When I was growing up in rural Montana, the idea of a computer that could answer your questions in real, spoken English was something out of science-fiction stories.
But now, Siri, the personal-assistant application in Apple's iPhone 4S, can do just that. You can ask Siri where to find a restaurant, how to get to the airport, or who won the University of Montana-Montana State football game, and "she" will tell you. Siri is truly an amazing, cutting-edge technology.
That's why I was disappointed to see numerous reports that Siri was not giving women accurate answers when they asked about finding birth control or obtaining abortion care.
I get it—Siri is not the principal resource for women's health care. But, women who are using this application should not be misled about their pregnancy-related options. And that's exactly what's happening until Siri is fixed.
A news crew from WUSA Channel 9 did an experiment: they stood outside a health center that provides abortion care in Washington, D.C., and asked Siri where to find an abortion clinic.
Siri could not find the clinic right where the crew was standing. Instead, "she" recommended two facilities more than 20 miles away.
The most troubling part was that the facilities Siri recommended were not abortion providers at all, but anti-choice "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs).
What are CPCs?
CPCs are operations set up by anti-choice activists. They look like comprehensive women's health centers, and, in many cases, have similar sounding names to comprehensive health centers.
In fact, Siri recommended a Virginia-based CPC called 1st Choice Women's Health Center. Sounds harmless, right? Well, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation exposed how this CPC misleads women.
The point is clear: CPCs do not provide or refer for abortion care. In fact, these operations exist to scare women away from choosing safe, legal abortion.
Often, CPCs use deceptive tactics to trick women seeking abortion care into coming through their doors.
It looks like, at this point, these tactics deceived Siri, too.
And there are more than 4,000 CPCs throughout the country, outnumbering health centers that provide abortion care by a four-to-one margin. Some CPCs even get taxpayer money, which they then use to mislead women!
Women deserve full and accurate information about their health-care options. That's why NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation and our network of state affiliates are working to educate the public about the dangers CPCs pose to women's health.
We're holding CPCs accountable city by city. In Austin, Baltimore, and New York City, we successfully worked to pass ordinances to ensure that CPCs are forthcoming with clients about their anti-choice bias.
Our efforts in San Francisco led to the enactment last month of a measure prohibiting CPCs from making false or misleading statements in their advertisements about the services they offer.
We intend to keep winning, but we need even more people to get involved. Visit our website to help us pass national legislation that would end the lies to women and to get some great materials to share with your friends.
As for Siri, I've been in contact with Apple CEO Tim Cook, and he assured me that Apple's programmers will work to ensure that Siri provides women with accurate information.
NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation will make sure that Apple follws through—and that Siri learns to recognize the difference between a comprehensive, women's health center and an anti-choice CPC.
No one—human or computer, iPhone or Droid—should mislead a woman about her most personal, private medical decisions.
Follow Nancy Keenan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NARAL