Toronto's Aid to Women, located beside an abortuary, was targeted by the Toronto Star as misleading in their efforts to save unborn babies.

As part of what appears to be a campaign against crisis pregnancy centres by abortion advocates and their supporters, the Toronto Star ran a hit piece on centres in the Toronto area, charging them of employing “misleading” information to get women to choose life rather than abortion.

On July 22, Joanna Smith, a reporter from the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau, showed up at Aid to Women, a downtown Toronto crisis pregnancy centre, claiming to be six-weeks pregnant. She talked to general manager Frances Keet for 30 minutes, fishing for pro-life arguments that Smith would consider misleading. On July 27, Smith re-appeared at ATW, this time with a photographer, admitting her true identity and aggressively questioning Keet’s claims about the harmful effects of abortion.

On Aug. 7, a front-page story in the Star ran under the headline, “The silent war on abortion,” with a subhead that read: “Inside the centres that counsel women on unplanned pregnancies, often by misinformation.”

The Star, the article explains, “sent a reporter to eight of these centres in the Greater Toronto Area, posing as a woman six weeks pregnant who was leaning toward having an abortion but first wanted to know the procedure and risks.” The story only reported on exchanges that took place at ATW and the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Service-affiliated Mississauga Life Centre.

Smith, claimed the centres distributed “misleading information,” and specifically included as examples the emotional and physical trauma caused by abortion. The article has a sidebar “reality check” story that purports to debunk these “myths.”

Among the post-abortion problems Smith seeks to debunk and deny is the abortion-breast cancer link, post-abortion syndrome, and increased fertility problems. The paper selectively cites contrary evidence to each claim, for example noting that the National Cancer Institute rejects a link between abortion and breast cancer, and thus ignoring numerous other studies suggesting such a correlation.

Smith reports that the American Psychiatric Association does not list either post-abortion stress or post-abortion syndrome in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However “authoritative” the APA’s DSMMD may be, there are plenty of researchers who suggest, and post-abortive women who will personally attest, that there are emotional and psychological scars that result from abortion. Again, a single source is sufficient to label CPCs misleading.

As for the notion that abortion can be linked to future fertility problems, Smith quotes a Toronto-based abortion facility, Choice in Health Clinic, as a source to deny any connection between the two, although she acknowledges that evidence regarding “terminating a pregnancy and infertility” studied by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the United Kingdom “is inconclusive.”

Considering that there is a controversy about each of these issues, arguing for one side or the other is not really providing misinformation. Indicating that one side is true beyond a shadow of doubt while indicting as liars those who can point to other facts that argue otherwise, is actually misleading.

ATW’s Frances Keet, general manager, told The Interim that Smith’s story was not flagged “as unusual because every story (from abortion-minded women) is unique.” Keet said Smith asked numerous questions about the physical effects. When the reporter returned to the office and acknowledged her real identity, Keet said Smith was aggressive in asking for evidence of the claims that were made regarding the harmful effects of abortion and repeatedly argued with the counselor that childbirth was more dangerous than abortion. As Keet noted, Smith did not provide any evidence of that claim.

Keet said that when she learned about Smith’s real identity – and agenda for the first visit – “I was shocked, and then I felt a little bit betrayed, and then I was relieved she didn’t have an abortion.” That concern for the fictional unborn baby and Smith is at the heart of what crisis pregnancy centres do, and the failure of the story to convey that concern is what most upsets Keet: “It didn’t come across in the article that we care about the women.” She continued: “We care about the babies, and we care about the women as well.”

Keet is upset at the characterization that CPCs lie to women to get them to keep their babies. “We don’t lie,” she emphasized. She said women are never given the impression that they are at an abortuary when they come in seeking information. “We make our concern for mother and child very clear,” she said.

The fallout of the article? Keet says that it has been mostly positive. “There were two negative emails, but many more positive messages.” She said supporters have rallied around ATW and that they are happy that there is an increased awareness of CPCs in general and that they exist, so that if someone knows a girl or woman facing a crisis pregnancy, they might be directed to one of more than a dozen centres in the Toronto area.

On Aug. 13, the Star reported that Ontario’s health ministry was contacted by Joanna Smith and despite the paper’s attempts to stir up trouble for the CPCs, it “had no immediate plans to crack down on pregnancy resource centres that often use misinformation to discourage women from choosing abortion without always disclosing their pro-life perspective.”

The original reporting coupled with the second article takes on the appearance of a crusade. A ministry spokesman said that because they don’t fund the centres, “we don’t have a lot of oversight on them.” Smith reported that records show that 14 area CPCs registered as charities received just over $546,000 in receipted donations in 2008, and are not financed by the government. Canadian abortion advocates have stated that they want regulations similar to ordinances passed in Baltimore, Maryland, and Austin, Texas, that require CPCs to post disclaimers that they do not provide or refer for abortions. Jane Gauthier, interim executive director of the Canadian Federation of Sexual Health (formerly Planned Parenthood) said she wants “consumer legislation” to protect women from CPCs: “It think it is important that women have information about what the centre is really all about before they even step in the door.”

Which raises an interesting question: should the same standard apply to abortion facilities? Abortion advocates routinely oppose informed consent laws for abortion providers, including the truth about fetal development and the harm potentially caused by abortion.

Keet turns the issue around and asks why journalists “don’t go into the clinics?” She says that CPCs must “tell women the truth” about the harmful effects of abortion “because doctors and abortuaries are not providing them all the information about abortion, including facts about fetal development.” Keet wondered what misleading information a reporter would find in an abortuary or if any journalist would refer to the information provided by their staff to be misleading.

Or to go one step further: would a reporter ever go into an abortion mill and report what she would find there: the sights and sounds of an unborn child ripped to pieces and discarded?