CBC Digital Archives

Morgentaler attacked at clinic opening

In 1969 Dr. Henry Morgentaler emerged as one of Canada's most controversial figures when he broke the law and opened the country's first abortion clinic. Over the next two decades, the Montreal doctor would be heralded as a hero by some and called a murderer by others as he fought to change Canada's abortion laws.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler is again a lightning rod for abortion debate in Canada. By the time he opens his Toronto clinic on June 15, 1983, abortion is the most controversial issue in the country. Large protests are held on both sides of the debate. Most demonstrations are peaceful but at the Toronto clinic a man brandishing garden shears lunges at Morgentaler.
• In 1983 police raid Morgentaler's Toronto and Winnipeg clinics and his legal battles begin again.
• Once more, a jury — this time in Ontario — acquits Morgentaler of charges of conspiracy to procure a miscarriage. The Ontario Court of Appeal overturns the jury acquittal and orders a new trial.
• Morgentaler appeals Ontario's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.


• A decade earlier the Supreme Court had rejected a similar appeal by Morgentaler in Quebec. But times have changed.
• Now the Supreme Court is working with a new legal guide called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enacted in 1982. The new charter outlines an extensive list of individual rights that could impact the abortion law. The document also stipulates that any law that is inconsistent with the charter is invalid.


• Most provincial premiers opposed a Canadian charter of rights and freedoms when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau proposed it in the early 1980s. The premiers feared it would diminish their influence, transferring power from elected politicians to non-elected judges. Eventually a "notwithstanding" clause — allowing provinces to declare particular laws exempt from the charter — was inserted to placate the premiers.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 15, 1983
Guest(s): Henry Morgentaler, Judy Rebick
Reporter: Vicki Russell
Duration: 1:31

Last updated: January 16, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Dr. Henry Morgentaler: Fighting Canada's Abor...

In 1969 Dr. Henry Morgentaler emerged as one of Canada's most controversial figures when he br...

1971: Canada's first successful plane hijacki...

An armed gunman reroutes Air Canada jet to Cuba.

2003: The great North America blackout

More than 50 million people go without electricity as a massive power outage reduces Ontario a...