humans to Mars by 2033 (Without a Budget Increase!)

ieet books

Philosophical Ethics: Theory and Practice
John G Messerly


almostvoid on 'This virtual lab will revolutionize science class' (May 28, 2016)

instamatic on 'NASA Can Get Humans to Mars by 2033 (Without a Budget Increase!)' (May 26, 2016)

almostvoid on 'Where does intelligence come from?' (May 26, 2016)

almostvoid on 'The Future of PR in Emotionally Intelligent Technology' (May 25, 2016)

almostvoid on 'Rituals Improve Life According to Ancient Chinese Philosophers' (May 25, 2016)

almostvoid on 'Optimize Brain Health by Balancing Social Life with Downtime' (May 23, 2016)

instamatic on 'Faithfulness--The Key to Living in the Zone' (May 22, 2016)

Subscribe to IEET News Lists

Daily News Feed

Longevity Dividend List

Catastrophic Risks List

Biopolitics of Popular Culture List

Technoprogressive List

Trans-Spirit List


Enframing the Flesh: Heidegger, Transhumanism, and the Body as “Standing Reserve”

Moral Enhancement and Political Realism

Intelligent Technologies and Lost Life

Hottest Articles of the Last Month

Ethicists Generally Agree: The Pro-Life Arguments Are Worthless
May 17, 2016
(4319) Hits
(10) Comments

Artificial Intelligence in the UK: Risks and Rewards
May 12, 2016
(3347) Hits
(0) Comments

Nicotine Gum for Depression and Anxiety
May 5, 2016
(3044) Hits
(0) Comments

3D Virtual Reality Is the Best Storytelling Technology We’ve Ever Had
May 5, 2016
(2857) Hits
(1) Comments

IEET > Rights > FreeThought > Personhood > ReproRights > Life > Enablement > Health > Vision > Philosophy > Contributors > Valerie Tarico

Print Email permalink (1) Comments (1295) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg

Apple Search Finally Stops Directing People Seeking Abortions to Adoption Centers

Valerie Tarico
By Valerie Tarico

Posted: Feb 9, 2016

Ask Siri where to get an abortion and get a list of adoption agencies–for five years that was the experience of Apple users in cities ranging from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Recent technical upgrades appear to have resolved the problem, but advocates seeking to end abortion stigma say they intend to keep an eye on Siri and her competitors.

The media called the problem to Apple’s attention as early as 2011, but until this month requests for a fix got little response other than assurances that technologies were improving. In January, Fast Company searched for abortion providers in and around San Francisco, and both Siri and Apple maps instead directed journalists to adoption agencies, including one 30 miles outside of the city. A researcher from UCSF, Alexis Hoffman, tested Apple products over the course of several months in cities across the country, and got similarly problematic results.

While few critics suggest that the misdirection stems from anything other than imperfect search algorithms, advocates for sexual and reproductive empowerment call this particular glitch unacceptable for two reasons.

People seeking abortion care already deal with shame and stigma imposed by religion or other cultural institutions and, whether intended or not, the suggestion that they should go elsewhere can feel like further judgment. “Individuals are confronted daily with society’s shaming messages that if they seek abortion they are doing something morally wrong and are unworthy of support,” says Lauren Himiak at the Sea Change Program, which seeks to end demeaning abortion stigma. “Apple’s misdirection to adoption agencies or nurseries adds to that stigma, undermining an individual’s choice and implying they don’t know what is best for themselves.”

In addition, the Apple glitch inadvertently replicates a deceptive practice used by conservative Christian abortion foes, who set up and advertise decoy clinics known as “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” that are designed to dissuade women from aborting ill-timed or unwanted pregnancies. The fake clinics recruit customers primarily via mimicry: A distressed person with a pregnancy scare may see an ad offering what looks like clinical services—for free. The official sounding name, something like “Crisis Pregnancy Care,” “Pregnancy Aid,” “CareNet,” “Life Choices,” or “Pregnancy Counseling Center,” implies that the facility provides ordinary pregnancy-related medical care or unbiased counseling; and the location may be literally across the parking lot from a Planned Parenthood or another family planning clinic.

