Various Catholic Church-associated groups and individuals funded a fertility app, Femm, which claims to help women track their menstrual cycles while also encouraging them to avoid hormonal birth control. These organizations, The Guardian reports today, oppose abortion rights as well as contraception, and they have previously aligned themselves with US Vice President Mike Pence who is also a vocal anti-abortion proponent.
The Chiaroscuro Foundation, a Catholic charity, provided $1.79 million to the Femm app developers and is run by Sean Fieler, a Catholic hedge funder. Additionally, the news outlet reports that two of the app’s medical advisers are not licensed to practice in the US.
The Femm app works similarly to other fertility apps by allowing women to input their menstrual cycle data, including when they have their period, their reproductive goals, when they’ve had sex, and other observational data. While users can input their birth control method, the app says the “natural” way for women to avoid pregnancy is to learn about and manage their fertility cycle. The app also encourages women to visit its own network of physicians for hormone tests, which it claims can diagnose “underlying” medical disorders.
The Guardian says Femm might be the first ideologically backed fertility app, although Anna Halpine, CEO of the Femm Foundation, told the outlet that the app’s affiliation to anti-abortion advocates doesn’t matter. “Femm has never commented on the abortion issue and doesn’t work in that area,” Halpine says. “Femm is an organization committed to expanding information research and knowledge about women’s reproductive health around the world.”
The Guardian reports the app has been downloaded 400,000 times and speaks to the reality that fertility apps often collect extremely sensitive information. Users aren’t aware who these apps’ creators might be or how they’re funded. While people often trust the apps they find in either the Play Store or App Store, they could actually have a political bent that might affect the advice they give, especially around sensitive health data. And in this situation, we now have proof.