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."
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.
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.
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