By Patrick B. Craine

TORONTO, Ontario, August 25, 2010 ( – Earlier this month the Toronto Star published an article about a sting operation purporting to expose the “deception” used by Toronto’s pregnancy resource centres – an account that has been dismissed as “inaccurate,”“misrepresentative,” and full of “twists” on the truth, according to its targets.

After infiltrating eight centres claiming to be six weeks pregnant, Star reporter Joanna Smith wrote in an August 7th article that the centres use “misleading information” to scare women out of having abortions.  She claimed that they lure women in “without always readily disclosing their belief that terminating a pregnancy is the wrong choice.”

At least four of the centres she visited are affiliated with the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services (CAPSS). CEO Lola French contests Smith’s claim that their centres use deceptive tactics, insisting that before her meetings at each of those centres Smith would have signed a form that clearly states that the pregnancy centers do not provide or refer for abortions.

Smith would also have certified that she was not seeking counsel under “false pretences.”

French also disputes Smith’s claims that she had “declined numerous requests” for an interview.  According to French, she had agreed to do an interview but was away for a week due to a death in the family, and Smith would not wait.  Moreover, when French pointed out the error in a letter to the editor, the Star printed the letter but omitted the paragraph disputing the false claim.

In the piece, Smith sets the tone by relating her experience at Aid to Women, by which she paints pregnancy centers as militantly aggressive.  She writes, for instance, that general manager Frances Keet “shove[d] some pamphlets” at her on the street and then “usher[ed] her up a long narrow staircase.”

But Keet says that in her effort to portray Keet as aggressive and lacking in compassion, Smith grossly misrepresented their encounter.  “It was moved around so that she made it sound like all that happened was she got a pamphlet shoved in her face and was told all these negative things.  But it wasn’t like that,” said Keet.  “We sat there for about a half an hour, I counselled her, asked her why she felt she needed an abortion.”

Interestingly, Keet noted that the reporter had tears in her eyes at two points during their conversation.

Smith also failed to note that Aid to Women has a specifically different mission from the other centres. While Aid to Women is set up right beside the Cabbagetown abortuary and specializes in sidewalk counselling to abortion-minded women, the other centres are largely resource centres for pregnant women, and have opted to avoid more confrontational methods.

For her part, Keet insists that she and her colleagues have no desire to deceive women, but said they do take any opportunity they can to educate women on the dangers of abortion and the humanity of their unborn child.  “The women we’re dealing with can be hostile, they don’t want to listen, and most of the time they don’t.  We don’t make them listen,” she explained.  “We have sidewalk counsellors, and we stand on the street.  We offer pregnancy help and if they stop and listen, we’ll explain to them side effects.”

But the centres’ use of these abortion side effects was one of Smith’s main charges against them.  She wrote that the centres were “giving out verbal and written information about the physical and psychological risks of terminating a pregnancy … that either lacked context or has been dismissed by medical experts.”  At the end of the article, she provides a “reality check” on the three “myths” that abortion is linked to breast cancer, emotional trauma, and fertility problems.

But French defended their centres’ materials, insisting they use peer-reviewed research from such respected journals as the British Journal of Psychiatry, the Journal of Human Reproduction, and the Journal of Psychiatric Research. All of their materials are reviewed for accuracy by physicians, nurses, and lawyers, she said.

“We don’t exaggerate those risks.  We just think women have the right to know,” said French.  “A lot of the clients who come to us for healing [after an abortion] are some of those statistics.”

Angelina Steenstra, the national coordinator of Canada's Silent No More Awareness Campaign, questioned Smith’s sole reliance on “authorities” which are largely recognized to have a pro-abortion bias, without acknowledging the growing body of research that confirms the dangers of abortion.  “She calls on these authorities like they’re the only authorities in the world who could have all the information,” said Steenstra.  “Who says the National Cancer Institute is the authority?”

Steenstra, who herself has suffered infertility and severe emotional trauma over many years after having an abortion, explained that she has spent the last two decades listening to women who have suffered from similar misinformation on the part of abortion advocates. “People who really do suffer from anniversary syndrome, people who really do suffer from infertility, people who really do suffer from emotional trauma as a result of having lived abortion,” she said.  “That’s not myth, that’s real, true, anecdotal experience for me.”

The reporter is “accusing people of misinformation, but she’s not taking responsibility for the misinformation on the other side,” she said.

“Everyone’s standing around with abortion and saying the emperor’s wearing clothes, and we dare to say the emperor has no clothes,” she explained.  “That’s what the post-abortion healing is doing, that’s what these pregnancy counsellors are doing.”

A key theme in Smith’s article was the notion that the centres should be regulated by the government, as has been done in certain U.S. states, to prevent their use of “deception.”  She dedicated a whole second story on August 13th to the Ontario health ministry’s insistence that they have no intention of regulating the centres.  She quoted several abortion advocates and abortion providers calling for regulation, and even spoke with one American politician who suggested their work should be banned.

“These kinds of deceptive practices should be outlawed, period,” said Carolyn Maloney, a U.S. Representative from New York.

“I think these hands-on, ground-level places are an opportunity to get the truth out to people,” said Steenstra of the pregnancy centres.  “To regulate them or shut them down is to stifle, to really silence the truth.”

Jeff Gunnarson of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) said the pregnancy centres are essential to ensure women get the truth.  “The truth is, and it’s backed by science, that abortion kills a baby and hurts a woman,” he said.  He insisted that if the pro-life movement or the pregnancy centres make mistakes, it is not “in terms of telling women something that’s going to risk their life.”

“We err on the side of life. The pro-aborts will omit things that could very well cause physical problems and certainly mental and spiritual problems,” he added.  “You can do all the sting operations you want, but you will never find someone in these centres lying, or deceiving, or omitting facts that will hurt that person down the road physically, emotionally.”

French emphasized that their centres are dedicated to offering women compassionate and life-affirming support, whether or not they choose to have an abortion.  “We are here to help women make an informed decision,” she said.  “We want them to feel that they’ve got all the information and all the support.”

“If they choose abortion, we don’t shun them,” she added.  “We let them know that if they have problems with the grief issue, as many women do, that we’re there for them.”

See related coverage:

Why is National Cancer Institute Covering up Link?: Abortion Breast Cancer Coalition Letter to Congress

Manitoba U Study Links Abortion and Mental Illness/Suicide

Canadian Abortion Debate Still Raging