When it comes to rule followings, concerns span ideological divides
This debate is particularly serious for the growing number of young women who have decided not using an IUD or birth control pills and instead turned to apps to help with a natural form of birth control. They practice what is widely known as fertility awareness methods (FAM).
But if these new privacy concerns stem from the Dobbs decision and new abortion bans, these women who rely on digital period trackers to practice FAM share a common practice – and common concerns – with a very different group of women – a group much more likely to oppose the right to abortion. Natural family planning (NFP) practitioners rely on a Catholic-approved family size management method that dates back to the 1960s and has many differences from FAM. Even so, NFP practitioners and FAM users share a desire to track their fertility, which means they also share concerns about the privacy and accuracy of period tracking apps.
Catholics using apps to practice NFP are part of the legacy of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical”Humanae Vitaewhich appealed to “men of science”, arguing that “medical science should, by the study of natural rhythms, succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring”. This call recognized that Catholic couples should be able to manage family size, for economic, health or emotional reasons, but in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Church.
Inspired by this call, a handful of physicians set to work developing various NFP methods in the late 1960s and 1970s. Although several methods now exist, NFP as a category of family planning is not based on any kind of birth control; it limits sex within heterosexual marriages and requires abstinence during a woman’s fertile period as a method of limiting family size.
Until the past five years, the vast majority of NFP users collected data through paper records. Women, and sometimes their husbands, complete charts that track various signs of fertility – basal body temperature, cervical mucus and sensations, but also when they had sex. Women practicing NFP interpret paper charts as advice for their fertility. Over the years, they compile a detailed set of data on when and how often they are pregnant or likely to become pregnant.
While it might seem like fertility — and period-tracking apps — fit well with NFP’s efforts to make avoiding the pill easy and convenient, Catholic women using this method of family planning have actually embraced late this technology because they were concerned about privacy and accuracy of information. these apps.
Labeled “FemTech“, reproductive health support apps, including period trackers, emerged in the early 2010s as a boon to the app market. Kindara was the first app women could download to track their cycle, but it was quickly followed by countless others, including Natural Cycles, which received Food and Drug Administration approval as a digital birth control method in 2018. These apps are intentionally non-religious and explicitly focused on cycle tracking. for women using FAM as a health-conscious choice.
When these apps hit the market, the NFP community was divided on how and whether to use them. Younger NFP couples started using Kindara or Glow, while many older couples continued to use their paper records. NFP teachers were concerned about these apps because they were unfamiliar with the algorithms behind the mapping and doubted the apps could accurately predict fertility phases. In fact, many applications do not use the same type of interpretation as paper tracking. As a result, one NFP teacher echoed the sentiments of several other teachers by telling students to “use the app to track, not predict.”
These concerns, coupled with the rapid rise of FemTech, have spurred the creation of Catholic-specific NFP apps. The Couple-to-couple leagueone of the oldest organizations created to teach NFP, launched the first app of its kind, CycleProGo, in 2013. Its use was strictly limited to students and teachers in the league network, meaning that unlike commercial rule-tracking apps, users must undergo screening to use it. The app is designed for student-teacher communication, which protects both accuracy and privacy. Users decide when and how to share their data with teachers.
While CycleProGo stands out for its NFP-specific precision and teacher-student communication, the Saint Paul VI Institute FertilityCare App excels in privacy in the NFP application market. This app is even more closely available than CycleProGo: only for users with an official FertilityCare teacher trained in the use of the app. As Sue Hilger, co-founder of the Saint Paul VI Institute, said: “Our application is not in the market because our customers must have a proper education regarding what they observe. This requires the involvement of teachers. App data is tightly controlled between teachers and students. The app also uses a HIPAA compliant serverwhich means that the data is encrypted and anonymized.
While the two applications – and the handful of others who joined the Catholic market for NFP-focused apps — came more slowly, they did so precisely because of the kinds of concerns that now drive women who practice FAM. Fears over privacy and accuracy that led to slow adoption of FemTech by NFP practitioners have shed light on the angst of women who support abortion in the wake of Dobbs.
This is true even though NFP and FAM communities are often presented as opposites in the abortion access debate: NFP women tend to be against legal abortion and FAM women tend to favor the right to abortion. abortion; NFP women tend to be Catholic and FAM women are often without religious affiliation.
But despite these differences, these apps — this FemTech — raise common concerns about medical care and access to reproductive health care. Both groups of women worry about the accuracy, as they strive to avoid contraception as a method of reproductive health, and the privacy of their very intimate lives shared on app-based fertility charts. . The fact that these two different groups of women share these concerns makes it clear that the debate over access to abortion goes far beyond medical procedures and into the intimate spaces of fertility monitoring. Being able to be assured of the accuracy of apps and the privacy of their data will shape the future of these apps – and whether they continue to grow in popularity or see their usage decline – for both groups of women.