Pro-life pregnancy centres at risk of losing charitable status

Pro-life pregnancy centres at risk of losing charitable status
DUNNVILLE—Executive Director Carol Butler stands outside the Haldimand Pregnancy Care and Family Centre in Dunnville. —Haldimand Press photo by Mike Renzella.

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

A local look at the controversial national issue being taken on by MP Lewis

HALDIMAND—Haldimand-Norfolk’s new MP Leslyn Lewis is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit Dunnville and tour one of the pregnancy centres at risk of losing its charity status for opposing abortion. 

In a statement to The Press, Lewis, who is pro-life herself, said, “Too often, women find themselves in a position where they feel like the circumstances of life are pushing them to make a decision they don’t want to make. When an organization, like a pregnancy care centre, comes alongside them to provide supports, that serves to empower women to live the life they want and to support real choice, for them and their family.” 

In recent years, pro-life crisis pregnancy centres have been criticized for allegedly offering misleading information to patients related to the risks of abortion, including that abortion increases the risk for breast cancer or that it could lead to future ectopic pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a US-based sexual and reproductive rights research organization. 

The Press sat down for an interview with Carol Butler, Executive Director of the Haldimand Pregnancy Care and Family Centre (HPCFC) to discuss the overall issue, and areas where she feels a public misperception exists about centres like HPCFC. 

“As a family centre, we cover a lot of different situations,” said Butler. “We care for our community, we care for people who are hurting, and we want to support them as best we can.”

HPCFC has locations in Dunnville and Caledonia. They run a variety of programs for moms, dads, grandparents, and anyone who is a primary caregiver for a child. They offer support services for a range of issues including pre-natal, post-natal, miscarriage support, post-abortion support, and anger and relationship issues. 

Programs and counselling services at the centre are run by a team with a variety of backgrounds, including early child educators, child and youth workers, and social workers, with staff engaging in ongoing training for a variety of the issues covered by the centre.

Through a tour of the Dunnville location, it’s clear that the team there is passionate about the work they do. There’s a room stocked to the rafters with critical clothing and supplies, along with multiple well-kept spaces available for programming.

Since Trudeau’s pledge to end charitable status, HPCFC has seen an impact, losing the ability to apply for summer student grants, as well as annual donations through the Shoebox project ending, leaving them to turn to other community sources to fill those holes.

Lewis recently spoke at a rally in Ottawa organized by Campaign Life Coalition, a socially conservative lobbying group seeking to end abortion. A gathered crowd was present to protest the Liberal plan. There, Butler presented Lewis with one in a series of petitions demanding the federal government  reconsider. Two other Conservative MPs were present at the rally as well, Yorkton-Melville MP Cathay Wagantall and, from Alberta, Peace River-Westlock MP Arnold Viersen. 

Lewis said at the rally, “What our government is doing is just not right. The utilization of the charter as a sword against average private citizens is wrong. The charter is a shield. We must make sure we uphold that.” 

Trudeau, during his campaign, called out crisis pregnancy centres for providing “dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

Lewis clearly disagrees, taking Trudeau to task in her statement for demanding “adherence to the Liberal Party of Canada’s illiberal values test.” 

Butler refutes the claim that centres like hers spread false information, saying that her team doesn’t give medical advice to clients: “It’s a medical procedure; we’re not a medical clinic. They need to go and speak to their doctor if they choose to have an abortion…. We are very careful with the information we share, and we’re not dishonest.” 

She walked through the different scenarios where abortion issues land on her doorstep, and how staff at the HPCFC might advise a client on the topic: “We give accurate information of the reality of what an abortion looks like,” said Butler, frankly. “We don’t show anything graphic. We talk.”

She continued, “I think some people think there’s a quick fix. They think taking a pill is going to get rid of the problem. I don’t think they often realize and understand the impact of what that can do…. My concern has always been that people would take the pill at home and then hemorrhage. The reality of passing a baby at home, that can be very traumatic for a person.”

She said there are two types of women who seek counselling, those who are abortion-minded and those she calls “abortion-vulnerable”, which Butler categorized as “someone being pressured to have an abortion from a partner, a parent, or their peers.”

In those scenarios, counselling would revolve around logistical issues such as “can they parent, what support will they have if they decide to parent. If they decide to place their baby for adoption and follow through with an adoption plan, are they going to be supported? How will they be supported?”

Butler has also counselled many women after an abortion: “I’ve worked with people from five weeks after an abortion to 40 years after an abortion who didn’t think it was going to affect them and it did. Worlds fall apart through depression and anxiety.… It doesn’t affect everybody and we know and understand that, but for some people it does.”

Although Lewis has taken up this issue, she shouldn’t count on support from Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who has expressed public support for women’s reproductive rights. In response to a question about the Liberal plan to cut charitable status, O’Toole said, “If anyone is at crisis, for any reason, whether it’s addiction, homelessness, an issue related to choice for a woman, we need to bring people together, not divide them. And that’s what Conservatives will try and do.”

With Lewis’ invitation to Trudeau to visit the local Dunnville centre, Butler said, “I would hope he would have a greater understanding of some of the real issues people are facing and why we are here to support them in their life’s journey. To have a greater understanding of who we are and what we do … the heartache, the pain that we all carry as we work with our clients.”

Should the Federal government follow through on its intentions and remove charitable status, Butler said the centre would turn to the community, hoping that some of the “great relationships” the centre has fostered would result in tangible support: “This is a lifeline for mental and emotional health for many people who feel isolated. We’re very much needed, and we’re here to stay.”