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Joyce Arthur
The 25th anniversary reader: Key readings on the Morgentaler decision and Canada's abortion rights struggle

| February 4, 2013
The 25th anniversary reader: Key readings on the Morgentaler decision and Canada's abortion rights struggle

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On January 28, 2013, Canada celebrated 25 years of no abortion law. The Supreme Court of Canada threw out our criminal law in its entirety in 1988 because it violated women's constitutional rights to bodily security, life, liberty, autonomy and conscience. I've put together the following selection of key works describing the history of the pro-choice campaign, the role of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the Supreme Court decision, the benefits of having no abortion law, and some personal stories. Enjoy!

Books

Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero. By Catherine Dunphy. Random House, 2003. This book is considered the definitive biography of Dr. Morgentaler, one of Canada's most controversial personalities. Dunphy gives us an honest and riveting portrait of the complicated, contradictory, but deeply caring man who turned into an unlikely champion for women.

Winning Choice on Abortion: How British Columbia and Canadian Feminists won the Battles of the 1970s and 1980s. By Ann Thomson. Trafford Publishing, 2004. Thomson pays tribute to the achievements of the women's rights movement in establishing abortion rights. The book brings alive the struggle and the personalities of the many women who were instrumental in securing abortion rights, describing how they fought for "free abortion on demand" at a time when feminism and the idea of equality for women were still openly ridiculed in our society.

The anniversary and its history

Stories from the front lines of the abortion victory in Canada. By Judy Rebick. rabble.ca, January 25, 2013. Canada's foremost feminist Judy Rebick got her start helping women access abortions. Rebick reminisces about the founding of the (illegal) Toronto Morgentaler clinic in 1982, working with Henry, fighting off anti-choice fanatics, building a movement with strong public support, and savouring the victory of January 28, 1988.

Twenty-five years on: How we won abortion rights. By Carolyn Egan. rabble.ca, January 23, 2013. Carolyn Egan, a founding member of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics in 1982, describes how the campaign to overturn the abortion law was situated in the broader context of reproductive freedom for all, including birth control services in peoples' own language and community, decent jobs, paid parental leave, childcare, the right to live freely and openly regardless of their sexuality, employment equity, and an end to forced or coerced sterilization. When the Supreme Court finally overturned the abortion law in 1988, it was a collective victory that came from the strength of a large and broad-based movement.

Historical Morgentaler decision marks 25th anniversary. CBC's The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, January 28, 2013. This excellent 24-minute podcast features Carolyn Egan and Morris Manning, Dr. Morgentaler's lawyer from the 1988 Supreme Court case. Egan relates some of the history and strategies behind the campaign to overturn the law, while Manning discusses the profound and positive impact of the Morgentaler decision on subsequent Charter rights cases in Canada. Former Tory Justice Minister Doug Lewis also talks about the backroom and parliamentary efforts to recriminalize abortion that followed the decision.

The battle for the right to an abortion was hard fought. Let's protect the rights we've earned. By Vicki Saporta. Vancouver Sun, January 28, 2013. The President and CEO of National Abortion Federation Canada provides a concise history of abortion rights in Canada, including the application and negative effects of the previous abortion law, Dr. Morgentaler's struggle, and the importance of the Supreme Court victory for women's lives and health.

Why decriminalizing abortion is a good thing

The Benefits of Decriminalizing Abortion. By Joyce Arthur and Jane Cawthorne. 25th Anniversary Celebration website, January 2013. After 25 years without an abortion law, Canada is the first country in the world to prove that abortion care can be ethically and effectively managed as part of standard healthcare practice, without being controlled by any civil or criminal law. Women and Canadian society are reaping the benefits of decriminalization, and Canada's experience should be a role model for other countries considering legal reform around abortion.

The Morgentaler decision is 25 years old. By Laura Wershler. Troy Media, January 29, 2013. The author compares the situation from five years ago at the 20th anniversary, to today. In 2008 she had written that "All things considered, it appears the decision made 20 years ago today by the Supreme Court of Canada was wise, just and worthy of Canadians." Five years later, she stands by this conclusion.

Personal stories

Henry Morgentaler's Supreme Court win a landmark for abortion rights. By Heather Mallick. Toronto Star, Jan 27 2013. Mallick salutes her friend Henry Morgentaler, who in 1988 seemed like the "bravest man on earth" to her, and today is still a "joy to spend time with." She urges us to celebrate the anniversary by looking back to that day in 1988 and counting our blessings, reminding us that "Dr. Morgentaler's battle gave you a boarding pass on a flight to the destination you seek, the life you want. He gave you a ticket to freedom."

A Bad Law and A Bold Woman. By The Regina Mom, January 28, 2013. This popular blogger draws you in with a fascinating personal account of her experience with an unplanned pregnancy and the challenges of trying to get an abortion in Saskatchewan in 1985, during the days of Therapeutic Abortion Committees. (An excerpt from an essay-in-progress.)

Happy 25th Anniversary R. v. Morgentaler! By Yee Lee. We Talk Women, January 27, 2013. Yee Lee once had an abortion, and once worked as a nurse in an abortion clinic, but shied away from talking about either. In this article, she shares thoughts about her personal journey and the values of open and respectful dialogue, honesty and trust with ourselves and others, and our personal autonomy to make the best health choices.

The anniversary in today's context

25 years after Morgentaler, struggle continues to defend and expand the reproductive rights of women. By Rebel Youth. Rebel Youth Magazine, February 1, 2013. This article details the current attacks on abortion rights and provides a comprehensive roundup of news and views on the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision, even while the fight continues to defend and expand reproductive rights.

25 Years after R. v. Morgentaler: Where does the law go from here? By Not Guilty, and Peggy. Abortion Gang, January 28, 2013. The two blog authors each contribute a piece describing some of the access hurdles that women still face in Canada when trying to obtain an abortion. Their answers to the question of where to go from here include fighting for a positive law that ensures access to abortion without shame or barriers, and harnessing the power of young, grassroots activists who believe a better world is possible.

Bonus videos!

A 25th-anniversary event held in Toronto on January 28 proved to be an inspiring and landmark event, with five excellent speakers. Carolyn Egan brought down the house with a standing ovation, but all the talks are highly recommended.

Carolyn Egan shares her experiences and the dynamic history of the campaign for reproductive rights.

Judy Rebick reminisces about Henry and the growth of the pro-choice movement.

Michele Landsberg (former Toronto Star columnist) reads from some of her writings and lampoons the men who thought they could rule over women's rights.

Angela Robertson (Women's College Hospital) talks about anti-abortion by stealth, and how she found the movement.

Jillian Bardsley (Medical Students for Choice Toronto) shares a young medical student's view on abortion training and provision in Canada, and what students are doing about it.

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada's national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), which protects the legal right to abortion on request and works to improve access to quality abortion services.

Comments

The Morgentaler decision in 1988 was the culmination of a twenty-year struggle for abortion rights in Canada. Socialist readers will be interested to read contemporary accounts of how socialists participated in the struggle, as preserved by the Socialist History Project — for example, Lis Angus's articles Why feminists focus on issue of abortion from 1971, and Is the abortion struggle reformist? from 1973.

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