Skip

"Women were dying at the hands of butchers and incompetent quacks."
May 29, 2013 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who opened the first abortion clinic in Canada and broke the law in doing so - which resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that criminal laws against abortion were unconstitutional - and who was subsequently made a member of the Order of Canada, has passed away at the age of 90.
posted by mightygodking (87 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
.
posted by GuyZero at 11:22 AM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Jilder at 11:23 AM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by LN at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2013


Thank you, Dr. Morgentaler.

.
posted by scody at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2013


A true hero. Safe journey, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:28 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


.
posted by dry white toast at 11:29 AM on May 29, 2013


I was just about to hit submit. I'll share what I have.
When women who came to his Montreal clinic in the 1960s asked him for help getting an abortion, his first response was to say no. "I hadn't expected the avalanche of requests and didn't realize the magnitude of the problem in immediate, human terms. I answered, 'I sympathize with you. I know your problem, but the law won't let me help you. If I do help you, I'll go to jail, I lose my practice—I have a wife and two children. I'm sorry, but I just can't!'" He changed his mind. Morgentaler started offering abortions in his clinic in 1968, and was charged repeatedly, always acquitted by juries, often had those acquittals overturned by the appeals courts, and was imprisoned for months. Once, he was even tried -- and acquitted -- while he was still in jail. Doctor Henry Morgentaler, Member of the Order of Canada, who fought to overturn abortion law in this country, has died at age 90. [Previously]

Starting in 1976, Morgentaler sought to change the abortion law at the federal level.

Wiki summary of the 1976 decision. He lost.

Wiki summary of the 1988 decision. He won. The existing abortion law was found unconstitutional, and from that day, no criminal laws have regulated abortion in this country. It is controlled by the Canada Health Act instead. A summary of the legal and constitutional issues.

Wiki summary of the 1993 decision. This struck down provincial attempts to outlaw abortion.

While abortion is still not officially legal in Canada at the federal level, it's not illegal, either. Some provinces still offer very limited access to abortion because of their funding choices, not because they have any criminal laws outlawing access.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Morgentaler opened several clinics in major Canadian cities. The Toronto clinic (in its original location on Harbord St.) was firebombed in 1992.

The NFB docu-drama "Democracy on Trial" (60 minutes, will not auto-play): "Paul Cowan's film captures the spirit of the legal battle over abortion waged by Dr. Henry Morgentaler in Quebec and in federal courts between 1970 and 1976. Using a combination of newsreel footage, interviews and re-enactments, this docudrama unravels the complexities of the case that began as a challenge to Canada's abortion laws and turned into a precedent-setting civil rights case."
posted by maudlin at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2013 [40 favorites]


.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2013


Would that one in a hundred were like him.

.
posted by frimble at 11:33 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whatever Stephen Harper and his lot are trying to move Canada towards these days, it will always fundamentally be a country that gave him the highest distinction in the land for fighting for a woman's right to control her body.
posted by dry white toast at 11:33 AM on May 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


.
posted by Pseudology at 11:33 AM on May 29, 2013


The first protest I ever went to was in support of Dr. Morgentaler. A woman shouted at me that I was an evil slut who would burn in hell. I was a 13 year-old virgin. Years later, when I needed an abortion, the services were legal, safe and accessible. Thank you Dr. Morgentaler. Without you, things would have been a lot different.

.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 11:36 AM on May 29, 2013 [21 favorites]


.
posted by tangerine at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2013


.

Hero.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2013


good man, a true street fighter


.
posted by philip-random at 11:40 AM on May 29, 2013


Despite Dr. Morgentaler's heroic work, there's still a lack of reproductive rights in many parts of Canada. There's no abortion service at all in Prince Edward Island, although the PEI Reproductive Rights Organization is working to change that. The province will fund abortions done in Halifax, but PEI women must get a referral and find their own way there.

A recent ruling in New Brunswick (where publically funded abortion requires the approval of two doctors, must be deemed 'medically necessary' and must be performed in a hospital) decided not hear whether the policy violates a doctor’s ability to offer accessible health care, since the doctor "wasn’t directly affected by the abortion policy, she was only acting on behalf of her patients."

Dr. Morgentaler is an inspiration for many people who continue to fight for reproductive rights, and a major reason why Canadians are able to discuss abortion openly and without fear.
posted by ghost dance beat at 11:42 AM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, Canada. Thank you for Dr. Morgentaler.
posted by tilde at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2013


.

Thank you so much, Doctor.
posted by bearwife at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Kitteh at 11:47 AM on May 29, 2013


I was waiting until I got home to post, thanks for this.

I read a book about him when I was...14-ish (aka 1999) that was lying on my parents' basement shelf. I have to assume it was this one, written while he was in his arrest-jury acquittal phase, before the courts sided with him. It was phenomenal book that opened my eyes to the very recent history; my mother at the time worked in a woman's shelter, and we lived on the west coast of Newfoundland, which of course means that access to abortions was limited just due to geography (let alone legality).

