Support for life: A conversation with Dr. Laura Lewis By Jean-Paul Beran on Mar 20, 2024

For many years, Focus on the Family Canada has supported local pregnancy centres across the country by providing printed resources, program development, financial support and assistance in establishing local centres.

After working for 22 years as a family physician, Dr. Laura Lewis now serves as the executive director of Pregnancy Care Canada, a best-practice Christian national association of over 80 pregnancy care centres. The organization is committed to helping establish and equip local pregnancy care centres across Canada to provide compassionate support, medically accurate information, and practical options for women and men facing an unexpected pregnancy.

Get to know Dr. Lewis in this conversation!

Blessings,

Jean-Paul Beran, MA
President
Focus on the Family Canada

What drew you into the medical field as a professional?

I never thought I would go into medicine as a career. I grew up in a business family, was good at math, loved accounting, and always thought I would go into business. I went to university and completed a four-year business degree, yet at the end of that time, I realized I didn’t have much passion for business, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pursue it as a career. However, I did wonder if I could use my degree to help in the developing world.

This resulted in me travelling to Haiti for eight weeks, where I volunteered with a medical team and had the opportunity to visit hospitals, orphanages, a home for boys, and Mother Teresa’s home for the dying. I was not a Christian then, and I didn’t know that missionaries were Christians, but I was very impacted by their work. Upon my return home, I felt led to pursue a career in medicine. So, I returned to university and embarked on another eight years of study to become a family physician.

Sometimes, younger women ask me, “What was your career path that led to where you are now?” I’ll respond that it was a zig-zag journey and a very indirect path. It was a gradual understanding that although we may make plans, it is God who orders our steps. Looking back, I see that although I had many plans, God was directing my steps even when I didn’t know him.

What led you to your position with Pregnancy Care Canada?

For the first ten years of my medical practice, I was not a Christian. Although I grew up occasionally going to church, I had no understanding of Christianity or a particular worldview. I was socialized by the medical system and tried hard to meet its standards – to measure up, work harder, and run faster. Not surprisingly, after ten years, I started to burn out. I remember one Friday afternoon, I was about to start being on call for the weekend, and I had a moment of questioning, “Is this all there is to life?” Even though I was happily married, had two great kids and had a wonderful practice, I knew something was missing and that there was more to life.

At this time, a medical colleague invited me on a mission trip. For two weeks, I joined a group of mostly Christians, and we went into the mountains of Guatemala. It was there that I encountered God, and that I witnessed the passage in John where he says, “They will know us by our love and how we love one another.” That is what I saw: Christians loving each other and loving others. My hardened heart was softened and I came back from that trip radically impacted by the Lord.

Up until this time, I had referred women for abortions as part of my medical practice and didn’t think anything of it. I felt it was part of how we provided care to women. In my medical training, abortion was compartmentalized. It was separate from my understanding of embryology and the miracle of new life. I didn’t yet have a revelation of the sanctity of life, but I knew there was a mismatch between my new Christian faith and my understanding of abortion.

This realization of the value of each life started with a young woman in our community who had Down Syndrome. I observed how her parents cared for her and loved her, and I saw how she impacted others with her joy and curiosity. This observation made me wonder what right we had as a medical profession to selectively terminate babies with Down Syndrome. Around the same time, a friend who had been adopted at birth connected with me. She had recently met her birthmother and learned of the difficult life and little support her birthmother had received after placing her child for adoption. My friend knew that better support was needed and that we needed to provide help for individuals going through these massively challenging decisions. So, together with her and a small group of women, we set up a local pregnancy care centre. As a physician, I would often advise patients to carefully consider all their options, but there were no resources in our community to provide the practical help, time, and space that was needed. The local pregnancy care centre filled this gap, and Pregnancy Care Canada was instrumental in helping us; without their help, I don’t think we would have succeeded in getting established.

A few years after opening our local centre, Pregnancy Care Canada invited me to join their board of directors. Later, when the current executive director retired, one of our board members looked at me and said, “Well, Laura, why don’t you become the executive director?” I said, “No.” But then I started to wake up at night with ideas about the opportunities, challenges, and importance of Pregnancy Care Canada, and I realized that the Lord had already been prompting me to make a change in my work. Eventually, I said “yes” and I left my family medicine work to take on this role. I have been in this role for almost eight years now, and I love it. (Most of it!)

In your experience as a family physician and at Pregnancy Care Canada, what were the most cited reasons and circumstances that influenced choosing an abortion?

I would say that the most common reason women choose abortion is that they feel the timing of the pregnancy is not right. Other reasons may include housing insecurity, lack of finances, and unstable relationships. They may also experience pressure to abort from their family or partner. These are very real pressures that women experience. Data and research suggest that most women already know what they will do by the time they confirm their pregnancy. So, the time gap between confirming a pregnancy and deciding to have an abortion is often very narrow. Our hope is that more women will discover the support available through local pregnancy care centres and online resources, and they will pause and take time to reflect on this major life decision.

What support do expectant fathers need during an unexpected pregnancy? And what support do men need following an abortion loss?

Men have often been misled to think they have no say in what happens in an unexpected pregnancy. They may believe that the right thing to say is, “I’ll support you in whatever you want to do,” but this actually leaves women feeling like they have to make the decision alone and that isn’t true support. A big part of what we want to help men know is, “You are part of this. You are an integral part of what is happening here. You are part of the solution moving forward. We want to make sure you feel included.” It may look different for each couple regarding how that help is accessed. A man might want to access support separately from the woman. At our local pregnancy care centre, some men attend parenting classes with their partners to learn basic parenting skills.

Men experience grief from abortion as well. For a long time, no one was speaking about the impact of abortion on men. A few years ago, the CBC invited men to call in and share their abortion experiences. It was very powerful to hear men speak – some expressing regret about their role in a partner’s abortion. Maybe they paid for it, or they forced the issue, but there were also the men who never had a say, who felt they had lost fatherhood and had no option.

We want men to know that they have a place in this discussion and that their input is valued and needed.

What is the one thing you wish both the Christian community and the general public understood about the need for Pregnancy Care Canada?

Abortion is a topic that many people would rather ignore. It can silence a room, and people tend to avoid it. When we avoid things and don’t openly discuss the challenges and hurt, people who have been negatively impacted don’t know or understand that support, help, and care is available. When we don’t talk about things, false narratives can come forth: “It’s no big deal, and you should be proud of your abortion.” That’s the voice that is heard in our culture. At Pregnancy Care Canada and our affiliated centres, we hear women and men who say, “I didn’t know this would be so hard. I feel such grief. I don’t know how to process this. I don’t feel I can talk to anyone.” Even in my own practice, I had patients who said to me, “You’re the only person who knows about my abortion. I’m so glad that my parents died without ever knowing about it.” There is a tremendous degree of secrecy and shame. We need to create a welcoming space where Christians and non-Christians can enter and feel secure and safe to talk about what has happened in their lives.

A few years ago, I went with a small team to Japan. We travelled to many locations and taught about post abortion grief. One of the speakers said these words that stuck with me: “The healing journey after an abortion is for a woman to go from being a woman who has had an abortion to being a mother who has lost a child.” That is a deep and hard journey to enter, and not everyone is willing to do that, but all of us in the Pregnancy Care Canada network are willing to go into these areas where no one else wants to go. We want to bring compassion, hope, kindness, and gentleness, and we want to do it with the love of Jesus Christ. Whether people are interested in pursuing a journey of faith or not, we can still ensure that everything we do is governed by the overarching belief that every person has value regardless of where they have been, what they have done, or where they are going.