Schools suspend counselling centre's sex ed classes
Jon Woodward, ctvbc.ca
Published Friday, January 20, 2012 10:07AM PST
Several public schools in Surrey are suspending sexual education classes offered by a counselling centre affiliated with a religious organization that opposes abortion after a CTV News investigation.
The South Fraser Pregnancy Options Centre won't be teaching teens about contraception or abortion until the Surrey school district can determine if students are getting accurate information, according to district spokesman Doug Strachan.
"We would want information to be factual and impartial and informative," said Strachan. "If there's pressure on students that isn't warranted or unreasonable, that's something we would want to be aware of."
The move comes after a CTV News hidden-camera investigation revealed that a volunteer counsellor at the centre gave advice about abortion that medical experts have described as dubious.
Several schools in Surrey, including Princess Margaret Secondary, have allowed the group to give presentations to grade 10 students over the past five years.
The Delta school district had previously allowed the group in but cancelled the classes about three years ago after a complaint from a parent, Dr. Susan Thompson.
Thompson said her daughter was told in the classes that "the birth control pill was dangerous, the morning after pill was dangerous, and abortions were dangerous."
A brochure given out after the class reads, "Condoms and birth control do not guarantee protection from disease," and "You need to be aware that you are still at high risk using condoms and birth control."
Thompson, a psychology professor at Kwantlen University, believed that something wasn't right about the presentations.
She said parents need to be realistic that their teens may engage in sexual activity and if they are warned away from condoms, the chances they will become pregnant or get a sexually transmitted disease goes up.
"I think they should not be allowed to come into schools," Thompson told CTV News. "They're giving misinformation."
Health Canada recommends condoms as an effective – but not perfect – barrier against STDs. A woman having unprotected sex for a month has about a one-in-four chance of getting pregnant. A woman has a one-in-50 chance of getting pregnant while having regular sex for a year if condoms are used properly.
In Surrey, teachers felt that the centre's classes were well-run and provided advice about setting relationship boundaries and how to develop intimacy, Strachan said.
"They address pregnancy options and it's a message of abstinence as well," he said. "It actually covers key components of the curriculum."
But part of the presentation involves referring students to the South Fraser Pregnancy Options Centre, and the schools want to be clear that the advice offered there is factual before allowing the referrals to continue, Strachan said.
The centre's executive director, Laura Lansink, told CTV News she hadn't heard of any decision from Surrey.
Investigation reveals questionable advice
The centre's information was called into question after a visit by CTV News. In a counselling session recorded with a hidden camera, a volunteer warned of a catastrophically scarred uterus after an abortion – a scenario doctors say is typical of an illegal abortion and very rare in Canada.
The volunteer also gave the undercover CTV employee interested in an abortion referral an envelope with a photography coupon reading "For a Proud Mom-to-Be" instead. Lansink has since said the envelope is inappropriate.
The centre is advertised as a place where women can hear all options when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, but its website says that it will not refer women for abortions.
The centre is affiliated with the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services, an Alberta-based charity whose documents say it subscribes to "a biblical view of sexuality."
"[Crisis Pregnancy Centre] staff must have a solid understanding of what the Bible teaches about the sanctity of human life and a firm commitment to the pro-life position even in the more difficult cases (e.g., rape, incest, suspected fetal deformity)," the group's documentation reads.
CAPSS maintains that its centres are not meant to include that point of view in their counselling sessions and the charity's director is investigating to see if the Surrey centre went too far with its warnings about abortion.
There are 80 other centres across Canada within the CAPSS network. The organization says it provides maternity clothes to young moms-to-be, adoption referrals and post-abortion counselling to 6,800 women across the country each year.
The abortion complication rate is about one in 200, according to the BC Women's Hospital. Studies have shown that the frequency of any damage to the uterus ranges between three in 1,000 and one in 10,000 cases. Serious scarring is rarer than that and doctors say such a result is "highly unlikely."