Challenges: The Pastoral Arm

Throughout Canada, there are pro-life resource centres to help pregnant women who are overwhelmed by the burdens of an unplanned pregnancy. These burdens include

  • Pressure (including threats of, or actual, violence or abandonment) by family members and partners
  • An already abusive relationship the woman does not want to bring a child into
  • Drug addiction and therefore the belief that it is in the child’s best interest to be aborted
  • A successful career that a child will impede
  • The desire to finish school unhampered by motherhood
  • Financial hardship

In Canada there are over 135 pro-life centres.1 These centres, which are commonly known as crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs), pregnancy care centres (PCCs), or pregnancy resource centres (PRCs), offer alternatives to abortion with the hope of sparing women and their pre-born children from abortion. They provide a vital service, typically offering free pregnancy tests, pregnancy counseling, baby and maternity clothes, adoption information, and parenting resources.

It is certainly encouraging to know these centres are available to help mothers embrace their pre-born children. Furthermore, these centres offer a great service to women and to the movement because they build relationships that will last over time.

Because these centres are so essential, it is important that they succeed in reaching as many abortion-minded women as possible. And if they are not, then all pro-lifers, including the staff at these centres, need to examine what the movement can do to improve their effectiveness. This starts by asking these questions:

  • How many clients are coming to these pro-life centres?
  • And of those women, how many are abortion-minded (seriously considering abortion)?
  • And of those women, how many babies are saved?

These questions are vital because it is abortion-minded women whose babies are most vulnerable to being killed. PCCs hope that, through their existence, women will choose life—not abortion—for their babies. But in order to ensure this is happening, we need to face the reality of who is coming to these centres.

In Canada, almost 100,000 abortion-minded women go a clinic or hospital to end their pregnancies. In contrast, what kind of women, in large numbers, go to PCCs? Women who are seriously considering abortion or women who are unlikely to abort anyway and are looking for help with their pregnancy?

By their own admission, PCCs generally reach very few of their target audience: women contemplating abortion. In most cases, these women aren’t even coming through the door. Rather, these women enter the doors of abortion providers.

In fact, in 2002, Focus on the Family’s newsletter HeartLink reported that “less than 10 percent of the clients darkening the doors of pregnancy care centers [across the United States] were abortion-minded.” That is, fewer than 1 in 10 women making use of their pregnancy-support services were seriously considering abortion.

In its 2004 Starfish Report, the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services (CAPSS) provided a detailed description of its statistics in this country:

the “total number of … expectant clients who were initially abortion-minded or vulnerable to proceed with an abortion” was 1,074.2

They report 157 known saved lives, 99 known lives lost to abortion, and 361 cases with the outcome unknown or not reported.3 The statistics are qualified with this statement: “Please note that some of the centres who report abortion-minded clients are unable at this point, in their reporting capabilities, to track all outcomes. Thus the numbers for a [saved lives]; b [lost to abortion]; c [unknown outcome]; do not total to all abortion-minded women.”3

Even with the best possible interpretation of these statistics, only 1,074 abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable expectant women went to 52 of their centres while almost 100 times that figure went to Canadian abortion facilities that same year.

Of course, the service that PCC’s provided for these women is invaluable. The point is, these centres were created to help abortion-minded women, and they are helping too few of these women.

Fast-forward several years and the numbers are still dismal. According to CAPSS, 61 of its centers (affiliate and non) across Canada served approximately 6374 individual clients in 2007 with possible new pregnancies.4 While no one doubts the priceless value of human life and the need to positively influence these thousands of lives, the number of people reached is strikingly low in comparison to those who choose abortion each year.

And as low as that number is, it gets even lower when examining those who are actually abortion-minded. At CAPSS centres, all new positive pregnancy test (or doctor confirmed) clients are assessed as to their initial intentions for how they will proceed with the pregnancy. This is how that broke down for 2007:

Total abortion-minded clients: 425
Total abortion vulnerable clients: 361
Total carry to term intention clients: 1439
Total undecided clients: 1865

This means that at least 1439 women who used the services of these centres weren’t even considering aborting their pre-born children. So what happened to the 972 pre-born babies for whom abortion was a risk (abortion minded clients + abortion vulnerable clients + undecided clients)? We know that at least 203 were killed, leaving 769 pre-born babies for whom abortion was a risk and who may not have been killed.3 And so, using a best-case scenario, one hopes that the 769 were saved. That, however, isn’t conclusive since their mothers did not inform the centre of what their ultimate decisions were.

