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Dr. Henry Morgentaler opened his first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969. ((J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press))

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean has named a leading abortion rights crusader to the Order of Canada, news that has outraged anti-abortion groups.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler is one of 75 Canadians to receive honours for their contribution to the country. The Governor General announced the new inductees on Tuesday after the names were recommended by an advisory panel.

Anti-abortion Conservative MPs are stressing that appointments to the order are not made by cabinet. Nine people, including two government appointees, sit on the Order of Canada panel.

MP Maurice Vellacott, a Conservative from Saskatchewan who opposes abortion, told the Globe and Mail on Monday  that he heard Morgentaler's appointment was not unanimous.

"This is a pretty divisive issue," he said. "I think we can all agree on that, so why would we have the highest honour in the country being issued when there is obviously a strong difference of opinion about it?"

Anti-abortion groups were more direct in their condemnation of the appointment.

The Campaign Life Coalition said it is dreadful that a man who spent his life performing abortions should be honoured. The coalition is urging other Order of Canada recipients to return their medals in protest.

"If Morgentaler had any integrity, he would refuse the medal," Mary Ellen Douglas of the coalition said in a news release. "This presentation should be given to people who have made Canada a better place to live and the elimination of thousands of human beings who would have contributed to the future of Canada is a disgrace, not an honour."

'Hero to millions'

Now 85, Morgentaler, a Polish Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Montreal after the war, opened his first abortion clinic in 1969 and performed thousands of procedures, which were illegal at the time.

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'It's great to hear that he is finally being recognized for his hard work and dedication to Canadian women's rights.'

--Heather H

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Morgentaler, a trained family physician, argued that access to abortion was a basic human right and women should not have to risk death at the hands of an untrained professional in order to end their pregnancies.

Morgentaler's clinics were constantly raided, and one in Toronto was firebombed. Morgentaler was arrested several times and spent months in jail as he fought his case at all court levels in Canada.

His victory came on Jan. 28, 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law. That law, which required a woman who wanted an abortion to appeal to a three-doctor hospital abortion committee, was declared unconstitutional.

Feminist and author Judy Rebick told the Globe and Mail on Monday that it is about time Morgentaler is honoured for his long battle.

"Dr. Morgentaler is a hero to millions of women in the country," she said. "He risked his life to struggle for women's rights … He's a huge figure in Canadian history and the fact that he hasn't got [the Order of Canada] until now is a scandal."

Among the 75 appointments to the Order of Canada are former prime minister Kim Campbell, musician Randy Bachman and CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge, according to the Governor General's website. They will receive their medals at a later date.