JANUARY 30 – Upon seeing CTV’s “investigative report,” Vellacott acting on his own initiative decided to investigate the circumstances that led to it as part of his responsibility as a parliamentarian, to be certain that the broadcast regulations are being followed properly. The crisis pregnancy centres themselves are completely non-political and never become involved in any political campaigns or legislation. The Member of Parliament and founding board member of a crisis pregnancy centre in Saskatoon is concerned that CTV’s ‘investigative reporting’ on crisis pregnancy centres in BC may be in violation of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Code of Ethics, to the ultimate detriment of vulnerable pregnant women.
“It is CTV’s duty, as a Canadian broadcaster, to treat fairly all sides of a controversial issue,” said Maurice Vellacott, MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin. “It is no secret that abortion is a controversial issue. Relying almost exclusively on views espoused by abortion providers and abortion advocacy organizations for a story about pregnancy options is like relying solely on the views espoused by tobacco companies and smokers’ rights groups for a story about whether to take up smoking or not,” said Vellacott.
“It’s especially concerning in this case because it seems CTV’s so-called ‘investigation’ may have been triggered by abortion advocates who have been intent on harming the reputation of the crisis pregnancy centres for years,” Vellacott added.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s Code of Ethics states that “the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster,” and “Recognizing in a democracy the necessity of presenting all sides of a public issue, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to treat fairly all subjects of a controversial nature.” The code further states that “news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias,” and “shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue”.
The CTV “investigation” used hidden cameras and sent a CTV employee, posing as a pregnant woman seeking advice about her options, to two crisis pregnancy centres in BC, one in Surrey and one in Vancouver. The report gives the impression these centres mislead women by exaggerating the health risks associated with abortion. The section on health risks focused almost entirely on some comments made by a volunteer at the centre in Surrey which those who run the centre concede were inaccurate. The volunteer suggested infection after abortion was “very, very common.” Although that is a genuine complication, it seldom happens in Canadian, legal abortions.
“It’s of great concern when patients are given inaccurate information about the risks, harms and benefits of any medical procedure and to the extent that CTV exposed ‘wrong information’ it’s to be welcomed. But such exposés can’t be one-sided. And you can’t appreciate the extent of how one-sided this report was until you know what CTV intentionally omitted from the report,” said Vellacott.
“The report ignored the scientific literature referenced in the centres’ brochures which substantiates the centres’ claims that abortion is associated with increased physical and psychological health risks. The reporter was told that this brochure had been reviewed and approved by 25 professional counsellors, physicians and medical researchers. None of this was mentioned in the CTV report.
“CTV also declined to interview physicians with expertise in the area of health risks associated with abortion who had been willing to corroborate, on air, the claims made in the brochure.
“Furthermore, Dr. Dan Reilly, an obstetrician/gynaecologist who also teaches ethics at McMaster, was interviewed by CTV and briefly appeared on the broadcast, but only his comments that challenged the validity of some of the comments made by the Surrey centre volunteer were aired. Dr. Reilly’s written confirmation of the accuracy of the health risks described in the centre’s brochure was passed on to CTV, but those comments by Dr. Reilly never made it into CTV’s report. Also left out of CTV’s report was the fact that the counsellor at the Vancouver centre received a complete endorsement from Dr. Reilly that her comments were medically correct.
“CTV chose to air Dr. Wendy Norman’s comments about abortion being ‘very safe,’ neglecting to tell the viewers that Dr. Norman is an abortion provider and researcher and ‘has practiced exclusively in the area of abortion since 1997.’ Her comments to CTV seem to be at odds with the results of a study she herself co-authored which found that “Postabortion infection after therapeutic abortion, although uncommon, may have devastating consequences including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and pelvic pain syndrome.” None of this was mentioned in the CTV report.
“CTV has an obligation ‘to treat fairly all subjects of a controversial nature,’ according to the CBSC’s Code of Ethics. In light of what CTV chose to report and chose to withhold from the final report that was aired, it is very clear the pregnancy centres were not treated fairly.”
CTV went undercover to “see for themselves” what kind of counselling women receive at the pregnancy centres after ‘concerns’ were expressed about a ‘hidden agenda’ by Greg Smith, the executive director of Options for Sexual Health (Opt), formerly known as Planned Parenthood of BC. Smith told CTV that pregnant women weren’t being given “all the information they needed, but only being given some of it.”
The crisis pregnancy centres give information about abortion to the women they counsel but do not make abortion referrals. The two centres “investigated” were very clear and forthright about this on their website and in their brochure that they give to the women they counsel.
Options for Sexual Health (Opt), is a registered charity which in 2011 received $1,433,347 in provincial government funding. The organization advocates for “readily accessible, readily available, unrestricted and unlimited access to abortion for all women throughout British Columbia” including “Classification of abortion as an ‘essential service’; Increased abortion provider availability; Protection of Access Zone legislation.”
Vellacott wonders how much the CTV “investigators” knew beforehand about Opt’s advocacy work against the pregnancy centres. “Apparently Options for Sexual Health (Opt) is not satisfied with the gross financial advantage they already have over the crisis pregnancy centres, with ¾ of this abortion advocacy group’s annual fundraising revenue coming from BC taxpayers. Opt also proclaims in its annual report that it will advocate for the ‘Cessation of the use of public and United Way funds for so-called “crisis pregnancy centres”’ and the ‘Cessation of the designation of charitable status for so-called “crisis pregnancy centres.”Was CTV aware of this?” Vellacott asked.
