Abortion crusader Morgentaler says deserves award

Wed Jul 2, 2008 7:00pm EDT
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By Claire Sibonney

TORONTO (Reuters) - Henry Morgentaler, the doctor who led the fight to legalize abortion in Canada two decades ago, said on Wednesday he was proud to be receiving his country's highest civilian award, an honor condemned by anti-abortion advocates and hailed by his supporters.

The diminutive 85-year-old said he deserved to receive the Governor General's Order of Canada, a decision announced on Tuesday by Governor General Michaelle Jean, the country's head of state.

"It's a sign of recognition for all the work I've done over the years and the sacrifices I've borne and the unjust sentence of imprisonment that I've suffered 20 years ago," Morgentaler said at a press conference at his Toronto clinic.

Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor born in Poland, began the fight for abortion rights in Canada when he opened an illegal clinic in Montreal in 1969. He was jailed for 10 months after declaring publicly that he had performed thousands of abortions without going through a strict screening process conducted by a three-doctor committee.

He was eventually acquitted in Quebec, and went on to challenge laws in other provinces, leading to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1988 that struck down anti-abortion provisions of the Criminal Code as unconstitutional.

"Women no longer die as a result of abortion," he said on Wednesday, "and I'm very proud of that."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who heads the socially conservative right-leaning Conservative party, expressed unhappiness about the award.

"I guess my preference, to be frank, would be to see the Order of Canada be something that really unifies and brings Canadians together," he told a news conference.   Continued...

<p>Dr. Henry Morgentaler speaks to the media in Toronto, July 2, 2008. Dr. Morgentaler was named a member of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest honour, after spending decades of his life advocating the legalisation of abortion in Canada. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>