The pro-abortion position adopted by the YWCA of Canada, and particularly by the Metro Toronto YW, was documents in a 1980 pamphlet entitled “YWCA – Abortion’s Road to Respectability” (Lorraine Williams, The Uncertified Human Publishing Co. Ltd.).

As public knowledge about the YW’s central position in abortion “reform” became more widespread, the YW attempted to diffuse the issue.  It had good reason to worry.  The United Way in many localities – one of its sources of funding – was not meeting its objective.  Income from trusts and legacies had fallen sharply.

The specific of abortion was dropped from most promotional literature emanating from the Metro Toronto YW.   One of the last mentions was in May 1982, Header “What do you know about the YWCA . . . where WOMEN make it happen?” it reads:

The YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto provides programs and services directed to the growth and development of all women, and is committed to and works towards the achievement of social justice for women everywhere – increased employment opportunities, improved physical and mental health and improved quality of life for women with children, particularly sole support mothers.

Enlarging on this commitment to “improved physical and mental health,” the agency lists under the Social Action Committee the following: “the broad domestic issues of women and employment, violence against women, rights of domestic workers, abortion, divorce legislation and more.”

New wording

Other promotional pieces from 1982 onward were more discreet.  The terms “reproductive choice” or “reproductive rights” are used instead.  It is worth noting that the “Important Facts” document noted above had many significant changes in the 1985 version.  Now we read, “The YWCA is committed to, and works towards, the achievement of social justice for women – increased employment opportunities; improved physical and mental health; improved quality of life for women; the elimination of violence against women.”

In the new wording, the word “everywhere” after “women” is left out of the second sentence, allowing the YW to discriminate as to which women it will help achieve social justice.  Also, the concept of “children” and “mother,” which was in the ’82 wording, is excluded from the new format.

The brochure also shows a drastic change in the sources of funding from 1981 and 1984 for the Toronto YW.  United Way support fell from 32 per cent of the total budget to 23 per cent.  Income from fees and services dropped from 38 per cent to 34 per cent.  The biggest increase in income came from fees for service from different levels of government, as they purchased such programmes as English-As-A Second-Language and Life Skills training courses.  These fees rose from about 22 per cent in 1981 to approximately to 35 per cent of income in 1984 – and this does not include outright government grants.  In other words, the taxpayers’ public monies were being expended to provide approximately one-third of the Toronto YW’s total operating budget.  These monies, then, are used indirectly to subsidize the YW’s pro-abortion thrust.  Incidentally, it should be noted that some of these money makes are held in halls and basements of churches whose denominations are opposed to abortion.

Does a thrust to the abortion cause really still exist, or does the toned-down approach signify a softening of the YW’s militant stand?  To look at the brochures from local YW’s across Canada, one would doubt the abortion commitment is still there.  For example, the Edmonton Winter/Spring 1985 programme booklet is highly impressive in its attempt to meet the needs of adults and children in that city.  Indeed, it is most progressive in that one of its offerings is a total recreation programme for adults who are physically or mentally handicapped.  Such courses as basic gourmet cooking, leisure awareness, creative crafts and sports are offered for those with special needs.  There is even a Special Services Director on the staff.

Seeing innovations such as these, which bespeak compassion for those often excluded from the mainstream in most organizational structures, makes one aware of the schizophrenia which now afflicts the YW.  On the one hand, it attempts to service with human dignity such a group.  On the other, it supports the right of a mother to abort ones such as those if amniocentesis finds their unborn brothers or sisters “defective.”

One way in which the YW’s support for abortion is most cleverly incorporated in the Metro Toronto YW’s “Women of Distinction” Award begun in 1981 as a sophisticated fund-raising event, the YW has established a trendy format: nominees from six different categories are solicited from any organization in Toronto.  The categories are health; public affairs; business; professions or labour; the arts; community services; and communications.  The tickets to the local dinner cost between $50 and $75, and nominating groups are urged to buy tables of eight to honour their nominees, regardless of whether they win or not.  Up to 70 people have been nominated in any one-year.  There are many corporate patrons, supporters and sponsors who help defray the costs.  One of the few in the “Patron” category, which is the most expensive, is Mary Kay Cosmetics.  This strikes many as very ironic.  First of all, the temperament of the Metro Toronto YW is one that definitely does not encourage for use of makeup.  This would be too much of a “sexist” image of women for the YW to condone.  Secondly, Mary Kay was founded by a woman purported to have a deep Christian faith.  How aware she may be of the departure of the YW from its Christian roots is a question that would be worth pursuing.

