I had just gotten home from shopping today when I heard that Dr. Henry Morgentaler had passed away at the age of 90. Morgentaler, as far as I am concerned is a true Canadian hero. The right to choose may not even have been available to women today had he not actively fought. Morgentaler opened the first clinic in Montreal, Canada in 1969 (note: at the time abortion was illegal in Canada) and eventually opened clinic across Canada.
The government failed to create change after Morgentaler presented a brief before a House of Commons Health and Welfare Committee regarding the dangers of backalley abortions, but had no problem raiding his clinic in Montreal in June of 1970, charging the good doctor with performing illegal abortions. He was tried and acquitted several time and the government continued to prosecute this man. He served 10 months in prison, during which time he suffered from a heart attack. Morgentaler never once wavered from his decision that women should have the right to choose, despite the being continually prosecuted and imprisoned. In each of the provinces that Morgentaler opened a clinic he challenged the law. He faced death threats daily, he was attacked in 1983 by Augusto Dantas with gardening sheers and his clinic in Toronto was fire bombed in 1992.
As a Canadian woman, I am proud to say that Morgentaler is a hero of mine. He refused to look away from the needless deaths of women who died through back alley abortions or through self intervention by things like knitting needles. This fight was not something Morgentaler actively sought to engage in but one he could not deny as a medical professional, once he became aware of the damage the anti-abortion law caused to women. So many women are alive and well today because Morgentaler showed the courage of his convictions.
Even now as news of his death has hit the airwaves, the ignorant are leaving comments calling this man who I believe to be a hero, a murderer and it disgusts me on so many levels. Morgentaler never forced anyone to have an abortion, he simply believed that the right should be available to all women. He believed in reproductive freedom and fought valiantly, as the state was more than happy to sit on its haunches while women died from something that is absolutely preventable. By helping women have safe abortions, he wasn’t committing a murder, he was saving lives and that fact cannot be more clear.
Rest in peace Dr. Morgentaler, your contributions to the fight for women’s equality and the right to choose here in Canada will never be forgotten.