By Isabelle Kirkwood and Maggie Macintosh
A Ryerson student group is facing backlash after a series of posters targeting women with unexpected pregnancies were found on campus.
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) granted student group status to the Ryerson Pregnancy Care Group (RPCG) in September. Over the past couple months, RPCG posters stamped with official RSU approval could be seen around campus, which read: “Unexpected pregnancy? We can help.”
RSU president Susanne Nyaga said that when the RPCG applied for student group status, they identified as pro-choice and adhered to all RSU policies.
“Now we’re hearing from individual students that, in fact, the work they do is anti-choice,” Nyaga said.
She added that if the RPCG is taking an anti-choice stance, it would contradict the RSU’s policies.
But Erika Hood, executive leader of RPCG, said the group doesn’t take a position on abortion.
“We do believe you have the right to make your own choice, which is what pro-choice is all about. So even though we’re not labelling ourselves as pro-choice, fundamentally, we agree. We’re not forcing anyone to make a decision,” she said.
“Even though we’re not labelling ourselves as pro-choice, fundamentally, we agree. We’re not forcing anyone to make a decision.”
Hood said the neutral stance is because the RPCG doesn’t want to dissuade pregnant students who identify as being either pro-choice or anti-choice from using their services.
Hood, a fourth-year Ryerson nursing student, classified her organization as a “student-to-student support group” that exists to “make Ryerson a safe place for pregnant students.”
She said the group has corresponded with students, but no one has requested a consultation since its September inception.
If a pregnant student approaches the RPCG via email or helpline, a consultation is planned at their designated confidential spot on campus.
Since RPCG posters appeared around campus, Nyaga said the RSU has received complaints via email and phone calls from people questioning the legitimacy and political stance of the group. People also ripped posters down.
“Looking back, we totally agree that there wasn’t enough information about us [on the posters].”
“Looking back, we totally agree that there wasn’t enough information about us [on the posters],” Hood said. “It was our bad and our mistake.”
Hood said she was in communication with RSU vice-president equity Camryn Harlick after RPCG members noticed their posters were being taken down. Hood said she was told the RSU would “look into it.”
The Ryerson group is a chapter of the Pregnancy Care Centre (PCC), which was established in 1984 as a Christian non-profit, non-partisan charity. The company’s affiliations include the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services (CAPSS) and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities.
Hood said she worked as an unpaid volunteer for the PCC for two years before starting an affiliate group at Ryerson.
PCC services include administering urine-based pregnancy tests, selecting daycares and what the company website calls “options counselling.”
Neither PCC nor RPCG provide abortion services, contraceptives or referrals to abortion clinics.
“As an affiliate group of the PCC, we hold our own mission and values.”
A list compiled by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) classified the PCC as an anti-choice organization as of September 2017.
On its website, CAPSS states “human beings are made in the image of God; therefore all humankind has intrinsic value and significance from conception to natural death.” They also say there is a sacredness and dignity of all people—including “the unborn.”
“As an affiliate group of the PCC, we hold our own mission and values. Our affiliate connection only utilizes their resources and expertise,” said Hood.
That means the PCC pays for the RPCG’s posters and provides them with free pregnancy tests. The campus outreach coordinator from the PCC also attends RPCG meetings.
RPCG doesn’t receive funding from the RSU—it receives all funding from the PCC, according to Hood.
When contacted for a statement, Linda Baartse executive director of PCC, wrote, “the Pregnancy Care Centre is not anti-choice, or political. We make it possible for a woman to have a safe and supportive environment for her to continue her pregnancy. We empower individuals with accurate information, practical help, and emotional support. We fill a support gap in Toronto for women who would otherwise feel pressure to have an unwanted abortion.”
Baartse added that the group offers spiritual support and connects wom- en to local churches that provide “a caring and supportive community.”
Without sufficient evidence that the RPCG operates as an anti-choice group, the RSU can’t remove their group status, Nyaga said, adding complaints are “being taken seriously.”
Hood said she expected more from Ryerson students than to take down their posters.
“We didn’t do anything wrong.”