A Member of Parliament and founding board member of a crisis pregnancy centre in Saskatoon is concerned that CTV‘s ‘investigative reporting‘i 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...”ii
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. iii
“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.iv 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.”v 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.”vi None of this was mentioned in the CTV report.
TV 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.”vii
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.viii 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.”ix
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.’”x (emphasis added). “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.”xi
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.”xii
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.”xiii
“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.”xiv
“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.
Reprinted with permission. To see the full text of this article go to www.mauricevellacott.ca.
i Aired on Jan 17: http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120116/bc_ctv_investigates_pregnancy_options_1_120116/20120117/?hub=BritishColumbiaHome
Aired on Jan 18: http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120116/bc_ctv_investigates_pregnancy_options_2_120116/20120118?hub=BritishColumbiaHome
Aired on Jan 20: http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120116/bc_ctv_investigates_pregnancy_options_3_120116/20120120/?hub=BritishColumbiaHome
ii Code of Ethics, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, http://www.cbsc.ca/english/codes/cabethics.php.
iii The volunteer suggested infection after abortion was ―very, very common.‖ Although that is a genuine complication, it seldom happens in Canadian, legal abortions.
iv ―Abortion, Adoption, Parenting: An informational guide for unplanned pregnancy‖ brochure, Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services.
viii 2011 Registered Charity Information Return for Options for Sexual health
ix Options for Sexual Health‘s Annual Report 2011, p. 15 (see https://www.optionsforsexualhealth.org/sites/optionsforsexualhealth.org/files/annual_report_2010-11_dec_edit.pdf).
x Ibid, p. 15.
xi Ibid. P. 15.
xii http://www.prochoiceactionnetwork-canada.org/Exposing-CPCs-in-BC.pdf , page 3.
xiii ―Status of Women Canada pays extreme group to discredit CPCs,‖ Patricia Maloney, April 5, 2010, http://run-with-life.blogspot.com/2010/04/status-of-women-canada-pays-extreme.html.
xiv See attached list of research references.