Him receiving the OoC was one of the days I felt proudest to be Canadian. I was living in Kelowna, and frequently had to bike past a few elderly abortion protesters, who were there every Thursday on "abortion day".

I moved from Kelowna to Fredericton for law school. We definitely covered the 1988 case, along with some of the other abortion cases - I remember the 1993 Nova Scotia case (mentioned by maudlin) that tried to regulate so heavily the tools used that the courts decided it was "colourable" and should be considered criminal law therefore unconstitutional; discussing the change in laws about whether an appellate court can substitute a guilty verdict for a jury; not to mention the issues surrounding standing for a man to challenge abortion laws (can't remember the name).

Of course, these other changes to the legal landscape that he made are minor compared to the social changes, the vast reduction in stigma for women who choose an abortion, and his efforts to promote rural access.

I am happy that he managed to live such a long life and pass relatively peacefully. He is far up my list of greatest Canadians.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:49 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


.
posted by deadtrouble at 11:50 AM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Token Meme at 11:52 AM on May 29, 2013


.

When I was in grade twelve, my law class took a field trip to see the Nova Scotia government's case against him, and I got to see his attorney Anne Derrick and him, but mostly the prosecutor was talking so I didn't witness any amazing arguments or anything, just the normal process of the law. I don't remember how that case turned out (it was about whether abortions had to be provided in a hospital setting or if his clinics were legal).

I've always regarded him as a hero.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:58 AM on May 29, 2013


Whatever Stephen Harper and his lot are trying to move Canada towards these days...

I think it's one of the strongest testaments to the work of the man that Harper views accesses to abortion as an electric fence he cannot touch.
posted by bonehead at 11:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


Dr. Morgentaler and his legal struggles were regularly featured in the news throughout my childhood, but I didn't understand the momentous nature of the 1988 decision (or the extent of his personal sacrifices leading up to it) until I was in university and learned more about the history of reproductive rights in Canada.

The day he was awarded the Order of Canada, I was so proud of my country--I don't know of many (any?) other places that have honoured someone for protecting women's reproductive rights and fighting for access to safe abortions. The OoC was a recognition long overdue but greatly deserved.

Thank you Dr. Morgentaler.

.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


. Courageous man.
posted by PuppyCat at 12:17 PM on May 29, 2013


A great human being.

Amazing how the presence of just a few like Dr. Morgentaler make me think we're not such awful creatures, despite being hugely outnumbered by morons and shitheads.
posted by maxwelton at 12:23 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever Stephen Harper and his lot are trying to move Canada towards these days...
...
I think it's one of the strongest testaments to the work of the man that Harper views accesses to abortion as an electric fence he cannot touch.


Indeed. One of the factors that may end up bringing down the Harper government is a revolt by his own party over his censoring of the backbenchers. Backbenchers who want to speak about abortion, who he is careful not to let talk because he knows how poorly it will go for the party.

I hope that happens, because it's one more thing we can add to Dr. Morgentaler's list of accomplishments.

not that he needs it.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:27 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by glhaynes at 12:37 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by postcommunism at 12:40 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by kewb at 12:41 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:43 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 12:45 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:04 PM on May 29, 2013


Thank you, Doctor. RIP.

.
posted by aclevername at 1:04 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:09 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by fatehunter at 1:18 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by zadcat at 1:20 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by cadge at 1:23 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:31 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Flashman at 1:32 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:38 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by gompa at 1:40 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:40 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Anitanola at 1:45 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by aniola at 1:46 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:59 PM on May 29, 2013


.

One of my most powerful memories as a young adolescent was my mother, an ER nurse, coming home in tears after a young girl of 14 or so bled out in her arms after a botched back-alley abortion. I watched in horror, helpless, as she broke down completely on the living room sofa.

My mother, in her later years, as a religious person, and was generally a pretty proper woman around us kids. Not that night. She cursed and railed and swore and screamed at the laws that had (indirectly) killed that poor child.

This guy was a hero. He saved lives. End of story. Rest well, Sir.
posted by pjern at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


.
posted by mellifluous at 2:05 PM on May 29, 2013


.
He was what the rest of the human race can only aspire to be.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:09 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Annabelle74 at 2:14 PM on May 29, 2013


Sir.

Thank you for giving my mother a choice where her foremothers had none.

.
posted by Decimask at 2:15 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:34 PM on May 29, 2013


From the NY Times, a pretty good summary of what the man went through:
Dr. Morgentaler, who had survived Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Dachau and emigrated from Poland to Canada after World War II, basically founded the Canadian abortion-rights movement in the late 1960s.

Over the years he opened abortion clinics in major cities across the country, trained hundreds of doctors to perform abortions and said that he personally performed tens of thousands of them.