“Aggie” awards

Some of the YW’s “Aggie” awards as they are called, honour women whose accomplishments all women can admire without ideological dividing lines.  It also honours women that some may find deeply offensive.  In its first year, the Awards committee picked Laura Sabia in the Public Affairs/Public Service category.  In 1982, winner in the Health category was Barbara Cadbury, founder of Planned Parenthood in Toronto.  In the slick audio-visual presentation produced on each winner’s life, it was particularly stressed that Ms Cadbury had been a part of the militant pro-abortion group that stormed Parliament in the late ‘60s.

Cadbury herself is quoted as saying that “if parliamentarians had not made contraception illegal (this is erroneous for those who know anything about the issue,  it was not contraception that was illegal.  Rather it was dissemination about information on it that was against the law). . .they wouldn’t have been in the embarrassing situation they were in then, of women pressuring for legal abortion to be available. . .”

The most recent example of the alliance with the pro-abortion cause occurred this year when nominee Norma Scarborough, a high-school secretary, was chosen for the Community Service award.  The Scarborough Secondary School Principals’ Association nominated her for her work in schools and on the status of women committee with the public school board.  However, her name was familiar in Canadians, and particularly Torontonians, in only one capacity – as President of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League.  Her face was a familiar one, showing up as it did in every TV news clip as a constant companion to Henry Morgentaler as he went into or departed from the courtroom during his trial last year.  Even the society columnist of the Globe and Mail, Zena Cherry, had difficulty getting Norma’s affiliations straight, citing her as “the president of the Canadian Action League,” – – whether deliberately or inadvertently omitting the key word “abortion.”


This year, the Metro YW raised over $50,000 through the dinner.  One wonders if the corporate sponsors care.  Certainly the YW is fully aware of what it’s doing.  Its pro-abortion stance was once again manifested by such a selection.

Pro-lifers chose not to protest the choice openly.  They are in somewhat of a clever bind, as some of the winners in other categories are women who have made excellent contributions in their fields.  To attack the dinner could be construed as attacking them as well.  It is extremely sad that their accomplishments have been trivialized by involving them in such obvious propaganda statements.

In other parts of Canada, knowledge of the abortion stance of the YWCA has become more widespread.  For Jean Nordlund, past president of the New Westminster, B.C. YWCA, the heavy emphasis on abortion had led to utter disillusionment with the organization.  The YW in her community, for which Jean has worked for many years, first as a volunteer and next as a board member, is one which fits more closely the YW image which most people, ignorant of the last decade’s developments, still hold.

Distressed by a letter from the National YWCA headquarters to all local associations, asking them to write to the Minister of Health in support of removal of abortion from the Criminal Code, Jean drafted a resolution in June of 1984.  It was to be sent to the policy session of the National Convention in May of 1985.  Its main thrust was the “henceforth the YWCA should take no public stand on the abortion question nor should it endorse or support any group whose primary purpose is to work for or against abortion.”

As with all resolutions to be debated, this one fro the New Westminster YW was circulated around the country for comment.  Almost immediately, officers from right boards – Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford, Cambridge, Montreal, Calgary, Kamloops and Vancouver  – wrote asking her board to withdraw the resolution.

One letter was telling in its honesty as to why it wanted the resolution withdrawn: – This issue was painfully debated by our Board in 1981 and was particularly divisive.  We feel it would not be productive to go through this again . . . In communicates such as ours, there are as many people on one side of this issue as on the other. Since any resolution dealing with this subject is hard to accept by at least one-half of our members, we would prefer to maintain a low profile on this topic.  (my emphasis).

In simple language, most of the letters (and later the conversations she was to have at the Convention) were saying to Ms. Norlund: keep abortion out of proceedings.  The reason?  It is so divisive among our membership, we don’t want the members to know that we’re so deeply committed to abortion.  We need to keep them in the dark.

Taken aback by such hypocrisy, Jean Norlund became more determined than ever to see the resolution through.  Backed by her New Westminster group, she went to the convention as a voting delegate.  The only trouble was that once she was there, she had the unpleasant experience of being told that the Chilliwack YW, who had agreed to second the resolution, had got cold feet and had withdrawn its support – on the day before the resolution was to be debated.

