CANADA – Study finds “Crisis Pregnancy Centres” mislead and manipulate

by Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada / British Columbia Humanist Association

A new study of unlicensed pregnancy counselling centres across Canada finds that they often conceal an anti-abortion agenda and provide medical misinformation to clients.

Co-developed by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) and the BC Humanist Association (BCHA), the study reviewed websites of the nearly 150 so-called crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) across Canada, and compared the results to a similar 2016 study conducted by ARCC to better understand changes over time. The new study identified the continued presence of misleading information.

“We found that the websites of most CPCs in Canada share biased, misleading or outright false information,” said Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of ARCC. “Even though these agencies present themselves as unbiased counselling centres, most are anti-abortion and religiously affiliated. A key goal for them is to dissuade clients from having an abortion. Our report highlights the urgent need for increased regulation and oversight of CPCs to ensure that pregnant people are not subject to harmful misinformation or coercion.”

Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Research Coordinator for the BCHA said: “A visit to a CPC may delay access to essential healthcare services such as prenatal care, not just abortion care. Some CPCs withhold or misrepresent information about abortion or engage in scare tactics, such as falsely claiming that abortion causes breast cancer or severe negative psychological effects. This amounts to emotional manipulation of clients, many of whom are in vulnerable situations.”

“We think CPCs are trying to make themselves look more legitimate to the public and to funders – which can include the government – by hiding their anti-choice stance,” said Joyce Arthur. “Since 93% of CPCs are registered charities, they are likely afraid of losing their charitable status due to the Liberal Party promise in 2021 to no longer allow anti-choice groups to be charities.”

Despite the move towards more vague and careful messaging, most CPC websites still contained misinformation, often an increased amount, particularly on the alleged risks of abortion. About 75% of websites claimed an increased risk of negative psychological effects after an abortion, but in 2016, only 48% of sites had such claims. Further, 19% of websites mentioned physical complications of abortion in 2022, compared to only 9% in 2016.

“We recommend that CPCs be required to disclose their anti-choice and religious stance and be stopped from providing unregulated medical services such as ultrasounds,” said Phelps Bondaroff. “Crisis pregnancy centres should not be receiving public funding, and in addition to having their charitable tax status revoked they should be prevented from teaching sex education in public schools.”

“People have the right to access accurate information and make informed decisions about their reproductive health. Crisis pregnancy centres in Canada are hindering this right and must be held accountable for their deceptive practices,” said Jensen.

Link to the 2023 report / Link to the 2016 report

SOURCE: Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada / BC Humanist Association, Press release and website, 8 March 2023