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University honours Morgentaler

The Story

Before their school announced it would bestow an honorary doctor-of-laws degree on Dr. Henry Morgentaler, few students at the University of Western Ontario even knew who he was. Yet at the 2005 convocation, the graduates jump to their feet -- twice -- to give Morgentaler a standing ovation. But, as this CBC News report shows, not everyone is happy with the decision. Opponents of abortion have assembled to protest the honour, and the school has lost a $2 million bequest. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 16, 2005
Guest(s): Paul Davenport, Thomas Lennon, Henry Morgentaler
Reporter: Heather Hiscox
Duration: 2:46

Did You know?

• In December 2004 an honorary-degrees committee at Western agreed to confer the degree on Morgentaler. The committee -- composed of about 20 faculty, students and alumni -- debated the decision for two hours. Their decision was not unanimous.
• After the decision was announced in March 2005, opponents circulated a petition to demand its reversal, garnering 12,000 signatures. A counter-petition of support for Morgentaler gathered 10,000 names.

• An anonymous donor withdrew a promise of a $2 million bequest to the university when it announced that Morgentaler was to be honoured. Another donor gave the university $10,000 in support as a result of its choice, and university president Paul Davenport said other cheques had flowed in from supporters.
• Davenport noted that in his 11 years as president, he had never before witnessed standing ovations at convocation.

• The University of Western Ontario was the first university to confer Morgentaler with such an honour.
• According to the Globe and Mail, two graduating students (out of a group of hundreds) opted to receive their diplomas at a different ceremony.
• Two Catholic colleges affiliated with the university said they regretted the honour but acknowledged the university's right to award it.

• Rev. Edward Malloy, president of Notre Dame University -- a Catholic institution in Indiana -- received an honorary degree in a different ceremony at the 2005 convocation. He made no reference to Morgentaler or abortion in his speech.
• Ten people received honorary degrees from Western in 2005. Besides Morgentaler and Molloy, they included citizens' advocate Maude Barlow and former Chatelaine editor Doris Anderson.

• In a speech at the ceremony, Morgentaler described his struggle to make abortion legal, available and safe in Canada. "By fighting for reproductive freedom, and making it possible, I have made a contribution to a safer and more caring society where people have a greater opportunity to realize their full potential," he said.

• Morgentaler expressed surprise at the "hullabaloo" over Western's decision. "I thought the heat had gone out of the abortion controversy, but obviously there's still people trying to protest the rights of women."
• After the ceremony, a reporter asked what Morgentaler would say to the 350 silent protesters outside the event. "I would say hello to them. They have a right to protest. Peaceful protest is something which is accepted in this democracy," he said.


• In July 2008, Morgentaler was named as an inductee to the Order of Canada. His supporters had long been campaigning for him to receive the honour, noting that he might not have much time left given his age (85) and poor health after suffering a stroke. Opponents of abortion greeted the news with anger, and one group even suggested that other Order of Canada recipients return their medals to protest Morgentaler's appointment.

• Henry (Henekh) Morgentaler was born in Lodz, Poland, Mar. 19, 1923.  He survived both the Auschwitz and Dachau camps, and came to Canada in 1950, settling and completing his medical studies in Montreal.  He died in Toronto, May 29, 2013.



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