In actual fact, most Crisis Pregnancy Centers are run by volunteers who are recruited and organized through religious networks, and sponsoring churches describe them accurately to funders as “ministries.” A somewhat terrifying app in the Apple store allows prayer warriors to receive an announcement every time a woman in their state schedules with a Crisis Pregnancy Center rather than an abortion clinic.  Despite the fact that volunteers and employees often wear lab coats, most CPCs employ no licensed medical providers. They do not provide health care or unbiased counseling, and may make outdated or false statements about birth control, mental health, breast cancer, or the gestational age of a fetus—the last of these being an attempt to delay an abortion until it is too late. That said, many of these centers do—at least in the beginning—connect prospective mothers with mentors, free diapers, and other resources needed by poor women who decide to carry forward an unsought pregnancy. This has allowed the centers, despite their deceptive practices, to argue that they provide needed community services—and even on occasion too obtain public funding to cover expenses.

Ironically, the fact that they are not actual medical clinics exempts them from oversight and from meeting medical or psychological standards of care. A woman waiting for a “free” pregnancy test—otherwise available over the counter but at a cost—may be forced to watch anti-abortion films or engage in a conversation with a “counselor” whose goal it is to direct her either to pregnancy support services or an adoption agency – just like Siri. And just like glitchy Apple maps, the volunteer counselor sometimes directs a woman into a dead end. Unfortunately, once that happens, a life can be a lot harder to turn around a life than a car.

Research shows that unplanned pregnancy, carried to term, can mire young parents and their children poverty. In a recent UCSF study, women denied abortion care were more likely to be living in poverty and needing public assistance three years later. Fewer than half of girls who give birth before completing high school will go on to graduate, and fewer than two percent go on to complete college by age 30. Without the benefits of financial planning and preconception care, a pregnancy is more likely to end in a high-risk delivery or low birth weight, and to create health, mental health, and financial challenges that families may struggle to overcome.

While improvements in technology seem to be fixing Apple search, the problem of deliberate misdirection is harder to solve. Public health advocates in some states have sought regulations requiring clear outside labeling and informed consent for people who may walk through the door of a pregnancy ministry with the misperception that it is a clinic, for example, disclosure of whether there is a licensed medical provider on staff, and whether they provide referrals for the full spectrum of reproductive health services. But save in California, free speech and religious privilege have largely won out against consumer protection. In the long run, perhaps the churches involved—like Apple—will come to recognize that people generally want the kind of information and services they are searching for and giving out bad information is bad for Christianity’s brand.

Dr. Valerie Tarico is a psychologist with a passion for personal and social evolution.  In 2005, she co-founded the Progress Alliance of Washington, a collective of future-oriented donors investing in progressive change.  She also is the founder of, an interactive website that showcases humanity’s shared moral core via quotes, poetry, stories and essays from many traditions. Tarico’s book, Trusting Doubt:  A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, offers personal insight into how we can apply “constructive curiosity” to our most closely guarded beliefs. 

As a social commentator, Tarico writes and speaks on issues ranging from religious fundamentalism to gender roles, to reproductive rights and technologies. A primary focus is on improving access to top tier contraceptive technologies.  To that end, she serves on the board of Advocates for Youth, a D.C. based nonprofit with wide-ranging programs related to reproductive health and justice.  Tarico co-chairs of Washington Women for Choice, serves on the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest Board of Advocates, and is a Senior Writing Fellow at Sightline Institute, a think tank focused on sustainable prosperity. Her articles appear at sites including the Huffington Post, Jezebel, Salon, AlterNet, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and at her blog, AwayPoint

Print Email permalink (1) Comments (1296) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


This is sad. Blaming an algorithm is ridiculous. This is covert totalitarianism through digitalization. What is it with America? And it’s futile conservative misogynistic obsessions? And why do people still buy into Apple given their being caught out thanks to this article. I live in a country where women can walk into clinics no drama: and universally funded. Surely American can do this as well.

YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: The Longevity Dividend

Previous entry: Pulp Ethics Exponential tech needs exponential ethics


RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

East Coast Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
Email: director @     phone: 860-428-1837

West Coast Contact: Managing Director, Hank Pellissier
425 Moraga Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611
Email: hank @