Med students call for end to placements at crisis pregnancy centre

Group opposes having students complete program hours at centre that refuses to perform or arrange abortions.

The Star Phoenix 3 minute read July 1, 2021

The University of Saskatchewan campus Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A group of medical students wants the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine to sever all ties to a Saskatoon-based crisis pregnancy centre.

Carissa McGuin, a representative of the group Gender Engagement in Medicine, told Postmedia late Wednesday afternoon that she’d received an email from the college saying an investigation into student placements at the Saskatoon Pregnancy Options Centre (SPOC) will be reopened.

McGuin and the group lodged a complaint with the college in October over the placement of second-year medical students at SPOC as part of required volunteer hours.

SPOC’s website claims the group rejects “pro-life” or “pro-choice” labels. However, the site notes the centre does not “perform or arrange for abortions” and that it hopes clients receiving its services “will choose the gift of life.”

McGuin said SPOC spreads misinformation. She pointed to a section of the organization’s website detailing potential effects of “Post-Abortion Stress,” including thoughts of suicide, psychological “numbing” and “disturbing thoughts about babies and abortion.”

“Post-Abortion Stress syndrome is not a medical diagnosis,” McGuin said. “It’s not recognized by the American Psychiatry Association. It’s not recognized by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, and it was fabricated by crisis pregnancy centres to try and intimidate women out of obtaining abortion care.”

Dr. Manuela Valle-Castro, the College of Medicine’s director of social accountability, said she consulted with college officials after McGuin’s group filed its complaint. She said she supported ending the placements, agreeing with McGuin’s assessment that “Post-Abortion Stress” is a fabricated condition promoted by groups opposed to abortion.

“I was completely clear about how partnering with this organization was a breach,” Valle-Castro said. “From a gender equity perspective, it’s harmful,” she added.

McGuin said she also views the placements as the college giving a tacit endorsement to SPOC.

“We don’t think it is right for an institution who is training the future physicians of Saskatchewan and of Canada to be partnering with this organization that teaches people that it’s OK to persuade a pregnant woman to do what we want her to do.”

The complaint, filed in October, first led to a letter from the college this week announcing that the placements would continue. McGuin said she believes criticism of that decision from students, alumni, faculty and the public prompted the reopening of the file.

A College of Medicine spokesperson confirmed the relationship with SPOC is under review again. A written statement from dean Preston Smith claimed the placements aren’t an endorsement but “offer a means of learning from and about people/patients with varied perspectives and beliefs.” He added that students choose where they go, and can request reassignment if they have concerns after being placed.

A statement from SPOC interim executive director Anne-Marie Hughes also noted the placements are selected by students.

“None of the medical students who made the choice to observe and learn at the centre has ever had a problem during their time here,” she wrote, adding that written reports from students who were involved had “reflected a positive experience of what we offer as a service and what they saw while being here.”

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