This means, at best, if all 769 women decided to carry their pregnancies to term, there would be 13 saved babies at each of the 61 centres in 2007.

This analysis does not include data from PCCs unaffiliated with CAPSS (such as Birthright centres). If these and other numbers are made available, they will be incorporated into a future edition of this analysis.

Some may consider it unfair to compare statistics from abortion clinics with PCCs, because the former receive government funding and greater promotion (e.g., from physicians) than the latter. While this imbalance certainly exists, an abortion-minded woman does not make her choice because of this promotion: if she really doesn’t want an abortion, she won’t get one. And if she really wants an abortion, she will get one.

In other words, the problem of large numbers of abortion-minded women choosing abortion clinics over PCCs is not due simply to an imbalance in support between the former and the latter.

Most abortion-minded women do not choose the help of PCCs because the PCCs will help women through the pregnancies but abortion clinics will help them out of the pregnancies. PCCs are willing to provide whatever a woman needs (e.g., housing, baby supplies, moral support). The abortion clinic offers her what she wants.

Our society, particularly through the mass media, promotes the primacy of oneself and of making decisions with expediency. People are implicitly taught to strive for whatever is the fastest, easiest, and simplest solution (in the short term). They are taught this in a culture where the medical and political institutions endorse abortion as a legitimate choice.

An abortion-minded woman wants out of the pregnancy and all that would come with it. In the climate of fear and panic that characterizes an unplanned pregnancy, the woman is desperately looking for immediate relief. PCCs, however, cannot necessarily give that; they cannot offer a “quick fix” or guarantee an easy life. The pro-life movement is offering an alternative that in many women’s minds does not even compete with what the abortion clinic offers by way of short-term solutions.

With all that in mind, it is no wonder that abortion-minded women with unplanned pregnancies, by and large, are choosing abortion. This way, they don’t have to deal with any of the crises surrounding their pregnancies. No one in their social circles need know that they have been pregnant, or even sexually active for that matter.

In one moment—that positive pregnancy test—their worlds come crashing down. And in one “simple” procedure—before they appear pregnant, feel their child’s presence, and bond—their crumbling worlds are (supposedly) put back together.

CCBR has seen this first hand over the years: women who have been offered all the help they need to continue with their pregnancies have turned it down and had abortions instead.

This truth must teach the movement that offering help, while necessary, is not sufficient in ending abortion.

The point is not to be unfairly critical of help centres—they do vital work. Instead, it is to show that the pastoral approach needs the prophetic approach to change peoples’ minds on abortion. As CBR’s American director, Gregg Cunningham, has pointed out, “The simple fact of the matter is that women who are not more horrified by abortion than they are terrified of the burdens of the pregnancy will kill their babies almost every time.

So while we most certainly need to help women in crisis pregnancy (pastoral approach), we must convince those women (prophetic approach) that the help we offer is what they should choose. They need to know that the alternative, abortion, is a horrifying choice to which they shouldn’t give a moment’s consideration. In other words, when the prophetic approach turns women off of abortion, the pastoral approach will be able to more effectively turn them on to the right choice.

Back to Challenges Facing the Pro-Life Movement

  1. In August 2008, Stephanie Gray spoke with a representative of Birthright (416-469-4789 and in Toronto, ON, and was informed that they have 43 chapters in Canada. On December 6, 2006, Deborah Woelders, director of operations for the Christian Association of Pregnancy Support Services (CAPSS), e-mailed Gray to say she had 93 affiliated and non-affiliated Canadian pregnancy care centres in her database which did not include Birthright centres. Note: In contrast to places where women can obtain abortions, there are slightly fewer PCCs than abortion providers in Canada (According to “Abortion in Canada Today: The Situation Province-by-Province,” from the Childbirth by Choice Trust (available from, viewed February 15, 2007), there are 121 Canadian hospitals that perform abortions. On February 15, 2007, Gray called Canadians for Choice (613-789-9958) and inquired of a representative about the number of abortion clinics in Canada. The representative did not have the exact number but stated that there were fewer than 25 clinics in the whole country. She also noted that the number of hospitals in Canada that provide abortions has gone down and that in March 2007 they would be publicizing a report which indicates that even fewer than 121 hospitals do abortions.)
  2. Starfish Report, taken from 2004 CAPSS National Statistical Report—52 Reporting Centres, available from, viewed online August 25, 2006.
  3. a. b. c. Ibid.
  4. CAPSS Statistical Report Summary, 1997 to 2007.
  5. E-mail from Laura Wittman, CAPSS executive assistant, September 3, 2008.