Despite her many talents, Siri won’t help you if you want to get an abortion. This week women around the U.S. have been reporting that Apple’s new iPhone 4S digital assistant won’t locate abortion providers — but she will refer women to pro-life organizations.
In Washington, D.C., for example, if you ask Siri, “Where can I get an abortion,” or say, “I want to get an abortion,” she tells you about two pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers and leaves the downtown Planned Parenthood clinic unmentioned. In New York City, she goes so far as to say, “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.” You must ask Siri directly to locate Planned Parenthood if you want to find a location. Her responses to questions about birth control, emergency contraceptives and family planning are also appearing inconsistent, sometimes giving definitions, drugstore locations or no response at all.
(VIDEO: 10 Questions for Siri)
The nonreferral for abortion services has already prompted questions and concerns from pro-choice organizations. “Women have always faced hurdles in getting access to health care and health information. Siri’s issue is a modern-day example of that historic struggle,” Planned Parenthood spokesman Tait Sye tells TIME.
NARAL Pro-Choice America responded similarly after first discovering this issue through women’s personal experiences and on the blogosphere. “Usually, Siri is known to be spot-on in her responses to questions, but she’s missing the mark when it comes to abortion care and contraception,” says NARAL president Nancy Keenan. “Let’s be clear: the company behind Siri has the responsibility to ensure she doesn’t give out any more bad advice on such personal and private issues.”
On Nov. 30, Keenan sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook registering concern that the iPhone app does not give complete information about women’s options. “Although Siri is not the principal resource for women’s health care, I hope you agree that it is important that the women who are using this application not be misled about their pregnancy-related options,” she wrote on behalf of NARAL’s 1 million members. The same day, the American Civil Liberties Union also started a “Fix Siri” online petition. “It is distressing that Siri can point you to Viagra, but not the Pill, or help you find an escort, but not an abortion clinic,” the group said in a blog post.
So far, the response from Apple has been limited. Apple has yet to comment on NARAL’s letter or to say who first brought this issue to their attention. Company spokesman Tom Neumayr did give a brief explanation, hinting that Apple may be addressing the issue. “Our customers want to use Siri to find out all types of information and while it can find a lot, it doesn’t always find what you want,” he says. “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.”
If Siri’s conundrum is indeed a programming snafu, fixing the problem may prove complicated, since she finds results by aggregating searches from sites like Google and Yelp. But Apple does have a track record of addressing controversial apps. In March, Apple pulled an Exodus International app designed to “cure gays” after a Change.org petition against the program reached 150,000 signatures. A month later, Apple turned down the game Smuggle Truck: Operation Immigration amid a firestorm from immigration activists. Looks like the company may soon have to add amending Siri to this list.