rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Dr. Romalis, abortion provider

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

On January 31, Vancouver abortion provider Dr. Garson Romalis passed away at the age of 76, after providing reproductive choice for four decades and surviving two anti-choice attacks. His life is best summarized in his own words, in a 2008 address he gave to mark the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision that struck down legal barriers to abortion in Canada.

Criminalizing abortion kills women

A graduate of UBC medical school, it was his experience at Cook County hospital in Chicago where he witnessed the magnitude of barriers to choice, which disproportionately affected women living in poverty.

"Cook County had about 3,000 beds, and served mainly an indigent population. If you were really sick, or really poor, or both, Cook County was where you went. The first month of my internship was spent on Ward 41, the septic obstetrics ward. Yes, it’s hard to believe now, but in those days, they had one ward dedicated exclusively to septic complications of pregnancy. About 90 per cent of the patients were there with complications of septic abortion. The ward had about 40 beds, in addition to extra beds which lined the halls. Each day we admitted between 10-30 septic abortion patients. We had about one death a month, usually from septic shock associated with hemorrhage. I will never forget the 17-year-old girl lying on a stretcher with 6 feet of small bowel protruding from her vagina… Today, in Canada and the US, septic shock from illegal abortion is virtually never seen. Like smallpox, it is a 'disappeared disease.'"


Reproductive justice

In 1969 the Canadian government liberalized the abortion law, and Dr. Romalis began providing abortions as part of his practice as an obstetrician and gynecologist in 1972. But the law still maintained strict control of the procedure and denied abortion access to women. It took a mass movement—concentrating opposition to the abortion law based on a broad understanding of reproductive justice—to strike down the law in 1988.

As Carolyn Egan from the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics wrote,

"OCAC tried to ensure that the demand for abortion access was never seen in isolation, but as one of a number of interdependent struggles. We tried to make this concrete by challenging the coerced sterilization that Aboriginal women, women with disabilities and Black women were facing. We held joint forums on the issues with women speaking about the injustices that they were experiencing. Healthcare workers told us that therapeutic abortion committees sometimes refused abortions unless a woman agreed to be sterilized. We fought for childcare as a woman’s right and campaigned against extra billing by doctors. OCAC worked with Dr. Henry Morgentaler and in 1983 he opened a clinic challenging the federal criminal code. The clinic became a symbol of women’s resistance to an unjust law. A long campaign against two levels of government and an organized anti-choice movement began."

Anti-choice backlash

This campaign continued to challenge the anti-choice backlash after the 1988 Supreme Court decision -- from the Tories trying to re-criminalize abortion through Parliament, to "Operation rescue" swarming the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto, and anti-choice violence against abortion providers.

Dr. Romalis was shot in 1994 and stabbed in 2000:

"I had been a medical doctor for 32 years when I was shot at 7:10am, Nov 8, 1994. For over half my life, I had been providing obstetrical and gynecological care, including abortions. It is still hard for me to understand how someone could think I should be killed for helping women get safe abortions. I had a very severe gun shot wound to my left thigh. My thigh bone was fractured, large blood vessels severed, and a large amount of my thigh muscles destroyed. I almost died several times from blood loss and multiple other complications....These acts of terrorist violence have affected virtually every aspect of me and of my family’s life. Our lives have changed forever. I must live with security measures that I never dreamed about when I was learning how to deliver babies."


The movement continues

But the anti-choice failed to stop Dr. Romalis and the movement. He continued to provide abortions and to inspire future generations of providers, like Medical Students for Choice:

"My life had changed, but my views on choice remained unchanged, and I was continuing to enjoy practicing medicine…I love my work. I get enormous personal and professional satisfaction out of helping people, and that includes providing safe, comfortable, abortions. The people that I work with are extraordinary, and we all feel that we are doing important work, making a real difference in peoples' lives. I can take an anxious woman, who is in the biggest trouble she has ever experienced in her life, and by performing a five-minute operation, in comfort and dignity, I can give her back her life."

Dr. Romalis was very courageous and risked his life to provide the life-saving procedure of abortion. Through the process he inspired a new generation of reproductive freedom fighters—who continue to challenge the Tory attacks on choice, and to connect access to abortion with the broader struggle for reproductive justice.


On February 11, join a screening of Young Lakota, about indigenous youth fighting for reproductive justice. 7pm at Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex ave, Toronto. Screening followed by a speaker from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN). Presented by Medical Students for Choice, the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, and NYSHN. Facebook event here.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.