The Facebook page for BayB Boutique says it’s a high-end upscale thrift shop, a social enterprise where 100 percent of profits go to charity. But for the children’s used clothing store, nestled into a strip mall between a pharmacy and a taxi call centre at 3548 Novalea Drive, this innocent description hides a much different intent: preventing abortion access in the province.
Facebook posts indicate that this month, the thrift shop is undergoing a change in ownership that will see it go from being a locally-owned independent business to part of Open Door Centre, a Canadian Christian organization that promotes religion and operates what’s known as a “pregnancy crisis centre.” Former shop owner Hayley Mills says in a Facebook post that she is “not affiliated what so ever with this organization” and the sale of the store was motivated by COVID’s challenges in owning a business.
“These organizations exist to talk people out of abortion and to misinform them about abortion,” says Martha Paynter, founder of health and justice organization Wellness Within in Halifax and PhD candidate in nursing at Dalhousie University. “Abortion is incredibly common, incredibly safe in Canada, one hundred percent decriminalized.”
Open Door Centre’s Halifax office (not to be confused with Dartmouth’s Open Door opioid clinic) moved out of its Spring Garden Road office in 2020 and is now located in a residential building at 3897 Novalea Drive, just a few blocks away from the thrift shop. The website claims it’s a “healthy life choices centre” offering pregnancy tests, miscarriage and “post-abortion” support and “education on all pregnancy-related options.” But the centre doesn’t provide any medical services on-site or indicate it has any medical professionals or mental health professionals on staff.
Vulnerable youth are most at risk of being targeted by the centre and coerced out of abortions, but Paynter that anyone could be fooled by the vague language of a “social enterprise.” and donate without knowing the organization’s values. “I think everybody is vulnerable to their messaging because we do such a poor job about educating the public about abortion,” she says. “Anyone can be misinformed.”
Instead of seeking support at crisis pregnancy centres, Paynter recommends the Halifax Sexual Health Centre to discuss pregnancy options without judgement, or calling the provincial self-referral abortion line (1-833-352-0719) to get the process started.
“You should not ever call a crisis pregnancy centre,” she says. “because they will not provide you factual, ethical evidence-based information about pregnancy or reproductive health.”
According to a list compiled by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, there are eight anti-choice groups operating in Nova Scotia, including Birthright Halifax-Dartmouth, Project Rachel and the Valley Care Pregnancy Centre, which is associated with Heartbeat International, one of the largest anti-abortion organizations in the world.
The Open Door Centre, which is owned and operated by Heather and Chris Harman, is on that list. Heather Harman picked up the phone at BayB Boutique today, its “grand re-opening” Monday as part of Open Door Centre, but refused to give any comment to The Coast.
In 2014, The Coast reported on the anti-choice ads the centre had taken out on Halifax Transit buses. Then in 2018, we reported how the centre targeted trafficking victims and refused to provide medical records to past clients. The Harmans are also involved with Power 2 Change Ministry, a BC-based faith organization that does mission work, and Athletes in Action Canada, a faith-based group centred around targeting youth through sports.
Open Door’s Pregnancy Pathways website does mention abortion, but only in the context that “some women believe that abortion is their best and only option” and “other women feel pressured to consider abortion.”
Given that Open Door is closed when it comes to transparency, some people are upset that it's taking over a public shop like BayB. “People need to know what these people do,” says Ardath Whynacht, a professor of sociology at Mount Allison University, in a series of tweets about the centre. “Our kids deserve better. Youth in crisis deserve better.”
It's not entirely clear which day the BabyBBoutique changes hands to the predatory youth abuse center, but it looks sometime around March 21st - 26th. Wanna protest it with me? Ppl need to know what these people do. Our kids deserve better. Youth in crisis deserve better.— Dr. Ardath Whynacht (@ArdathJean) March 15, 2022
Paynter hopes all HRM residents will realize where money from the thrift shop ends up, and refrain from donating items or money to allow it to perpetuate clandestine anti-abortion doctrines. “It’s always wise for any consumer to think critically about what charities they may be supporting with their dollars or their donations.”
While she does worry about public education around abortion, Paynter isn’t worried about Nova Scotia going in the direction of Texas—where abortions are illegal after six weeks—because access to abortion is fundamentally protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We have the right to abortion, at any gestational age, everywhere in this country,” she says. “And a little thrift store is not going to change that.”