If you support the right to abortion like most Canadians, you may be surprised to learn that the majority of groups that oppose abortion enjoy charitable tax status. How did they earn this privilege and why do they still have it?
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) tracks anti-choice groups and currently counts 316 of them. About half are advocacy groups and half are crisis pregnancy centres – “CPCs”. About 71% (222) of all anti-choice groups enjoy charitable tax status, including an astounding 93.5% of CPCs. These organizations claim to be unbiased counselling centres for pregnant people.
But a new study by ARCC and the BC Humanist Association found that a large majority of CPCs spread misleading information about abortion and contraception on their websites, and often present themselves deceptively such as hiding their religious, anti-abortion stance from clients. For example, 39 percent of websites did not have disclaimers that they don’t arrange or assist with abortion care. Six percent claimed a link between abortion and breast cancer, which has been scientifically rejected, while 19 percent cited other physical risks of abortion that were not scientifically supported, such as infertility or subsequent miscarriage. Over 75 percent of CPC websites highlighted negative psychological effects such as “postabortion distress”, which is not medically recognized. (Few people regret their abortions, with 97 percent feeling relieved.)
During the 2021 election campaign, the federal Liberal Party promised to “no longer” provide charitable tax status to anti-choice groups, specifically giving as an example CPCs that engage in “dishonest counselling.”
CPCs do not meet the requirements for health-related charitable activities as defined by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) because they spread inaccurate information and rarely provide actual healthcare. Instead, CPCs pose a threat to Canadians’ well-being by reinforcing harmful abortion stigma and by fostering guilt and fear in those considering abortion, which can lead to mental health trauma. CPCs also fail the charitable “public benefit” test when they spread medical misinformation and ideological propaganda that is not based on sound research or evidence. The CRA requires that charities be “truthful, accurate, and not misleading.”
Most CPCs obtained charity status for the purpose of “relieving poverty”, likely because they also hand out free items like diapers and baby clothes. As for anti-choice advocacy groups, over two dozen obtained charity status prior to the 1988 Supreme Court Morgentaler decision that decriminalized abortion. Since abortion is now a protected fundamental right, these “right to life” groups no longer serve any public benefit – indeed, their activities conflict with government obligations to uphold Charter rights, prevent gender discrimination, and ensure accessible healthcare.
The CRA should interpret charitable guidelines in a modernized way that recognizes Charter and human rights and requires charities to respect them. For example, it could adopt criteria similar to the Canada Summer Jobs program, which disqualifies an organization from hiring students if its activities advocate discrimination or “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.”
The Liberal government must fulfill its promise now. Canadians want to feel confident that charities do good works and are worthy of their donations. Indeed, having charitable tax status can significantly enhance an organization’s ability to fundraise, not just because it can offer tax receipts but due to the legitimacy that charitable status bestows. Anti-choice charities do not deserve such legitimacy because of their unethical and biased practices. We call for new groups to be refused charitable status, and for existing anti-choice groups to have their charity status reviewed and revoked accordingly.
To learn more about this grassroots advocacy group that defends the legal right to abortion and works to improve access to reproductive healthcare, visit www.arcc-cdac.ca