Abortion rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler wins Canada's highest award
Dr. Morgentaler proud to 'finally' receive Order of Cda, says Cda set global example for Womens Rts.
4 hours ago
TORONTO — Abortion rights activist Henry Morgentaler (a Polish-born physician who survived the infamous Dachau concentration camp, quit his family practice in Montreal in 1968 to open his first abortion clinic in defiance of the laws of the day) said Wednesday he's honoured that his work has "finally" been recognized with the country's highest civilian honour and hopes the country has set an example for governments around the world.
Best known for taking his fight to the Supreme Court and striking down the country's abortion laws 20 years ago, Morgentaler expressed surprise that those opposed to him being named to the Order of Canada have not been "more violent."
While also not shocked that the Harper government has distanced itself from the controversial decision, Morgentaler said he's proud that abortion has become "one of the safest surgical techniques" in the country.
"Women no longer die as a result of abortion, women no longer get cut up or damaged as a result of abortion, women no longer lose their fertility as a result of abortion," Morgentaler, 85, said at a media conference at his Toronto clinic.
"The situation has improved greatly over most of Canada, and I'm proud of that."
Morgentaler, who was imprisoned for 10 months for performing abortions illegally before the law was struck down and once saw his clinic bombed, said the award vindicates the personal sacrifices he has made.
"I think it's a sign of recognition for all the work that I've done over the years and the sacrifices I've borne and the unjust sentence of imprisonment that I suffered," he said.
"I hope that Canada has set an example and that internationally, people in governments will respond to it."
Abortion rights groups applauded the decision, announced Tuesday, saying Morgentaler put his life and liberty on the line to advance women's rights.
"Dr. Morgentaler upholds the Canadian values of democracy, human rights, equality for women," said Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. "It's really overdue for him to be recognized for his great achievement and the positive impact he's had on the lives of Canadian women."
Arthur added that she's not surprised it took so long for Morgentaler to receive the honour.
"There's always going to be some division and controversy about him. Canada is the only democratic country in the world that has no law on abortion," she said.
"We set a good example for the rest of the world, and this Order of Canada further sets a good example because it sends a strong message that our society officially supports abortion rights and women's rights and we're not afraid to say it out loud."
But opponents of abortion say the Order of Canada should unite Canadians, not divide them.
"I think it's worth remembering that a great many people feel that the legal void that we have in this country, where a pregnancy can be terminated up to the ninth month, is nothing to be proud of," said Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League.
"I do think it's a good time to remember that the damage that Morgentaler unleashed was a lot bigger than just one person."
Morgentaler, whose website states his clinics perform abortions from "seven weeks up to approximately 19 weeks gestation," said he isn't surprised by the controversy surrounding his appointment to the prestigious national award.
"I'm actually surprised that the reaction is not more violent that it is," he said.
"The fact that some people are opposed on religious grounds mainly, well, that doesn't bother me as long as they're not allowed to influence other people by force or by whatever other means."
The Harper government was quick to distance itself from the decision, pointing out that the Order of Canada recipients are announced by the Governor General on the recommendation of an independent advisory committee chaired by the chief justice of Canada.
Anyone can nominate a person for the Order of Canada, which is open to all Canadians except federal and provincial politicians and judges while in office.
"I think Stephen Harper represents a reactionary party, a party which harbours many anti-choice people, some of them quite prominent and outspoken," Morgentaler said.
Morgentaler, a Polish-born physician who survived the infamous Dachau concentration camp, quit his family practice in Montreal in 1968 to open his first abortion clinic in defiance of the laws of the day.
He soon found himself before the courts, where he was acquitted by a jury that accepted his defence of medical necessity for the abortions he performed. But the verdict was overturned on appeal and he went to jail for 10 months.
It took three more trials and three more acquittals - two in Quebec, one in Ontario - before his case made it to the Supreme Court.
The Order of Canada is the country's highest civilian honour to recognize a lifetime of outstanding achievement and dedication to community.