Legendary Canadian abortion campaigner Morgentaler dies aged 90

Wed May 29, 2013 4:00pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Henry Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor who became one of Canada's leading abortion campaigners and spent time in jail for terminating pregnancies, died on Wednesday at the age of 90, activists said.

Morgentaler set up Canada's first independent abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969 at a time when the procedure could only be performed in hospitals and was limited to cases when doctors deemed that continuation of a pregnancy could harm a woman.

His campaign for women's rights eventually made its way to the Canadian Supreme Court, which backed him in a January 1988 judgment that said existing abortion laws were unconstitutional.

The then Progressive Conservative government tried in 1990 to recriminalize abortion in cases where women's health was not at risk. That effort ended in failure, leaving Canada with effectively no restrictions on abortion.

"Canadian women owe Dr. Morgentaler a tremendous debt of gratitude for standing up for their lives and health at great personal sacrifice and risk. He survived numerous threats on his life, a clinic bombing, and aggressive protests," said National Abortion Federation president Vicki Saporta.

Morgentaler died at a time when some legislators in Canada's right-leaning ruling Conservative Party are openly expressing their opposition to abortion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wary of stirring up passions on a contentious social issue, says as long as he is in power the government will not move to restrict abortions.

"Unfortunately, even today, access to abortion remains unequal and we must remain vigilant against repeated attempts to roll back this right," said Niki Ashton, a legislator for the center-left official opposition New Democrats.   Continued...

Henry Morgentaler (L) is awarded the rank of Member in the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaelle Jean at the Citadelle in Quebec City, in this October 10, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/Files