Canadian abortion rights advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler dies at 90

May 30, 2013 at 8:04 AM
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TORONTO, May 30 (UPI) -- Dr. Henry Morgentaler, 90, who drew upon his Holocaust experience to fight for abortion rights in Canada, has died of natural causes.

Morgentaler, who was born in Poland and witnessed the Nazi invasion of his country in 1939, died Wednesday at his home in Toronto, the National Post newspaper in Toronto said.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada called him "a true Canadian hero who saved countless lives."

Jim Hughes, president of the Campaign Life Coalition, characterized Morgentaler as "a highly divisive figure, training abortionists in his methods of killing, doing unbelievable damage to the future of this country."

Morgentaler's father, a prominent member of the Polish Socialist Party, was arrested, tortured and killed, and other family members were sent to concentration camps during World War II.

His biographer, Catherine Dunphy, said Morgentaler drew upon his experience in World War II in helping women secure access to abortions.

"It seemed simplistic at the time, but he totally believed that if every child were a beloved, wanted child, then there would have been no concentration camps, there would be no murderers," Dunphy said.

After immigrating to Canada in 1950, Morgentaler graduated from Universite de Montreal medical school.

He performed his first abortion in 1968, the Post said. Two years later, he was arrested. A jury in Quebec acquitted him in 1974, but an appeals court overturned the verdict and he spent 10 months in jail.

"I still cannot believe that I, who have always been a law-abiding citizen, could bring myself to defy the law of the land and the state," he wrote in 1970, "and to risk imprisonment, loss of license to practice medicine, the contempt of my colleagues, the ruin of my family, and the opprobrium that goes with that terrible word: abortionist."

In 1983, he opened clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg and both clinics were raided by police soon afterward.

In Toronto, a jury acquitted Morgentaler, but an appeal reached Canada's Supreme Court, the Post said. In 1988, the court struck down Canada's abortion law, ruling it infringed on a woman's right to "life, liberty and security of the person."

Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada in 2008 prompted the Catholic archbishop of Toronto to say the honor was "debased" by Morgentaler's inclusion. Montreal's archbishop resigned from the order in protest.

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