In its 2011 Annual Report, Opt states that its commitment to the above-stated goals “is consistent with the mission of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), who seek to ensure women’s reproductive freedom by protecting and advancing access to abortion and quality reproductive health care. OPT also shares the goal of Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (CFSH) to support a woman’s individual right to choose and obtain an abortion. As a member of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), CFSH works to ensure the elimination of unsafe abortions and to increase the right of access to safe, legal abortions for all women.”
ARCC’s executive director, Joyce Arthur, authored a 2009 report entitled “Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centres in British Columbia” for the now defunct Pro-Choice Action Network (Pro-CAN). The report is the result of a research project Pro-CAN began in 2005 to “expose” crisis pregnancy centres – what the abortion-rights organization calls “fake clinics.” The report says that the goal of crisis pregnancy centres is “to stop women from having abortions and to convert women to Christianity.”
Pro-CAN received $27,400 for this project from Status of Women Canada when the federal Liberals were in power, as revealed by an Access to Information Request. The purpose of Pro-CAN’s research, as described on its application for funding, was to: “publicly expose the anti-woman and anti-feminist agenda of CPCs…and by doing so, work to mitigate discriminatory attitudes towards women…work to promote institutional change by ensuring that health organizations such as hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices do not inappropriately refer women to CPC’s, and instead have feminist-based alternatives to which they can refer women.”
“The abortion movement in Canada has been verbally abusing the crisis pregnancy centres for years,” Vellacott said. “Are we to believe that CTV knew nothing about Pro-CAN’s campaign against the centres, about Pro-CAN’s links to ARCC, whose mission is consistent with that of Options for Sexual Health, whose executive director’s ‘concerns’ over the crisis pregnancy centres’ supposed ‘hidden agenda’ apparently sparked CTV’s undercover operation?
“It would be a great loss to vulnerable pregnant women if crisis pregnancy centres weren’t around,” said Vellacott. “I have heard countless stories of women who say that they were NOT given enough information from abortion doctors or clinic staff to make a truly informed decision before they had their abortions,” said Vellacott. “They were not told about abortion’s association with increased risk of mental health problems, physical complications, and future pre-term birth. See attached list of research references.
“I hear from women who say they were not told about fetal development. They are not offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound image of their baby.” When Canadians are informed about prenatal development, 72% want protection for children at some point before birth, according to a 2011 Environics poll commissioned by LifeCanada. “So some pregnant women could certainly be impacted by having such information,” said Vellacott.
“Not all, but certainly some women suffer greatly after an abortion because they were in a vulnerable position, weren’t given important information that could have impacted their decision, weren’t offered the compassion and support required to continue with their pregnancy, and so resorted to the only ‘choice’ they felt they could handle at the time. Crisis pregnancy centres offer a much-needed service to pregnant women because the non-judgmental and caring staff give them information and support that it seems the abortion-rights centres do not.
“For a woman who goes ahead and chooses abortion, at least she would have made that choice with full knowledge of the implications of her decision. We have no right to withhold all this crucial information from women; without it, a woman cannot make a truly free choice. A few comments made by a single volunteer at one centre clearly do not constitute enough evidence to negate all the other wonderful work done at these centres.
“Why isn’t CTV investigating the so-called “pro-choice” counselling centres and abortion clinics and finding out exactly what they are doing to ensure women are properly informed before undergoing a procedure that can never be undone and may have negative repercussions for a long time afterwards?” asked Vellacott.
Vellacott suggested that a proper investigation should take into consideration the scientific research. One study for example, by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, found that women who had abortions had a much higher rate of hospitalization within a 3-month period following the abortion than a matching group of women who had not had abortions.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan acknowledged the health risks associated with abortion and outlined the requirements for informed consent in its “unplanned pregnancy” guideline released last year. Vellacott also referred to the legal requirements for informed consent, pointing to judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada and BC’s health care consent legislation.
“There’s a high standard of disclosure in this country,” said Vellacott, “and it’s based on what a reasonable person would want to know, not what the doctor thinks the patient should know. “Did Dr. Wendy Norman share with CTV’s reporter the informed consent form she gets her patients to sign and whatever other information she gives her patients before they undergo an abortion? If so, the information was not shared with the viewers. And how are women counselled and supported before and after the abortion?
“What information and services do the Options for Sexual Health (Planned Parenthood) centres offer to pregnant women? Is this so-called ‘pro-choice’ agency willing to disclose how many abortion referrals they make compared to how many adoption referrals? “I’m sure there are many, many Canadians who would like to see CTV do that investigation.
“The controversial nature of the abortion issue provides all the more incentive for due diligence on the part of any ‘investigative report.’ All Canadians are done a disservice when the media obtains the bulk of its information from those with a goal to harm and disparage their opponents.
“But ultimately the greatest disservice is done to women—women who find themselves in a difficult situation at a vulnerable time, who may have no one else to turn to. The pregnancy centres offer her the compassion, support, and information to help her through what could be the most difficult decision of her life, regardless of what choice she ends up making. And they will be there for her afterwards if she is having difficulty recovering from abortion’s aftermath.
“Besides, some women facing crisis pregnancies are pro-life themselves. These women have the right to receive counselling from those who share their beliefs about preborn human life. If the only pregnancy counsellors in existence are the so called “pro-choice” ones, a pro-life woman would have no freedom to choose a counsellor who shares her fundamental beliefs and is able to truly appreciate what she is going through. That is not ‘pro-choice,’ that is ‘no-choice.’”
Vellacott concluded, “CTV aired a one-sided report that was notable more for what it intentionally left out than what it included. The staff at CTV had the opportunity to present the truth. It is disappointing that the final report portrays a false, negative image of crisis pregnancy centres in general and missed or ignored the back story on those who have been campaigning for a long time to shut them down and to deny thousands of women access to compassionate, supportive care in difficult times.”