EDMONTON – Birthright provides a listening ear for every pregnant woman facing a time of turmoil.
"We just need to listen to them, and find out what they want," said Pat Borgersen, a past director of Birthright Edmonton. "For the most part, women don't want to have an abortion."
Borgersen said it is the right of every pregnant woman to give birth and the right of every child to be born.
Yet when a woman has an unplanned pregnancy, her family, boyfriend, husband or other close influences may pressure her into aborting her baby.
Birthright offers women an alternative. It helps any woman who feels distressed by an unplanned pregnancy. Providing emotional support and practical assistance to women is the top priority of Birthright volunteers. They handle phone calls at the office, especially those from girls and women who feel distressed about being pregnant.
They also welcome and assist women who come in for free pregnancy testing, or who wish to talk about pregnancy-related concerns.
"Sometimes you only get to speak to these women once, and hopefully plant the seed in their heads that whatever choice they make is going to be a hard one, whether they choose to have the baby, place the baby for adoption or decide on an abortion," said Borgersen.
She wants the women to look ahead at their lives five or 10 years from now, and be able to live comfortably with the decision they have made.
Birthright allows women to ask questions and to explore their options without pressure and without passing judgment. All Birthright services are free. The organization is not affiliated with any religion, political group or public agency.
Birthright does not evangelize, do chastity counselling, show abortion images, picket at abortion clinics, lobby for legislative changes or engage in public debate on abortion. It does not have any religious paraphernalia around its office at suite 108, 11520-100 Ave.
"Most of us are Catholic and our founder, Louise Summerhill, was Catholic, but she felt that religion was not something that needed to be introduced into the equation," said Borgersen.
Summerhill created the Birthright charter in 1968. Its conditions for volunteers are that they do not aid someone in having an abortion, do not conduct anti-abortion counselling and do not encourage a woman to use contraceptives.
Borgersen comes from South Africa. While she loves Canada and is grateful to be here for more than 30 years, she sees the "dark thread" of abortion running through Canadian society, which parallels the extreme racism in her home country.
"I have seen what happens in South Africa when a black life isn't worth what a white life is worth. In the end, everyone's reverence for life is diminished.
"I see the unborn, the weakest and the most fragile, being discriminated against and their lives are not worth what everybody else's lives are worth."
Listed in the phonebook under "abortion alternatives," Birthright gets many callers thinking it is somehow involved with the abortion clinic.
The local organization's biggest problem right now is an extreme lack of volunteers. But it won't be closing its doors any time soon.
"What we need are volunteers from within the community who do not want to work in the office, but are available if the hotline called them and said there's a young woman in your area and she would like a call back," said Borgersen.
Ideally, the organization would like to have enough volunteers so two people can be there at all times.
All volunteers are trained and then partner with an experienced volunteer to develop their practical skills.
The local number is 780-488-0681. The hot line toll free number, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is 1-800-550-4900.
The biggest change that Borgersen has witnessed during her 18 years with Birthright is the means of communication. The downtown Birthright office used to have many women dropping by, showing up to talk face to face. Now the women mostly call on their cell phones.
However, sometimes the phone at the Birthright office does not ring for days, and the volunteers question their importance. Perhaps a reason for losing volunteers is that they know neither their success rate nor see any proof of their effectiveness.
"If somebody needs you, and you're there when they call, you make a difference," said Borgersen.