Dr. Henry Morgentaler

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-10-2007
Dr. Henry Morgentaler
Wed, 08-22-2007 - 1:54pm

I am sure that many of you have heard of Henry Morgentaler but I thought that I would put the name out there as a reminder of the kind of people who may have helped shape our own views. Morgentaler is an unlikely Canadian hero – and definitely not a hero for many people. Being Pro-Choice, I believe that his actions and accomplishments are extremely commendable and there is no denying that he has had an important impact on Canadian abortion laws.

I have compiled a brief history from various sites that I will list at the bottom of this discussion.

Henry Morgentaler was born in Poland in 1923 and came to Canada in 1950. Being an Auschwitz survivor shaped many of his later views and actions, which is apparent in statements he made in 2005 when he was awarded a controversial honourary degree from the University of Western Ontario: “I am a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, that orgy of cruelty and inhumanity of man to man. I have personally experienced suffering, oppression and injustice inflicted by men beholden to a racist, dogmatic and irrational ideology. To have had the opportunity to diminish suffering and injustice has been very important to me. Reproductive freedom and good access to medical abortion means that women will be able to give life to wanted babies at a time when they can provide love, care and nurturing. Well-loved children grow into adults who do not build concentration camps; do not rape and do not murder. They are more likely to enjoy life, to love and care for each other and the larger society.”

1967 – Morgentaler stepped in front ot a Government of Canada committee, stating that any woman should have the right to a safe abortion. Nearly 40 years later, he counted among his accomplishments the fact that “women no longer die because of botched or self-induced abortions”.

1969 – He illegally opened Canada’s first abortion clinic in Montreal and began openly performing illegal abortions, having been unable to turn women in need away: “women began to show up at his office begging for abortions. He had to look them in the eye and say he could not help them. He was perfectly able to, of course, but it was against the law. ‘I was caught in my own rhetoric. I felt like a coward and a hypocrite.’”

1970 – The doctor is arrested in Quebec for performing an illegal abortion. By 1973, he had performed 5,000 illegal abortions. He is acquitted by a Quebec jury consisting of 11 men and 1 female.

1974 – Five Roman Catholic judges overturned the 1973 jury verdict and Morgentaler was sentenced and imprisoned. Following was 2 more acquittals by 2 different juries, leading to the Morgentaler Ammendment in 1975 (a jury verdict could no longer be overturned on appeal). Later in life, Morgentaler stated “I fight these provincial governments that oppress women. I enjoy fighting them. And I'm sure I'm going to win too. It's a pleasure for me to bring them to court where they would bring me to court.”

1976 – Parti Quebecois announced it would no longer enforce abortion laws in Quebec.

1983 – Morgentaler is arrested in Ontario for procuring illegal miscarriages. The case is eventually sent to the Supreme Court of Canada.

1988 – With the Morgentaler Decision, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the 1969 abortion laws, declaring them to be unconstitutional because they infringed upon a woman's right to "life, liberty and security of the person". Morgentaler himself calls this decision the greatest day of his life: “It was a vindication of everything I believed in. For the first time, it gave women the status of full human beings able to make decisions about their own lives.”

1991 – Prime Minister Brian Mulroney fails at his attempt to pass a law restricting abortion to cases of endangered pregnant women. After the law failed, the government stopped trying to legislate abortion. Since 1988, abortion is considered a private medical matter between a woman and her doctor.

In 2003, Henry Morgentaler was 80 years old and still actively fighting his lifelong cause, planning to open abortion clinics in the Arctic so that Northern women would not have to travel vast distances for the procedure.

“I'm aware someone might pump a few bullets into me. But that won't deter me because I believe what I do is important. We have a safer, better society as a result. I felt it was my duty. And I've never regretted it,” he once said.

There is so much more to this fascinating man and I hope enough of you are interested to check out the links below. As expected, there have been many attacks on Morgentaler’s integrity and personal character by Pro-Life activits (I’ve included one such site from a Pro-Life point-of-view). Regardless of the negativity people aim to dig up, there is absolutely no denying the impact that Morgentaler has had on women’s right to choose in Canada since the 1960’s.

I’d like to hear about what some of you think about Dr. Henry Morgentaler – Pro-Choice, and Pro-Life views welcome…Happy reading!

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/series/morgentaler/ (an excellent Globe and Mail article, including accounts of Morgentaler’s suffering during the Holocaust)

http://communications.uwo.ca/western_news/story.html?listing_id=18832 (Another great article – Morgentaler’s speech at the University of Western Ontario after receiving his honourary degree).

http://www.gargaro.com/abortion/henry.html (Pro-Life criticism of Morgentaler).




iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2007
Wed, 08-22-2007 - 7:50pm
Thanks! That's very interesting - I always wondered why abortion in Canada is "alegal" (no laws for or against) instead of having a defined legal place, and learning that abortion rights were hammered out in the courts instead of the legislature explains it. Who'd'a'thunkit?
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-14-2003
Thu, 08-23-2007 - 9:36am

I was very deeply involved with this issue in Canada right about the time of the SCC rulings.

Abortion was repealed in the Criminal Code of Canada. Through case law, the precedents have made it law that abortion is legal, and a protected right under constitutional law. Seeing that the ruling itself that made case law history was done by the SCC, and there is no higher court in the land, all other courts must follow this precedent.

So, while there isn't a law saying that abortion is illegal (I don't think there is a series of statutes that list all of the "legal" things we can do, only illegal), case law has entrenched abortion within the constitutional rights of personal freedom within Canada.

I imagine that one day this will be challenged in the HoC, but it would have to be a conservative majority ruling party with many years of party announcements and advertisements (read: propaganda) that sway enough Canadians. Our greatest concentration of Pro-life communities are in the Maritimes and in the Prairie provinces. Canada's most densely populated areas are very pro-choice, which translates to we as a country are a pro-choice majority and believe it to be a private matter between a woman and her physician. Our public healthcare system also covers abortion and they are often done in hospitals over private clinics (at least in Ontario).

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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-18-2004
Thu, 08-23-2007 - 1:11pm

What I always found interesting about the maratimes and NL being the most predominantly PL is that they are also the poorest part of the country. I had always thought it would be the other way around. Of course even though we as a community are poor we seem to have less destitution than larger urban areas which may also affect it.

Just my rambling thought

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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2007
Fri, 08-24-2007 - 7:41am
In the US, it's the parts of the nation that have lower educational levels that seem to be PL... I know that's a mean thing to surmise, but it's at least a correlation. Coastal areas with the concentrations of graduate schools, that sort of thing, are PC, and the deep south and Bible belt are PL. Divorce rates are also lower in more highly educated areas.