Abortion Advocate

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  • Born March 19th, 1923 in Lodz, Poland
  • Died May 29th, 2013 in Toronto, Canada at the age of 90.


  • Completed Medical Studies in 1953 in the Univeresité De Montréal and then began a general clinic in 1955 after gaining his Canadian citizenship
  • Spent most of his career advocating for womens reproductive rights during the time period in which they could not legally obtain abortions.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler is recognized for his movement for womens reprouductive rights and bringing the legal procedure of abortion into the light and as a result he has also been honored with a variety of awards including the following :

  • Humanist of the Year, American Humanist Association - 1975
  • Member, Order of Canada - 2008
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Humanist Association of Canada - 2008
  • Award for Outstanding Service to Humanity, Canadian Labour Congress - 2008

He was also the first individual to introuduce a safer procedure for abortion known as vacuum aspiration method in Canada



Henry Morgentaler challenged both the federal and provincial governments of Canada to repeal their abortion laws and the provisions within it on the grounds that it infringed section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He led the abortion movement during a time period in which consequences for abortion included prison sentences of up to life for the doctor and a possibility of two years for the women.

Actions Taken

  • 1967 - As president of Humanist Fellowship of Montreal, Morgentaler advocated the Parliamentary committee of Health and Welfare to repeal the laws against abortion. As a result of the media reporting his proposal, he received an overwhelming amount of requests from women desperate for help.
  • 1967 - Justice Minster at the time, Pierre Trudeau proposed a omnibus bill that changed the Criminal Code to decriminalize the distribution of contraceptions ( approved in 1969) However, section 251 of the revised Criminal Code legalized abortions in limited and restricted circumstances. For example, it must be approved by a committee, only take place in hospitals, and must be a direct threat to womens health.
  • Morgentaler defied the law and began performing abortions in his private clinic.
  • 1973- To draw attention to his movement and display the safety and efficacy of clinical abortion he publicized that he successfully participated in over 5,000 abortions. In fact, on Mothers Day of 1973 he proceeded to demonstrate his abortion technique on national television, displaying his defiance of the law in front of the entire nation.
  • 1983 - Illegally opened abortion clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg

OBSTACLES : Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life

  • Multiple arrests and charges
  • Faced with great controversy between supporters of "Pro-Life" and as a result labeled a "baby killer" and "murderer"
  • Clinics raided by police in both Toronto and Winnipeg
  • Toronto clinic was firebombed twice
  • Received multiple death threats

Abortion laws struck down

Henry Morgentaler's abortion movement was extremely successful as the 20 year long legal battle finally came to rest in 1988 in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law on the basis that it was unconstitutional due to its infringement of the rights protected in the Canadian Charter.

Legal tradition influence

  • Positive Law
  • Female Jurisprudence

Influences of change

  • Social and Political Influence
  • Constitution - The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [ challenging laws in court ]
  • Change in values

Contribution to society

Henry Morgentaler's movement of advocating for abortion rights has had a lasting effect on todays society, a few examples include the following:

  • Legalizing abortion ensuring womens right to reproductive freedom
  • 1974- Known as the "Morgentaler Amendment" after the Quebec Court of Appeal took an unprecedented action in the case of R v. Morgentaler in which despite being acquitted by a jury, the court quashed the verdict and ordered Morgentaler a conviction. Parliament was forced to pass a Criminal Code amendment that removed appellate judge's power to strike down acquittals and order convictions
  • Set the standard that due to the fact that The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched in the Constitution, all laws must be in accordance with it
  • By legalizing abortion, Canada upheld a fundamental principle of a womens right to autonomy and reproductive freedom