Controversy in Lethbridge! Fears of Perversion, Immorality, and Change in 1974
In January 1973 the Lethbridge Birth Control and Information Centre (LBCIC) opened its doors. The LBCIC was run by Judy Burgess, a young nurse who had just finished her schooling at the Galt School of Nursing. Burgess was supported by local doctors, Lloyd Johnston and Robert Hall, and the LBCIC was established next to the Haig Clinic in an old heritage house.
The centre provided literature, out-reach seminars, and counseling on birth control. The centre was supported by many students, women’s liberation activists, local doctors, and city officials. In fact, the LBCIC Board of Governors included Dr. Johnston, Dr. Hall, the City Manager, and a local high school Principal.
The support for the LBCIC was confronted by another group of Lethbridge locals who thought it was immoral to say the least. In 1974 the Community Services Advisory Committee recommended the city pull all municipal funding from the LBCIC and close it down for good. This recommendation caused uproar on both sides: supporters advocating for free access to information and women’s reproductive health, and the protestors calling for moral parental education on birth control.
City Council was flooded with letters of support and protest of the LBCIC. A total of 138 letters opposing the centre were sent, almost all within the month of April. Only 35 letters of support were sent to City Council but three petitions, bearing 893 signatures, accompanied them.
Many citizens in opposition of the LBCIC used their titles of parent, taxpayer, and citizen to give them authority on the issue of birth control information and education. Some also used their occupations in the same aspect. A small number of doctors and nurses, and one clergyman wrote in opposition of the LBCIC. Many of the protestors referred to the center as ‘disgusting’ and ‘immoral’ and the literature distributed ‘perverse’ and ‘pornographic’. Many of them argued that birth control education should be taught in the home and by parents so moral, family, and religious values could be instilled in Lethbridge youth.
Those who supported the LBCIC advocated for equal rights and access to birth control information. Many supporters, such as Rita Moir, editor at the time of the independent university newspaper The Meliorist, believed the LBCIC “produced positive responses in informed people.” Many citizens asked City Council to consider that the LBCIC “fulfills a much needed educational service in the areas of birth control, VD, and adolescent sexuality that has not been available elsewhere.” Many of the support came from the large post-secondary community, including the college and university student unions, the Meliorist staff, various professors, and staff from the Galt School of Nursing, Lethbridge College, and the University of Lethbridge.
The city continued to fund the LBCIC until 1978 when they closed. The next year, in 1979, the Lethbridge Health Unit took over the services and opened the Family Planning Centre. The Lethbridge Health Unit still provides these services today through the Sexual Health Clinic.
This local controversy occurred only five years after the Canadian government decriminalized birth control and abortion (1969). Therefore, free and legal access to birth control and abortion information was relatively new. This paired with the prevalent religious groups in Lethbridge and surrounding communities made for a strong resistance against the LBCIC.
The LBCIC was part of a much larger national birth control and reproductive rights movement in the 1970s. Similar feminist and student initiatives like the Vancouver Women’s Caucus’ abortion caravan (1970) and the McGill Birth Control Handbook (1968). These are just a few examples of birth control activism in Canada. However, the LBCIC is significant because it has never been researched before. In fact, Albertan reproductive rights activism and its social responses have been left out of the history of the Canadian birth control movement and women’s movement.
If you would like to see some of the LBCIC’s newsletters and articles, or if you would like to learn more about the 1974 controversy in Lethbridge visit the Galt Archives! You can find the accession numbers on our online database by searching “Birth Control Information Centre.”
By Karissa Patton
Karissa Patton is a fourth-year History major at the University of Lethbridge who is interested in Southern Alberta Women’s History. This spring she is the archives assistant social media contributor for the Galt Museum & Archives, earning Applied Studies credit while sharing stories uncovered in the archives.