A non-profit that provides counselling to pregnant women is worried that a move by the Liberal government to revoke the charitable status of "anti-abortion organizations that provide dishonest counselling" will have dire consequences for them.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in December outlining her mandate for the Liberal Party's new term in government following their victory in the 2022 election. Among the long list of upcoming objectives that Trudeau highlighted was a directive to "Introduce amendments to the Income Tax Act to make anti-abortion organizations that provide dishonest counselling to pregnant women about their rights and options ineligible for charitable status..."
That wording has groups like the Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg (CPCW) concerned the government is trying to shut them down. Ahead of last year's election the Trudeau and the Liberal Party released a document call Forward. For Everyone., which outlined the party's platform. In it, they directly pointed to Crisis Pregnancy Centres as providing dishonest counselling on page 4 of the 89-page document. "A re-elected Liberal government will: ... No longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations (for example, Crisis Pregnancy Centres) that provide dishonest counseling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy," the document promises.
What CPCW Says to Women Who Are Leaning Towards an Abortion
CPC Winnipeg's director, Juergen Severloh, says that honesty and integrity is always at the forefront of everything the centre does. Severloh says that when a woman facing a crisis with her pregnancy comes to them the organization is upfront with them about who the organization is and what they do.
"She has to sign a disclaimer because we want her to know (this is part of the honesty piece) that we value who she is as a person and that she has full agency, that she can do whatever she wants to," says Severloh. "That's true, period. In Canada, the law says she can have an abortion and she's free to do that as well. Our Christian faith says that she has full agency to do whatever she wants. Everything we do has consequences for the good or the bad."
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The Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg has been active since the early 1980s, working to provide "entirely inclusive" supports to women wanting help with pregnancies. The CPC says "we respect and serve all peoples including all races, women, men, non-binary, the young and elderly, indigenous, immigrant, secular, atheist, agnostic, and people of all faiths," in its mission statement. "We honour single parents, non-nuclear families, and chosen families."
Severloh also says that women know that they will not be able to receive an abortion through the centre before they ever arrive for an appointment. "We're not a medical clinic and we want her to know that right off the bat. She hears that even before she gets in the centre. Before she ever enters the centre she will know that we will not assist her or provide for her an abortion. She's told she can continue a conversation with somebody and stop at any point. The entire session is up to her as to what happens or doesn't happen."
CPCW offers peer counsellors to listen and offer honest advice, he says, when it comes to a woman deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
"From a counselling perspective, we make our decisions often on things that we're not 100 per cent sure about. We have vague, repressed motives as to why. All pregnancies experience a pendulum of emotion. They're excited one day and the next day they're just fearful. We want her to come to a clear decision as to why she's making this decision."
Severloh says that even if a woman decides to go get an abortion the staff at CPCW still wants to continue the relationship with her.
"Then we say to her, 'Regardless of what happens, this is your decision but we do want you to consider it deeply. Go to the internet, check out everything you can. If you choose to have an abortion, then come back (afterwards), because we love you, without judgement. Come back because you're going to be alone and when you have your abortion, you're not going to tell people. You need to come in because you will be loved." The organization offers post-abortion support groups to both men and women.
To make sure that they offer honest and consistent counselling, the CPCW of Winnipeg is also affiliated with Pregnancy Care Canada (PCC) and has been since the mid-1990s. The organization was formed by six Crisis Pregnancy Centres from across the country in an effort to ensure they were operating according to a set standard of honesty and integrity with women in crisis.
"We developed the PCC, to ensure that affiliated centres would hold to the highest standards. Ensuring that every affiliated CPC would have policies, processes, and materials that were up-to-date, accurate, and truthful. The PCC has year-round workshops and webinars that ensure the highest level of training. Furthermore, annually, every affiliated centre has to affirm and comply with a rigorous set of standards."
Bringing Clarity to the Amendment
When asked if the CPCW offers dishonest counsel to pregnant women, Severloh says, "Absolutely not. You only hurt yourself by doing that. I've been a counsellor for 40 years. If you trick people, you may get the results you want for a short period of time but it's not long before you lose them entirely. The majority of referrals are from family and friends. If we're lying to people, that's going to get out and those referrals will never happen."
"The truth about pregnancy, the truth about the development of the baby in the womb, the truth about abortion is in and of itself significant. You don't need to pretend about it as it already has enough of a hold on you emotionally, intellectually, to make you realize that this is an important decision you're making."
By adhering to these best practices, both medically and psychologically, if someone phones in for advice or help from another province, Severloh can confidently let the person know where the closest CPCW is, and that they will offer the best support possible.
Deception in the Pro-Life Movement
Severloh says there have been people who call themselves pro-lifers, or anti-abortionists as the Liberal Party refers to them, that have reacted out of anger and violence.
"Over the years there has been a significant amount of dishonesty in the pro-life movement. It's understandable dishonesty based on all the emotion they feel that a baby's life could be lost. Understandable but very wrong, very misplaced. We don't get anywhere that way, we only lose more and more."
Severloh shares that because of the hate, lies, and anger some pro-lifers project, it's even more important for the CPCW to be vigilant and speak the truth in love.
"Because of that dishonesty and because of the impassioned activities of some pro-life people, we want to be sure we're doing everything carefully, gently, and truthfully. Truth is so important with what we do and it is the foundation of what we do, that along with our compassion."
Government's Actions Unclear
Both the mandate letter and the Liberal Party's platform material leave more questions than answers those concerned with the proposed changes say.
"It feels so unknown," says Severloh. "The Liberal policy mandate that they had during the election, parts of it were undefined. The word 'dishonest' is undefined, the word 'rights' and the word 'options' were undefined. How it happens is unknown as well."
"If it's a policy matter it would mean there would be no vote, but that would create huge difficulties from a legal perspective. I think the way they are intending to do it is through the Tax Act. That would mean legislation. There's a budget coming up within the next month and that budget is usually where they include tax act changes and our concern would fit into that."
"Revoking the charity status doesn’t only mean that as a charity (the CPCW) we will not be able to issue tax-receipts, it also means that all of the assets of the charity must be dispersed," Severloh writes in a follow-up email. "This means that our building, properties, and donation monies will be lost. Everything, everything is lost. This is true for our CPC and it will be true for any charity (read: church or Christian ministry) that has its status revoked."
Canada is one of seven countries in the world that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks gestation. The other countries include China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Severloh is asking people who are concerned to pray for them. He also says, "Our hope is always in the Lord and our perspective is His."
On Monday, CHVN reached out to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, interim leader of the Progressive Conservative party Candice Bergen, and MP and Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus Chair Arnold Viersen. As of the time of publishing, there hasn't been a response from any of the politicians. We will update the story if we hear back from any of them.