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RIP Abortion Rights Activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler
May 29, 2013
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RIP-Abortion-rights-crusader-Dr-Henry-Morgentaler-feature1.jpg

One of the most controversial and polarizing figures in Canadian history - abortion rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler - has died.

Carolyn Egan, with the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics, said she spoke with members of Morgentaler's family, who told her he died peacefully this morning at his home in Toronto.

Morgentaler emerged in the late 1960s, as a passionate defender of a woman's right to have an abortion safely and under professional medical care. Click on this link to see a clip of Morgentaler in 1969 from the CBC archives.

At the time, anyone who tried to induce an abortion could receive a sentence of life in prison and the woman faced up to two years in prison.

In 1970, Morgentaler broke the law by opening Canada's first abortion clinic in Montreal, followed by more clinics across the country - ending up with eight in all.

RIP-Abortion-rights-crusader-Dr-Henry-Morgentaler-feature2.jpgOver the next 20 years or so, Morgentaler was considered a hero by some and called a murderer by others as he fought to make abortion legal.

Along the way, his clinics were targeted by pro-life activists (including one that was bombed) and raided by police. He was physically threatened, went to jail for ten months, and he fought several legal battles for the right to set up abortion clinics across Canada.

That eventually led to a 1988 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down the country's law prohibiting abortion as unconstitutional.

"His work changed the legal landscape in Canada, and eventually led to the 1988 landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision that gave women the right to obtain abortion care," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

"Dr. Morgentaler was a legend, a hero, and a national treasure in both our countries, and we will miss him dearly."

He was on the show several years ago to talk about a Canadian film about his life called 'Henry'. Check out that interview below.



In a post today about his life, The Globe & Mail writes...

"Dr. Morgentaler had a complex relationship with women all his life. As a child, he felt his mother didn't love him as much as his younger brother; as a doctor, he performed thousands of safe, but illegal, abortions on desperate women with unwanted pregnancies; as a social and political activist, he worked to repeal Canada's draconian abortion law in order to give women control over their reproductive lives; as a medical administrator, he opened eight clinics across the country to try to give women equality of access to abortions; and, as a man, he was a consummate philanderer who married three times and conducted many extramarital affairs."

Morgentaler was born in Lodz, Poland and was a Holocaust survivor, having spent five years in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. His parents and sister died at the hands of the Nazis, while he and his brother survived.

When the war ended, Morgentaler was 22 and weighed 70 pounds. In 1950, at 26, he came to Canada.

In an interview with The Canadian Press in 2004, he said his time as a prisoner of the Nazis prepared him for his fight to make abortion legal.

In 2008, Mogentaler received the Order of Canada - Canada's highest civilian award. It was a strongly debated honour, and several members of the Order returned their medals in protest.

He died of heart failure at the age of 90.

Related stories

America & Abortion: The Battle Over Women's Reproductive Rights

Abortion Debate Reignited In Ireland After Woman Is Denied An Abortion In Hospital & Dies

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