He was threatened with death, attacked with garden shears, roughed up by a mob, caricatured as a baby butcher, splashed with ketchup and accused of fomenting violence. He escaped injury when one of his clinics was firebombed. After several abortion doctors were shot, he began wearing bulletproof vests and installed bulletproof windows at home.
I lived just steps away from the Harbord Clinic for three years in the 80s. In fact, one house that I lived in during that time literally shared back alley access with the clinic.

The clinic was sometimes the site of noisy protests, but most often, a typical protest was composed of fewer than ten bored Catholic school students trudging back and forth in the slush in front of the clinic. I remember going to a rally for Morgentaler at U of T's Convocation Hall in 1988 or 1989 (most likely 1988, after that court victory), being part of a huge cheering crowd, and comparing it with the relatively small protests I saw at 85 Harbord.

So it was especially shocking to wake up to the news of the firebombing in 1992. No one was hurt or killed, but it was still hard to believe that this had happened. It was one thing to watch the escorts bring women in every day, and to intellectually understand that the clinic had a lot of other security in place, but I had never expected to see targeted destruction like that.

The attempted murders of doctors who performed abortions started in 1994. The most recent attempt was in 2000. I would like to say "the last attempt", but I was too complacent once before, wasn't I?
posted by maudlin at 2:43 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


.

While abortion is still not officially legal in Canada at the federal level, it's not illegal, either.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Abortion in Canada doesn't live in some sort of quasi legal no-mans land (like say exists in the states for medical marijauna). It's legal and the Canada Health Act requires that abortions be covered by provincial health plans.
posted by Mitheral at 3:03 PM on May 29, 2013


Mortgentaler's first wife (they divorced in 1975), Chava Rosenfarb, would be recognized as one of Canada's greatest writers, if not for the fact that she did not write in English. CBC Ideas had a documentary about her life and her masterwork, Tree of Life, but it's not online anymore.

They were two remarkable citizens of the world who should be remembered by all Canadians.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:05 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
posted by MelanieL at 3:11 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:23 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by 1066 at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by iamabot at 4:07 PM on May 29, 2013


Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who opened the first abortion clinic in Canada and broke the law in doing so - which resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that criminal laws against abortion were unconstitutional

I was there that day; my parents brought me to see the protests outside. I was 13 years old or so, barely formed.

I didn't learn this until much later, but to give this some historical colour this was before the religious right had completed their about-face on abortion, before a women's right to own their own bodies was being used as electoral wedge issue.

I've got some pretty vivid memories of it, though, and you know what I remember most? Men. All these people protesting against a woman's right to own their own bodies, and virtually none of them - certainly none that I can remember - were, in fact, women.

So, that's informative.

Thank you, Dr. Morgentaler. We are a better country for your work.
posted by mhoye at 4:16 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by antiquated at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2013


For many reasons, I have cause to be grateful to this man.

.
posted by ChrisR at 4:28 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by marylynn at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2013


. RIP, hero
posted by Fibognocchi at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:52 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Freyja at 5:48 PM on May 29, 2013


.
Canada is a better place because of you and your work.
Thank you
posted by dougzilla at 5:55 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:58 PM on May 29, 2013


.

I will always remember him first for his work in solidarity with women, of course, but my favourite story about Henry Morgentaler is my friend's ...

Very soon after the clinic was destroyed by bombing, Montreal indie rock/ska band, Me, Mom and Morgentaler (fittingly) played a concert in support and to raise funds for the clinic. My friend attended, and at one point looked across the packed bar to see Dr. Morgentaler there, having a pint, looking exhausted, but still there watching the band play.
posted by chapps at 6:29 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


.
posted by kentk at 6:45 PM on May 29, 2013


.

We need more people with his courage and moral fibre.
posted by arcticseal at 7:16 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:19 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Defying Gravity at 7:43 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Go Banana at 7:46 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by peppermind at 7:58 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Phalene at 8:25 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by furtive at 9:06 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by anadem at 9:25 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by dipping_sauce at 9:55 PM on May 29, 2013



posted by nickyskye at 10:06 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by Canageek at 10:36 PM on May 29, 2013


.
posted by susanbeeswax at 12:51 AM on May 30, 2013



posted by nickyskye at 11:06 PM on May 29 [+] [!]


Clever. Assholish and clever.
posted by converge at 4:16 AM on May 30, 2013


I thank the Doctor for the continuing lives of many of my friends.
posted by converge at 4:19 AM on May 30, 2013


A good reminder of the world Dr. Morgentaler fought against, and which we still must fight against:
This is the culture of life that abortion foes are trying to protect: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of El Salvador upheld, by a 4 – 1 vote, its strict ban on abortion, refusing to allow a 22-year-old woman to end her pregnancy. That woman, and her baby, are likely now going to die.

The woman, known only Beatriz, is 26 weeks pregnant and has been suffering from lupus and kidney problems, which have worsened as her fetus has grown. The baby, meanwhile, has anencephaly – a developmental disorder in which parts of the brain and skull are missing. In affirming its decision, the court declared that “the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus.
posted by scody at 10:41 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older Dhcmrlchtdj!   |   An Alternative History of 11... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post