RIP, Henry Morgentaler, Canadian abortion pioneer

Doctor Henry Morgentaler, who pioneered safe, legal abortion in Canada at great personal risk and cost, died today at 90. Canada is a better place for the work he did. Here's a photo of me and Morgentaler when I was 4 1/2 years old.

To his supporters, he was nothing less than a hero. "Canadian women owe Dr. Morgentaler a tremendous debt of gratitude for standing up for their lives and health at great personal sacrifice and risk," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

"He survived numerous threats on his life, a clinic bombing and aggressive protests. Yet, he was not deterred," she said.

Judy Rebick, a former head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, worked with Morgentaler in the 1980s on the effort to legalize abortion.

"I think every women in the country has lost a major ally," she told CBC News. "He changed all of our lives by standing up against the abortion laws and eventually winning in the Supreme Court."

Morgentaler death rekindles abortion divide


  1. I was a pro-choice activist when the Supreme Court judgement happened. I still remember the joy of that day.

    Merci docteur Morgentaler

    the anti-choice mps of the Harper govt will surely exploit his death. More troubles for Stephen….

    and you were super cute, Cory!

    1. I remember that for the later trials (and before the Supreme Court decision), in Québec, jury after jury would, despite instructions from the judge (if I can paraphrase) ordering them to find Morganthaler guilty, consistently refused to find him guilty. 

      /Saw Morgentaler once, sitting in the audience at the long-ago regretté Cinema V, in NDG.

      1. and the definition of human life (fetuses aren’t people)

        I agree with the thrust of your post, but that’s an arbitrary distinction, not a matter of fact, regardless of your religious views.

          1. What is the reasonable definition of people? I’d think a lot of reasonable people would be uneasy with any definition of person-hood that didn’t arrive at some point during pregnancy. 

            That doesn’t mean right wing nut jobs should be able to legislate full person-hood at conception, but I think loose assertions like ‘fetuses aren’t people’ are glib at best.

          2. You know, back in the day, a person wasn’t a person until they were crying after being born.  The reason being is that a fetus can die in utero up to, and even beyond, the full term of gestation.  

            Did you ever wonder why we celebrate birthdays and not conceptiondays or viabilitydays?

        1.  It is, in fact, an arbitrary distinction that is enshrined in Canadian law.  Similar to the arbitrary distinction stating that people under 18 can’t vote, and you can’t have sex with your 13 year old girlfriend.

          1. Well yeah, except that if Canadian law is anything like Australian law, there is an acknowledgement of gradual attainment of personhood in the law. I think it’s a more problematic determination than the voting age.

          2. But Canadian law ISN’T anything like Australian law. At least not where abortion is concerned. In Canadian law a person is not a person until born. Yes, that is arbitrary, but there it is. There is nothing in law to protect the foetus before birth.

            Frankly, I’m good with that. The rare exception where a late term abortion results in the loss of a viable foetus is more than offset by the lives saved from elimination of illegal abortions, and children being brought up with severe challenges because the mother did not take care of herself during the pregnancy.

            Laws should be based on the norms rather than the exception, so I reject these arguments about 3rd trimester abortions out of hand because they are just so damn rare, and women with doctors are always better at making these decisions then legislatures are.

    1. Safe for whom?

      Ut oh, we got a live one here.  Safer for women from your invisible sky wizard jeebus followers, m’kay, sweetheart?

  2. Not a Canadian but appreciative of Dr. Morgentaler and all of those who have worked to make abortion legal and safe.

    Cheers to you, Dr. M!

  3. Jesus Christ came in the form of the very fetus that is labeled not a human being, do you actually think he would smile upon this practice in judgment day? The percentage is very low concerning a woman victimized by rape needing this and the majority of abortions that do happen are because the child becomes an inconvenience~ ~And you say RIP when he made a way to show others how to open abortion clinics to kill their unborn~ Don’t argue this comment down when you are born and haven’t been aborted~!!

    1.  “Jesus Christ came in the form of the very fetus that is labeled not a
      human being, do you actually think he would smile upon this practice in
      judgment day?”

      Ooh, nice try! A for effort!  But those of us who don’t believe in your god, or any god, find arguments like this irrelevant.

      “Don’t argue this comment down when you are born and haven’t been aborted~!!”

      I wasn’t aborted.  I also wasn’t miscarried.  Since you believe in god, isn’t he the worst abortionist in all creation?

      1.  I agree. The stat I have heard is 50% of all embryos are not implanted and are aborted naturally. If god is omnipotent then it is his will to abort these embryos. I’m sick of these ridiculous arguments couched in false concepts like, “the sanctity of life”. If you really care about the living, adopt one of the 30 000 children in the foster system that exist in Canada alone. Otherwise, let women determine whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term or not. Because life doesn’t stop after birth.

          1. That’s only the ones that we know about. It could be 99% in the first few days after conception and we’d never know.

    2. Jesus Christ came in the form of the very fetus that is labeled not a human being

      So, at what point did God fertilize Mary’s egg?  Or did a fetus appear out of nowhere like the Big Bang?

  4. Great Canadian. Great world citizen. A cool guy, I and the world are better having known him. Mom agreed to be in educational film via Dr. Morgentaler. A warm family friend, cool guy and part of our radical(sensible) past and present. It’s up to us now…

  5. Know how I know he was living in Canada rather than in the US?  He lived to old age.

    Huzzah for his compassion and courage.  He made his part of the world a safer place.

  6. Aw, I miss the old BB where religiofacists used to think we cared about their opinions. Now we’re just preaching to the converted.

    I’m gonna have to start commenting at CSM, but I’m guessing I’ll be a little more strongly moderated since their lead moderator doesn’t appreciate goatse as much as our lead moderator does (openly, at least).

      1. I did wonder if it needed italics, but after all it’s the only way to appreciate it, really.

  7. Now i feel like a total jerk.

    When I was that age I was way more concerned with Power Rangers than legalized abortion.

  8. Love this photo, reminds me of a great band name:

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