A recent lecture on post-abortion mental health issues has raised eyebrows at Memorial University, with some professors and students speaking out against the Counselling Center’s support for the talk.

On Thursday, September 25, MUN Campus Chaplaincy and the Counselling Center teamed up with the Christian Medical and Dental Association to present two lectures from Dr. Martha Shuping on post-abortion mental health issues. The lecture prompted protest from Voices for Choice and several faculty and staff.

In her talk, Shuping spoke about instances she had encountered in her career as psychiatrist where women had poor mental health following an abortion. She stressed the importance of faith-based counselling for some women and used the opportunity to promote a service she is associated with, Rachel’s Vineyard. Rachel’s Vineyard is a ministry of Priests for Life, which organizes weekend retreats for “persons who have been involved in the abortion industry.”

Despite being advertised as an information session about how to identify women who may be at risk for mental health issues after having an abortion and counselling techniques for such women, little was said of the public post-abortive services that are available in Canada.

Voices for Choice, a local pro-choice organization, gathered outside the Landing for Shuping’s second presentation holding signs with pro-choice slogans. MUN’s Women’s Resource Centre also erected several pro-choice signs near where the lecture was taking place.

“[Shuping] identified in her presentation earlier this morning, which we attended, as a pro-life doctor—a doctor who wouldn’t support a woman’s request to have an abortion,” said Voices for Choice member Renee Dumaresque.

“By having a demonstration and a talk in our school that is a pro-life message, that’s a form of advocacy,” she said. “[Pro-life] views have the power to inform policy and policy changes laws and access to abortion services.”

Pat Dold, head of MUN’s Department of Gender Studies, wrote an open letter to the Director of the Counselling Centre on behalf of twelve faculty and staff members, outlining their disappointment that the centre would support this kind of talk. They say Shuping’s discussion of abortion was problematic, limited, and often erroneous

“By promoting this event, the Counselling Centre is not only actively promoting the widely discredited approach taken by Shuping, but also excluding a large proportion of the MUN student community who may not hold her religious or political affiliations,” the letter states.

However, Peter Cornish, director of the Counselling Centre, says the lecture was not intended to promote a certain perspective.

“One of the reasons we do this is because we encourage our chaplains to bring events up that are hot topics so we can have people in here like myself asking the right questions to this person,” he said, speaking to the Voices for Choice protesters. “So we considered this academic … we wanted people to feel free and feel safe to ask, to challenge.”

Cornish responded to the controversy with a letter to the editor, which can be read below. He says that while part of their mandate is promoting open discussion on difficult topics, the Counselling Centre is, and always has been, pro-choice.

Cornish says the Counselling Centre will be organizing a panel in the near future in order to bring balance to the discussion.

Both letters can be read here:

Letter to Peter Cornish on behalf of faculty/staff: http://themuse.ca/2014/10/02/letter-facultystaff-criticize-post-abortion-mental-health-lecture/

Letter by Peter Cornish, director of the Counselling Centre, in response to controversy: [http://themuse.ca/2014/10/02/letter-director-of-counselling-centre-responds-to-abortion-and-mental-health-talk-controversy/]