Abortion is a touchy subject because both sides of the issue feel as though their values are being attacked at their core. To these people, the choice is freedom and control over one’s own body or religious faith and consequences for one’s actions. It’s tricky for me to write about, personally, because, I, like everyone else, feel very strongly about it. However, for the sake of the story, I’ll lay out the facts, and let you decide whether or not you believe what Apple did was right. I also, as always, list some sources below, for further reading, if you so choose.
The app was called Human Coalition, which shares the name of the non-profit that created the app. The app was simple, perhaps too simple, if Apple’s reasoning is accurate, and told users to pray for women who had become pregnant, urging users to pray for the woman to allow the pregnancy to come to term, leaving her with a child. Apple cited “functionality requirements,” and, whether the app did or did not meet those requirements, Apple may have had grounds to remove it.
“Good. About as useful as fart apps,” one commenter on a Cult of Mac article about the anti-abortion app stated. We’re used to seeing atheists mock religion, but I don’t think that’s all that was happening here. Of course, it could have been just that, internet trolls love to attack anyone who believes something different from them. However, it may have had merit outside of the anti-religious leaning. According to Human Coalition, Apple’s reasoning for letting the app go was related to functionality requirements. This means the app has to do something, something useful. This rule was created because, in the early days of the App Store, many apps were nothing more than electronic versions of, “Pull my finger.” Often, when an app has no functionality, it’s called a “fart app,” thanks to this weird bit of computing history. If Apple’s right, if the Human Coalition app didn’t actually do anything, then it is, indeed, no better than a fart app. So how did the user interact with the app, and, where did the app get its information from?
Let’s start with what’s the app actually did, because that’s a tricky question. The app would show users a feed that told users a woman had walked into a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) seeking information about her options. Now, for those who don’t know, CPCs don’t tell women they have options. Often, they’re not even staffed by medical professionals. They exist solely to tell women not to have an abortion. They’ll use lies, misdirection, even tell women that they’re too late to have an abortion, just to trick them into bringing their pregnancy to term. The Human Coalition runs hundreds of these anti-abortion establishments, and advertises them to seem like a viable option for women seeking medical treatment and options. It’s a scummy business of passing off an ideological group as a medical facility, and there have been many cries to make these organizations illegal for misleading women about their health and options.
Was The Human Coalition revealing private information about women seeking medical attention? If so, it’s a huge violation of patient privacy. That alone would be reason to remove the app from the App Store, it was violating women’s privacy and put them in harms way with potentially violent anti-abortion protesters by telling them where they were and when they were having their appointments. However, this isn’t why Apple removed the app, they removed it for not having a function. This tells me that this feed was likely just a randomized list, generating scary stories of women thinking about getting abortions.
So what could users do with this likely fake list? Pray, of course. With just a swipe, users could “pray” for the woman who was considering an abortion, asking God to sway these women into becoming mothers. This wasn’t guided either, like a guided meditation session or a sermon, users were told to pray on their own, and swipe on the screen after the “amen.” They could keep track of these prayers, and the “babies saved,” if there were actually women who decided not to have an abortion (CPCs have low numbers, many women are well aware of their tactics, but too many are still tricked). The app would connect to your social networks, likely pulling your and email name for their registry, and they tell you of upcoming events, protests, church gatherings, or political events. If they’re not actually using private information of these women, then it’s nothing more than a counter app that counts how many times you swiped to pray and a shared calendar. None of that is enough to fulfill Apple’s guidelines for an app that actually has a function, and, if that’s the case, regardless of the content of the app, it just didn’t do anything. It tricked users into believing they were dealing with real life situations though, and in doing so, was misleading users, much in the same way they mislead women who come to CPCs. All of this is definitely against Apple’s guidelines. Basically, it’s not the fact that this was an anti-abortion app, it’s the fact that it was either an app that was misleading users by not providing an actual function, or it was revealing medical information about women. None of this is permitted on the App Store.
“The abortion-determined woman will not walk into the pregnancy center voluntarily.”
-Brian Fisher, founder of Human Coalition, on how to use big data to convince women to seek help at their centers instead of medical centers that would allow them to make their own decision.
Because of the politically charged nature of abortion, the removal of an app like this can quickly be seen as a political decision. That doesn’t seem to have been the case here. Just looking at the facts, without inserting my own feelings about the app’s removal, it was in violation of Apple’s terms of service, and, as such, it was removed. That’s it. Now, it’s true, I’m pro-choice to the core. I will argue with a ferocity of logic and emotion unbecoming for someone as kindhearted as myself. I hope that those who found comfort in this app can find it in a different way, a non-violent and non-disruptive way. If they believe in a deity, a God, as I’m sure they do, pray to them for guidance, for hope, for understanding. Thank it that you never knew the suffering of needing to terminate a pregnancy, walking past a row of protesters calling you horrible things, shouting in your face, guided by a volunteer trying her best to shield you from the vile hatred surrounding you, so you can make a decision that’s best for you. Thank them for the roof over your head, the love in your life. Pray for empathy, pray to have your motivations questioned, because the only way solutions are reached is if we’re willing to talk to each other.
- Christina Cauterucci, Slate: “Bizarre App Lets Users Swipe Right to “Pray” for Real Women Considering Abortion.”
- Perry Chiaramonte, Fox News: “Apple censored pro-life group by dropping app, activists say.”
- Luke Dormehl, Cult of Mac: “Apple comes under fire for banning anti-abortion app.”
- Kimberly Lawson, Broadly: “The Dangers of Treating Anti-Abortion Pseudoscience as ‘Opinion.’“
- Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, “Pro-life group embraces big data to connect with women who are seeking abortions.”