Jean went about soliciting support from any one she could meet.  But is was hopeless.  One large urban YW told her it would support the resolution if it got on the floor but wouldn’t second it in order to get it to that stage.  Another delegate from a large center retorted “Good” she Jean told her she couldn’t get a seconder.  “I feel confused,” stated Ms Norlund.  “I saw the resolution as not being a win for either side, but a victory for the YWCA.  Then the YW would truly be for all women, who now feel they can’t join with the way the YW presently stands on the abortion issue.”

Other resolutions did make it through that week.  Some were on issues which the YW has championed for years: women’s pensions, literacy, bilingual services for Francophone YW members.  The convention also passed resolutions promoting peace and non-violence (without anyone seeing the connection between violence and the YW’s policy on abortion).


One group did make an attempt to remove the phrase: “including reproductive rights,” in a resolution dealing with self-determination in health matters.  But that deletion was not allowed.

Perhaps the most significant resolution was one submitted by the Hamilton YW which attempted to flesh out the phrase “enriched by the Christian faith” in the YW’s Statement of Purpose.  As was the case in other such attempts (cf. “YWCA – Abortion’s Road to Respectability”), the entire resolution – which originally has been 51 lines in length – was cut to a preamble and one short sentence, reiterating the original statement.  It effectively removed one of the safeguards of the original motion, namely “addressing . . . the pressures placed on the YWCA to adapt, or to lessen, the Christian image of the movement.”  Other provisions in the original would have ensured that the YW look at its position on many issues – such as abortion – where its practice is at odds with most Christian denominations in Canada.

The problem of teenage pregnancy was also addressed in a resolution.  The YW will move into this area as one of special concern.  This could provide pro-abortion advocates with even greater access to subjects on whom to press their philosophy.

The most distasteful resolution at the 1985 national conference was one put together as an “emergency resolution.”  One could infer a note of panic in the minds of the Montreal YW, to whom the resolution was attributed.  It read as follows:

Whereas REAL (Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life) Women of Canada is an organization opposed to equal pay for work of equal value, universal day care, affirmative action for women and others:

Whereas REAL Women have been lobbying the new federal government since it took office last fall and have inundated the Prime Minister with letters and telegrams demanding that they receive funds from the federal government Women’s Programme;  Be it resolved that the YWCA of Canada lobby the government of Canada to support only those organizations working towards “equality” for all women of all ages, classes, races and ethnic backgrounds.

Backroom politics

This proposed resolution would have effectively wiped out an image the YW has been trying to build for the last 10 years – that of an organization of women seeking solidarity with its “sisters.”  This resolution castigated another group for doing the very thing the YW is so expert at – namely, the active lobbying of government by letters and briefs.  Being aware that REAL Women had been turned down in its first bid for a grant earlier in the year, the resolution hoped to capitalize on that initial refusal.  In the process, it maligned REAL Women which often finds solutions in different places to those of the YW.

Whatever the backroom politics, someone realized that the original wording could be extremely damaging.  Thus, the resolution was amended to read:

Be it resolved that the YWCA of Canada continue to fund those women’s organizations supporting equality for women of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds.

Possibly, also, more perceptive members may have pointed out that the original motion might have cut out some of the member groups of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, of which the YW is a key member.  Others may have felt it was so hostile that it would destroy any claim the YW still had to the word “Christian.”

What Jean Norlund found hardest to take at the convention was precisely that – the utter lack of anything resembling a Christian approach.  The only person who seemed to have any sense of it, according to her, was the national president, who seemed helpless to do anything about it.

Jean will probably resign from the New Westminster YWCA, and devote more time to her company, Personnel Service, which she founded and has run successfully for 25 years.  She’s thoroughly disillusioned.  Not with her fellow board members, they’ve been totally supportive throughout this charade.  But with those in the YW who would effectively “gag” the concerns of a member Y.  She’s going to recommend that he YW become a family YMCA.  The YM understands, as it stated in a letter to the YW in 1979, that the support of abortion by the Y “would alienate a large segment of the community support” and would be “the death knell of the organization.”

Unfortunately, it’s a slow death and a painful one for all who loved the YWCA of former days, when it lived up to its founders’ ideals.  The question is: is it woo late for the YW to reverse that process?  Or, is it like the abortion of an unborn child – once begun, it’s too lethal to arrest?  I prefer to hope that the trend can be turned around. As long as people like Jean Norlund are around, the ailing organization will be forced to examine itself.

Lorraine Williams is a marriage counselor and free-lance writer.  She was formerly editor of The Human.  Copies of the background material on this “YWCA – Abortion’s Road to Respectability,” are available for $2 from L. William, 10 Elfindale Cres., Willowdale, Ontario  M2J 1B5.