Controversy over video comparing abortion to Holocaust shown in Catholic high school
Published Wednesday, April 12, 2017 9:45AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 12, 2017 8:34PM EDT
The Alberta government is being urged to investigate the state of the province’s sexual education curriculum after an anti-abortion group showed a video comparing abortion to the Holocaust to students at a Catholic high school in Red Deer, Alta. in March.
The three-minute video titled “The Case Against Abortion: Personhood” was presented by a member of the organization Red Deer and Area Pro Life during a presentation to a Grade 10 class at École Secondaire Notre Dame.
In text scrolling across the screen, the video’s authors draw a parallel between abortion and “Hitler’s scheme” in 1939 “by which severely disabled children could be murdered.” The video, produced by an agency called Abort73, goes on to defend human embryos and fetuses as having a “personal, rational nature.”
The Abort73 website indicates that it is a non-profit online resource “designed to creatively and comprehensively educate students about the injustice of abortion.”
Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen told CTV’s Red Deer Bureau on Tuesday that a student brought the presentation to his attention. He said the ministry was forced to tell the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division about the video’s use in its schools.
“We were the ones that informed them, which I found quite concerning, because it’s their responsibility to ensure the integrity of what is being used in their classrooms,” said Eggen.
Eggen described the presentation as “hateful propaganda” and that it has no place in a publicly-funded school.
“If this is taking place in any other classrooms across the province, I want to hear about it,” he said. “The presentation was inappropriate and misleading, using incorrect information and quite frankly frightening.”
The school division has since banned that particular video after discussions with the minister but the Red Deer and Area Pro Life group is still allowed to present in the classrooms. However, the division said they would be taking additional steps to screen outside agencies in a statement emailed to CTV News.
“The intended outcome of this presentation was to teach our students that human life must be respected and protected,” the statement said. “The division has requested Red Deer and Area Pro Life make adjustments to their presentations to ensure it’s more appropriate for students.”
Guy Pelletier, a board chairperson for the school division, said in a follow-up email that the anti-abortion group delivers presentations to the Grade 10 religion class once per term.
Anti-abortion group responds
A spokesperson for Red Deer and Area Pro Life, Joel Soodsma, said he understands why some viewers might find their video disturbing, but they stand by the comparison.
“Will we continue to show that video? Probably not. Will we continue to use that example, that comparison? Definitely so,” Soodsma said during a phone interview CTV Edmonton’s Red Deer Bureau. “We believe it’s a fair comparison, and when you look in history at people, groups that were denied legal protection, the atrocities are horrendous.”
Soodsma called Eggen’s label of the video as hateful propaganda “disturbing” and said he hopes the government changes its stance on sexual education in public schooling.
“I can’t see it as propaganda. It’s certainly a political agenda,” he said. “We’d like to see the law changed.”
More provincial oversight
Cristina Stasia, the founder of the organization Assessing Information not Myths (AIM), which claims to address “gaps in the Alberta education curriculum” on their website, said she’s concerned about the incident in Red Deer.
“We do know that students have complained about this group and presentation in the past and we know this group presented to the teachers during a PD day and the teachers went to the principal and brought their concerns forward,” Stasia said. “There were alarm bells raised before but this group is allowed to continue to present in schools anyway.”
The AIM founder described the anti-abortion group’s video as “fear-based” and “medically inaccurate.” She said the members of her organization were frustrated when they learned about the presentation and the information it shared to students.
“In Catholic school systems discussions of abortions and reproductive rights are important but giving students misinformation, giving them medically inaccurate information, scientifically inaccurate information, myths, shaming sexual assault survivors, that’s not part of having an honest conversation,” Stasia said.
AIM is calling for more provincial oversight and intervention in the sexual education curriculum to ensure that students receive correct information.
The education minister said he’s working on adjustments to the Health and Sexual Education curriculum but that they’re dealing with this incident first. Eggen said the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division has been asked to explain how and why the video presentation occurred.
With a report from CTV’s Red Deer Bureau’s Taylor Oseen