Pro-choice protesters at the University of Alberta obscured an anti-abortion display by the group UAlberta Pro-Life in March 2015. (CBC) University campuses have increasingly become a focal point of Canada’s anti-abortion movement, prompting a fresh debate over free speech and questions about what critics call misleading tactics.
"On campuses across the country, we have seen a rise in anti-choice groups," said Trina James of the Canadian Federation of Students.
Crisis pregnancy centres often set up near university campuses, targeting students through ads, information campaigns and free pregnancy tests. They present themselves as non-judgmental clinics, a support service for people facing an unplanned pregnancy.
But students say they have received misleading anti-abortion information, including that ending a pregnancy could cause breast cancer and warnings about so-called post-abortion stress syndrome, prompting a backlash by student unions.
Last week, an anti-abortion group at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., was evicted from the student union building after it "failed to comply with our bylaws," union president George Philp said.
In Halifax, students at Mount St. Vincent University complained after a crisis pregnancy centre set up at an orientation fair last fall, spurring the student union to develop a new policy to block their presence at an event later this month.
Student unions have warned students about crisis pregnancy centres and taken steps to limit their presence on campus, and revoked the official club status of anti-abortion campus groups at some universities.
At Ryerson University in Toronto, anti-abortion demonstrators armed with graphic photos have been met with counter-protesters, while the University of Alberta’s anti-abortion group UAlberta Pro-Life has sparked controversy with displays that include pictures of dismembered fetuses. A members of the Campus Pro-Life student group hands out leaflets at a pro-life display erected by on the University of Calgary campus in Calgary, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010. The controversial display compares abortion to past historical atrocities, such as the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. (The Canadian Press) Ruth Shaw, executive director of the National Campus Life Network, said roughly half of Canada’s 100,000 abortions annually involve women aged 18 to 24, "which is why we focus so heavily on university campuses."
Shutting down debate over abortion amounts to censorship, she said.
"Universities have largely become echo-chambers of cultural norms rather than agitators of culture or sort of forefront and cutting-edge culture shapers," Shaw said. Concern over spreading misinformation
But critics say crisis pregnancy centres use manipulative counselling methods to deceive often vulnerable women and push a religious agenda that stigmatizes abortion.
"They are deceptive and they spread misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in general," said Joyce Arthur, the executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
"They used to be more open about their stance, but they’ve learned to cloak it … to misrepresent themselves as kind of normal looking sexual health care centres where you can get unbiased information on all your options." George Philp, president and CEO of the Acadia Students’ Union in Wolfville, N.S., said an anti-abortion group was evicted from the student union building after it did not comply with bylaws. (CBC) Arthur said the crisis pregnancy centres use often untrained, peer counsellors that are guided by traditional religious sexual morality and biblical ethics.
"They want to target young women and they know that students might be more likely to have an abortion if they get pregnant because they want to finish their schooling," she said.
While they promise "non-judgmental counselling," she said they often mischaracterize the long-term effects of abortion.
But the head of an umbrella group representing pregnancy care centres across Canada said the presence of these organizations near universities expands the choices available for women. ‘Women […]
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