National Christian charity probes questionable advice on abortion
Jon Woodward, ctvbc.ca
Published Wednesday, January 18, 2012 5:56PM PST
Last Updated Thursday, July 5, 2012 4:39PM PDT
Concerns that a Surrey sexual health centre mixed questionable science about abortion with its advice to young women will be probed by a national organization of pregnancy counselling services.
Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services director Lola French says she's worried the CAPSS-affiliated Pregnancy Options Centre in Surrey may have gone too far by raising the risks of an illegal, back-alley abortion when talking about operations performed in modern Canadian clinics in a session recorded by CTV News.
"We set up high standards for our organization and we'll be investigating this," French told CTV News. "I'll be heading out to Vancouver next week to do an investigation."
Although CAPSS is a Christian charity opposed to abortion in all cases -- even rape and incest -- French says the organization's political viewpoint should not inform affiliates' counselling.
"Our organization believes that every life has value," she said. "We do not put our views on the client on what she should do in those cases."
CTV News sent an employee posing as a pregnant woman into CAPSS-affiliated centres in B.C.'s two biggest cities to explore concerns from sexual health counsellors that women may not be getting factual information about the risks of abortion.
In Surrey's South Fraser Pregnancy Options Centre, a volunteer warned about the possibility of catastrophically scarred uterus, described infections as "very, very common," and said she had "no idea where abortion clinics are."
But doctors say the frightening scenarios mentioned by the volunteer are very rare. Studies have shown the frequency of any damage to the uterus to range between three in 1,000 to one in 10,000 cases.
The websites for both centres in B.C. stress that they offer pregnant women a chance to discuss options of abortion, adoption and parenting. However, they also point out that they do not provide abortion referrals.
The Surrey centre did not provide an abortion referral for the CTV employee, but did refer her to a photography studio with an envelope that said, "For a proud mom-to-be."
Pregnancy Options has already said it would stop handing out similar envelopes to women seeking an abortion, but the centre has vowed to continue informing women of what they believe are the true risks of abortion.
"We try and empower each woman to have all the information they need to make a decision," said the centre's Megan-Jane Cook.
The centre uses a form to let every woman who comes in know the centre does not do abortion referrals, and people calling for referrals are sent away, she added.
Cook said the centre provides services including pregnancy counselling and maternity clothes to 300 people a year.
Does abortion cause breast cancer?
There are about 80 centres in CAPSS's national network, which serves about 6,800 people a year. Each of the centres is meant to follow a brochure that talks about abortion procedures and risks, such as an increased chance of premature births.
One of the points listed in the CAPSS brochure is "possible risk of breast cancer.".The Surrey counselor said there was a “possible link” between breast cancer and abortion.
CTV News also visited the Vancouver Crisis Pregnancy Centre, which is a member of CAPSS but is not commonly owned or associated with the South Fraser Pregnancy Options Centre.
A counselor in Vancouver brought up the spectre of breast cancer as well, saying, “Some doctors say there’s enough evidence out there that it’s an increased risk.”
According to a statement by the Vancouver Crisis Pregnancy Centre provided to CTV News after the visit, the centre says the link between breast cancer and abortion is only a possible link and further epidemiological studies are warranted.
But the Canadian Cancer Society, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of Canada, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the U.S. National Cancer Institute all say patients should not worry about the risk of breast cancer.
"More rigorous, recent studies demonstrate no causal relationship between induced abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk," reads a June 2009 committee opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Calls for more transparency from pregnancy counsellors
Greg Smith, a counsellor with the non-religious Options for Sexual Health, said he thinks the CAPSS-affiliated centres need to be more upfront about their beliefs. Being more clear on their websites that the "options" they talk about don't include an abortion referral would be a good start, he said.
"If you're going to use the word ‘options' with respect to reproductive health, the most basic option is whether you have a child or don't have a child," he said.
And he added that focusing on abortion risks rather than having a frank discussion about medical facts hurts, rather than helps, patients.
"It's like talking about getting your drivers' licence by saying people crash their cars all the time," Smith said.