Dr. Henry Morgentaler died Wednesday at the age of ninety. Many prominent individuals and organizations from across Canada paid tribute to Morgentaler, a pioneering medical professional who took great personal risks to support women’s right to abortion.
Carolyn Egan of the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics paid tribute to Dr. Morgentaler, “I think [if not for Morgentaler’s work] the world would be very, very different for women. I think so many women across the country are very appreciative of that.”
“He served time in prison, he had many financial difficulties because of the political campaign that he took up and he had … many personal threats on his life.”
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau shared his condolences on Twitter, “Sad to hear of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s death. A crusader for women’s reproductive freedom, his contributions will be remembered.”
NDP Member of Parliament Olivia Chow tweeted, “Thank you for giving Canadian women a right to choose Henry #Morgentaler. RIP. We will miss your passion for justice.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne praised Morgentaler as a person of “great courage, conviction and personal bravery.”
Canada’s umbrella labour organization, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), issued a statement:
The Canadian Labour Congress is saddened by the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who spent much of his professional life championing the right of Canadian women to safe and legal abortions.
Dr. Morgentaler was born in Poland, was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, and in 1950 he came to Canada, where he practiced as a family physician in Montreal. He urged the Canadian government to reconsider laws which allowed for abortions to occur only in hospitals and only after permission had been granted by a medical committee.
In 1969, Dr. Morgentaler began to perform abortions in a free standing clinic and eventually he created eight such clinics.
He was charged with performing illegal abortions but was eventually acquitted. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Canada’s abortion laws to be unconstitutional.
Dr. Morgentaler was named to the Order of Canada in 2008 and in the same year the CLC, meeting in its national convention in Toronto, provided Dr. Morgentaler with an Award for Outstanding Service to Humanity.
In 2008, opponents of women’s right to abortion objected to Dr. Morgentaler’s receipt of the Order of Canada. At the time, then NDP leader Jack Layton defended the honour, “Dr. Morgentaler’s efforts put both his reputation and his personal safety at risk in the name of advancing a woman’s right to choose. I believe the Order of Canada is an appropriate way to recognize the sacrifices he made in the name of women’s rights.”
Judy Burwell, a former manager of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick, paid tribute and urgend vigilance in defending the gains women have won:
Henry Morgentaler believed passionately that women have the right to control their bodies and to determine when they are ready to take on the responsibility of being a mother. His passion inspired women and men across the country to jump on board and all their hard work came to fruition on January 28th, 1988, when Canada’s restrictive abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Henry Morgentaler’s life was not in vain. But his work is not finished. I’m grateful for all he did but I know that it is now up to us to protect those rights against the forces that want to, once again, make abortion illegal. Access to abortion is difficult in many parts of the country but PEI and New Brunswick top the list. There are no abortion services at all in PEI and there is no funding for services at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. So the struggle continues. For now, all I can say is “Thank you Henry”, we won’t let you down.
Judy Rebick, founding publisher of rabble.ca and a leader in the movement for abortion rights, paid tribute Wednesday to a “brave and inspiring fighter.” Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, called Morgentaler “a Canadian hero.”
In January of this year, the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler Supreme Court decision was celebrated with a special event in Toronto. Visit rabbletv for video of that event.