Author(s): Morgentaler H
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Abstract PIP: In this lecture, Dr. Henry Morgentaler describes how he led the fight to make abortion sage and legal in Canada. In 1967, the Canadian government began exploring possible changes in the abortion law, which at that made abortion a major crime. As president of the Humanist Fellowship of Montreal, Morgentaler presented a brief to House of Commons calling for abortion on request. His appeal attracted great media attention, and soon women started coming to Morgentaler's office seeking abortions. Risking prosecution, Morgentaler agreed to perform the operations (in the process becoming the first doctor in North America to use the vacuum suction technique). His abortion practice grew rapidly. In 1969, the Canadian government made abortion legal if approved by a committee of 3 doctors and if performed in a hospital. Though an improvement over the previous law, the new abortion law still had many deficiencies, most notably: it discriminated against women in rural areas (where the only available hospitals were Catholic), and it made getting an abortion a lengthy process, making the procedure more dangerous. Still campaigning vigorously performing abortions in his Montreal clinic, Morgentaler on charges of illegal abortion by the Quebec government. For the next 6 years, Morgentaler rode a legal roller coaster -- 3 jury acquittals were overturned or disregarded -- serving 10 months in prison throughout the ordeal (the legal battle produced the so-called Morgentaler Amendment, which stipulates that court cannot substitute its own verdict for a jury verdict of not guilty). In 1976, Quebec ended its battle with Morgentaler, who in turn launched his campaign to the rest of Canada. And in 1988, the Canadian Supreme Court rescinded the abortion low, thus affirming the dignity and equality of women.
This article was published in Am J Gynecol Health
and referenced in Arts and Social Sciences Journal