ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia — Attempting to reach a wider secular audience, new pro-life groups in Canada are downplaying the movement’s religious roots as part of a new communication strategy.

Two such efforts are Signal Hill and ProWomanProLife.

Signal Hill describes itself on as a human rights advocacy group “that provides information on life issues, women’s health and family support.”

The organization operates out of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, where it was formerly known as Pro-Life B.C.

The human rights group spent the past summer rebranding itself as Signal Hill, in honor of the location where Italian-Canadian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic radio signal.

The rebranding signifies a new communication strategy for the pro-life organization, said David Williams, the organization’s chairman who oversaw the process.

The rebranding was necessary to reach the general public, who harbor negative stereotypes about pro-life activists, Williams said.

These stereotypes have resulted in abortion and other life issues no longer being debated within Canadian society, he said. “Those who defend life are largely dismissed as religious extremists and even terrorists.”

By focusing on the health of the mother and alternatives to abortion, Signal Hill hopes to overcome bias from nonreligious and anti-religious individuals.

“Religious people already agree with us. It’s the others we need to reach,” Williams said. “We think abortion is chosen because it is viewed as the least unpleasant alternative. Our job is to show more pleasant alternatives. We want to make abortion disappear by choice.”

Williams’ view is shared by Yvonne Douma, executive director of Signal Hill. “We felt that our message wasn’t being heard,” Douma said. “One of our mandates is education, and we felt that we were being stopped at the door.”

Thus, Signal Hill continues B.C. Pro-Life’s outreach to women contemplating abortion and women who have procured abortions, Douma said.

Multiple Approaches

The rebranding has allowed the organization to reach a wider, more secular audience that does not harbor strong views on abortion, she said, opening new opportunities to share information about the physical and psychological dangers of abortion.

Signal Hill also provides pregnant women with a support structure for keeping their babies.

Douma estimates that 15% of Canadians are pro-life and another 15% are pro-abortion.

“We want to reach the 70% in the middle,” she said, adding that this target group often shies away from arguments based on religion.

Yet, not every pro-life activist in the province is sold on the new approach.

Sissy von Dehn has spent more than 30 years as a pro-life organizer in British Columbia, leading weekly pickets at abortion clinics and fighting “bubble zone” laws that place limits on how close demonstrators can approach abortion facilities.

The rebranding is the latest step through which British Columbia’s pro-life movement is excluding activists from participating in the abortion debate, von Dehn said, citing new restrictions on the activities of what had been a grass-roots pro-life organization.

Previous steps included prohibitions against placards at pro-life rallies and tighter controls over who organizes pro-life events, she said.

These restrictions have discouraged people who feel strongly about the issue from remaining active within the movement, she said.

Additionally, the new brand will lose its edge once the public catches on, von Dehn said. “Once most people know what Signal Hill is and that it’s opposed to abortion, it won’t make any difference.”

Multiple approaches are needed to advance a culture of life in Canada, said Andrea Mrozek, the founder of ProWomanProLife (

The website brings together educated women from around the country to advance the pro-life message from a nonreligious and woman-centered perspective.

The group’s motto is “Canada without abortion. By choice.”

Mrozek became interested in the issue after researching and publishing an article on sex-selection abortions in Canada’s various cultural communities.

While ProWomanProLife is specifically nonreligious, it does not discourage religious people from engaging in the abortion debate.

“We’re just trying to tackle one element of the debate, which is the false notion abortion is a woman’s right and does good things for women,” Mrozek said. “I wanted to have a woman’s voice on the issue, to stress that being pro-life is really a pro-woman stand.”

Nevertheless, Mrozek has come under criticism by some of the country’s leading pro-life activists, who feel that religion cannot be separated from the abortion debate.

‘It Doesn’t Work’

While not mentioning Mrozek or Signal Hill by name, editor John-Henry Westen is critical of the secular approach.

“Those who are suggesting this approach are likely new to the movement,” Westen said. “We’ve been there, done that. It doesn’t work.”

Canada’s pro-life movement began as a secular movement that deliberately excluded mention of religion, Westen said, and the approach failed because the heavily-Christian membership felt too disconnected from the organization and its leadership.

“The way most people come to the pro-life movement is through their faith,” he said.

Bill Murphy and Al Walker are pro-life activists from the small border community of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Between them they share almost 30 years of local pro-life organizational experience. Both agree that multiple approaches are needed to promote the pro-life message in Canada — and that no reasonable approach should be excluded.

“I don’t think we should distance ourselves from religion, but I feel we should welcome secular people who share our position,” Walker said.

Murphy added, “I think we should welcome any person, from any religion and from no religion, who is pro-life. But we shouldn’t go out of our way to downplay religion. My pro-life position flows from my faith.”

Pete Vere is based in

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.