"Most of the people in Canada now realize that abortion is a necessary thing to protect the health and future of women."


An interview with the Gazette (Montreal) in 2008


Life Span (lived 90 years)

  • Born 19 March 1923
  • Died 29 May 2013


> Born in Lodz, Poland, a small town near Warsaw, Poland

> Germans invaded his town in WWII

  • His father was arrested and murdered, and his mother was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp (parents were Jewish socialist activists)
  • He and his brother were sent to the Dachau concentration camp after surviving Auschwitz (liberated in 1945 at the end of the war)

> Met his wife in Belgium

  • Married in 1949

> In 1950, they immigrated to Canada


> In 1953, he completed medical studies at Université de Montréal

  • Began to specialize in family planning and reproductive rights

> Once given citizenship in 1955, he began a general practice in medicine in Montréal

> Joined the Humanist Fellowship of Montreal

  • In 1965, he was elected to replace Pierre Elliot Trudeau as president of the fellowship

> In 2005, the University of Western Ontario awarded him an honorary law degree

> In 2008, he was named to the Order of Canada

The Issue/ Cause

> Abortions became illegal in Canada in 1869

  • Women who wanted to terminate pregnancies had to go to untrained amateur abortionists on the black market

  • Lead to unsanitary abortions

  • Mistakes were often made

  • From the 1920’s to the 1950’s it’s estimated that 6,000 women died from failed illegal abortions

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As a doctor, Morgentaler had a duty to safeguard the life and health of the women who came to him for abortions, which outweighed his duty to obey the law.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler enters the abortion debate

He believed that women should have unrestricted access to abortions throughout the first trimester of pregnancy—no questions asked about their circumstances or their reasons

His reasoning was later supported by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

  • The abortion law infringed upon Section 7, looking at a woman's right to “life, liberty, and security of the person “


> In 1967, a federal committee considers amendments to the Criminal Code on abortion, hearing from the public

> Morgentaler participated and stated his opinion publically for the first time, getting lots of attention

  • In 1968, he performed his first abortion

  • In 1969, he opened a family planning clinic that would offer first-trimester abortions outside the provisions of the law

> Considered the abortions he was performing as acts of not only compassion, but of civil disobedience

  • Estimated 5,000 safe abortions done between 1968- 1973

> In 1970, arrested for the first time

  • They delayed his day in court as they garnered public support

  • In 1973, opted for trial by jury
  • > was acquitted

> Between 1973-1975, he was tried 3 times for defying the abortion law

  • Was acquitted every time (Jury Nullification)

  • At each encounter, the acquittal took less time for the jury to decide ( by the third time, the decision was made within the hour)

In 1976, The Morgentaler Amendment was added to the Criminal Code to prevent any future appeal court ordering conviction after jury acquittal

> In 1976, the Parti Québécois government announced that outstanding charges against Dr. Morgentaler would not proceed and that doctors providing abortions in Quebec would not be prosecuted

> In 1983, Morgentaler opened illegal abortion clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg (taking it nationwide)

  • Eventually opened as many as 8 clinics nationwide

> In 1985, Morgentaler appears in Supreme Court of Canada after being charged with conspiracy to procure a miscarriage

Jan 28 1988- The SCC strikes down Canada’s abortion law as unconstitutional (5-2 margin)

> Goes against Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)

  • Infringes upon a woman’s right to “life, liberty, and security of the person"

About 20 years after Morgentaler started his pursuit for justice, the abortion law had finally been thrown out

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"Section 7-14 : Legal Rights." Canadian Heritage; Communications; Government of Canada. Government of Canada, 1 May 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Gazette (Montreal). "'It Was a Great Achievement'" 'It Was a Great Achievement' 28 Jan. 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Marshall, Tabitha, and Angus McLaren. "Henry Morgentaler." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Sandra. "Abortion Rights Crusader Henry Morgentaler, Revered and Hated, Dead at 90." The Globe and Mail. 29 May 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

News, CBC. "Morgentaler among Those Named to Order of Canada." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 01 July 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

News, CBC. "Abortion Rights: Significant Moments in Canadian History." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 30 May 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Smith, Kirsten. "Timeline of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s Life." Canada.com. Post Media News, 29 May 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Sumner, Wayne. "The Morgentaler Effect." Thewalrus.ca. Jan.-Feb. 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

"About Henry Morgentaler." The Morgentaler Decision RSS. Aborigional Rights Coalition of Canada, 29 May 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

"The Struggle for Abortion Rights." The Morgentaler Decision RSS. Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 29 May 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

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