07/11/2014 02:35 EDT | Updated 09/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Alberta abstinence workshop 'science-based,' group says

The abstinence-focused sexual education workshops that prompted a human rights complaint from an Alberta high school student are based on solid science and careful research, according to the pro-life group that teaches them.

"We are there by invitation," said Jutta Wittmeier, director of the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre.

Eighteen-year-old Emily Dawson has filed a human rights complaint over a workshop that the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre put on at McNally High School last year, which she says misled students about contraception, sexually transmitted infections and other issues in an effort to push abstinence.

She also said the instructor refused to answer questions posed from a homosexual classmate about her own sexual activities.

"That was highly disappointing," Dawson told CBC News.

Hear Emily Dawson's full interview with CBC's Radio Active

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The Edmonton and Calgary care centre are run independently, although they are part of the same network and are both affiliated with Care-Net, a U.S.-based Christian pro-life group.

The Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre refused to comment on the complaint. However, Wittmeier said the group’s workshops are based on scientific principles and figures from Statistics Canada and Alberta Health Services.

"While we have a faith background, the religious part does not come up in the public school or education," she said.

"That’s just not part of the program. It’s science- and research-based."

She said teachers are in the room during the presentation, and she "can’t imagine" they wouldn’t step in if the students were given misleading information. Wittmeier said that her group is specifically invited to talk about abstinence, and that it only makes up a small part of the larger Alberta sex ed curriculum.

"We, in reality, recognize... that while abstinence is a good choice, it is not the only choice. We talk about STIs, we talk about, to some degree, birth control, obviously.

We want students to be as safe as possible."

The sex-ed curriculum for Alberta's Career and Life Management class, which is mandatory for all students in public high schools, includes directions for educators to "describe sexually healthy actions and choices for one’s body, including abstinence" as well as to "analyze strategies for choosing responsible and respectful sexual expression."

The Alberta Human Rights Commission has now accepted Dawson's complaint.

Hear Jutta Wittmeier describe the workshop on Edmonton AM

On mobile? Listen here