Juergen Severloh is a pioneer in Canada’s pregnancy crisis centre movement. The German immigrant will be 50 years old this March, having spent over half his life as one of Manitoba’s most well-known pro-life activists.
Juergen’s interest in pro-life activism evolved from his conversion experience four years earlier. “I became a Christian at the University of Manitoba in 1976,” he told The Interim. “I had been a scientific-agnostic before then. Everything changed when I became a Christian – I did a ‘180’ in my life, became tender toward the broken, the powerless and those without a voice.”
The new convert found himself drawn to the works of Christian writer Francis A. Schaeffer. “He came out with a series of books about how we should live in the modern world,” Severloh stated. “As I was making my way through Schaeffer’s books, Henry Morgentaler came to the University of Manitoba to debate Joe Borowski.”
The young man was struck by how the two older men reacted differently to one of the 20th century’s greatest evils. Severloh had not given much thought to abortion; however, he empathized with Borowski. “As a young German-Canadian, I had been to the concentration camps, felt the horror and the madness and I came away crying,” he said. “And so Morgentaler’s response made no sense to me.” On the other hand, “Borowski’s made absolute sense – that he would speak out for the innocent, the voiceless and the powerless.” This, Severloh said, “got me thinking about the question of abortion.”
He began to look at abortion within the context of social justice. “I felt this fit with Schaeffer’s mandate that Christians have to live out their love for Christ in action,” Severloh said. “I started to feel as an evangelical Christian that our community was good with words, but lacking in action.”
Severloh and his wife Jan began to picket Morgentaler’s Winnipeg abortuary. “We stood were there day and night, picketing and praying. I even got arrested for peaceful sit-ins on occasion.”
For a while, this was enough, but then his old restlessness returned. “Sit-ins were great,” he stated, “and we still participate in them, but I began to feel God calling me to do something practical. Providentially, He moved me into a position where, along with a group of other people, we could start a crisis pregnancy centre.”
Severloh had found his calling within Canada’s pro-life movement. He was the founding executive director of Winnipeg’s Crisis Pregnancy Centre and 21 years later, he is still there.
According to Severloh, crisis pregnancy centres began as a grassroots movement among American pro-lifers and eventually made their way up to Canada. Today, there are about 70 centres across Canada. “This is a practical solution in that it allows us to offer a concrete alternative to abortion,” Severloh stated. “We’re specifically set up to deal with abortion-minded women. We do a lot of one-to-one counselling, mention information concerning carrying to term, adoption and abortion. Of course, we don’t tell them where to get an abortion; however, we share accurate information about the procedure and the risks involved.”
When asked why a pro-life organization would provide women with information concerning abortion, Severloh answered: “Abortion is madness.” He added, “We don’t have to fabricate, nor do we have to sensationalize. We just present the truth and this will create a sober-second thought in most women who are presently tilting toward abortion.”
The Winnipeg CPC also tries to establish a support network for young pregnant women so that they “know that they are not alone.” It also offers counselling, food, clothing, furniture and housing referrals. “We have relationship counselling and individual counselling, which are very different. We offer parenting classes, cooking, budgeting. We also offer infant loss counselling and post-abortion counselling. We have spiritual mentoring, offering the Alpha course and Bible studies.”
According to Severloh, Winnipeg’s crisis pregnancy centre sees about 400 new women every year, which is in addition to its open caseload of about 350 women. The centre is staffed by nine employees and approximately 60 volunteers. “We also have a 24-hour crisis line and a national 1-800 number,” Severloh shared. “We take calls from across Canada and we do e-mail counseling. We try to hook them up with the closest pregnancy crisis centre where we know they will get help.”