Birthright Victoria is a non-profit charitable society providing friendship and support to women facing unplanned pregnancy for more than 20 years. Our parent organization, Birthright International, has chapters across Canada, the United States, and Africa, as well as operating a 24/7 North American toll-free Helpline. Birthright is supported by devoted volunteers and private donations.
Birthright began in Toronto, Ontario in 1968, with Louise Summerhill, a busy housewife and mother of seven children who felt something should be done to help women cope with unplanned pregnancy. The grassroots response to her idea was overwhelming, and the Toronto chapter quickly grew into Birthright International, the world’s first international crisis pregnancy service.
Many Birthright volunteers and clients feel a special affection for Louise Summerhill: an ordinary woman who did something extraordinary to help others. Events in her own life helped Louise to understand the feelings pregnant girls might experience, including loneliness, fear of criticism, tension with parents, and even the shock of finding oneself unexpectedly pregnant.
Birthright began very humbly with a one-room office and $300 in the bank, but Louise’s steady leadership and powerful vision ensured that the new pregnancy service survived. In later years, Louise was glad the organization had not begun with lots of money because it caused Birthright to rely on “the good hearts and hard work of volunteers.” All these years later, Birthright remains true to Louise’s original vision of personal, one-to-one contact in the helping relationship. Louise’s Birthright means “approachability and informality” for clients and volunteers alike, rather than bureaucracy and highly structured, business-like environments.
Birthright takes a non-moralistic, non-judgmental approach toward helping women through their pregnancy dilemmas. Louise regretted that some young, unmarried mothers were belittled or ostracized by their relatives: “I can never see anything wrong with any of them.” At Birthright, Louise created the supportive homelike environment they deserved. Moreover, Louise helped to formulate a Charter, followed by Birthright chapters worldwide, to define Birthright’s services, to ensure that pregnant women receive the same considerate treatment at every Birthright center, and to help volunteers preserve Birthright’s outstanding reputation.