The Course of Reason

Henry Morgentaler: Abortion Rights Hero

June 25, 2013

Henry MorgentalerAbortion-rights activist, and doctor, Henry Morgentaler died on May 29 at the age of 90. Through his career Morgentaler fought for women’s access to safe abortions, and for this he will be remembered as a controversial figure, but one for who those that believe in women’s rights: A hero.  

Morgentaler’s efforts helped women by fighting against Canada’s restrictive abortion laws, which only allowed for an abortion in the case that the pregnancy was a risk to the woman’s health. Furthermore, the decision had to approved by a medical panel. Finally, there was nothing actually requiring hospitals to have these panels in place.

Sadly typical to the story of many abortion-providers, Morgentaler faced death-threats, as well as the firebombing of his clinics. Still, that didn’t stop him. He continued to campaign for the access to safe abortions.

In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s abortion law was unconstitutional.

While the state of abortion-rights in Canada has improved since Morgentaler’s early activist days, any abortion-rights activist will tell you the country still has a long way to go. The social stigma surrounding abortion still exists. Protestors, particularly the right-wing Christians, still gather outside of clinics (including the one here in Waterloo) attempting to shame all who enter. In some places, access to abortion is still difficult. Those of us in Waterloo are also dealing with a Member of Parliament who attempted, and still is, to re-open the abortion debate through the introduction of a bill that aimed to debate when life starts. Thankfully, it was swiftly voted down by Parliament.

Politicians, though not including our Prime Minister, have offered words of praise for Morgentaler since his passing, whether those words will translate into action to improve the state of abortion-rights in the country is another matter. Given that no one is in the federal government is in the mood to re-open the abortion debate, save for those right-wingers who want to ban it, I wouldn’t expect any progress on the political front. However, that shouldn’t deter abortion-rights activists from campaigning for access to safe abortions and speaking out against those that would try to ban it.

Morgentaler once said:
“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.” (Source.)

Exactly the kind of world that should be fought for.



About the Author: Chris Burke

Chris Burke's photo
Chris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.


#1 Ian (Guest) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 at 3:41pm

I think you meant "In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada..."

It's also important to point out that Dr. Morgentaler was driven not by religion but by his Humanism. He was a passionate advocate for secularism and helped found Humanist Canada. His legacy helped shaped feminism and Humanism in Canada for decades to follow and ensured that the two would forever be intertwined.




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