Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Order of Canada…

(cross posted at kickin it with cg and mydd)

After the culmination of months of heated debate, today in Quebec City, Dr. Henry Morgentaler received the Order of Canada.  The Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour in the country, recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement and dedication to community.

In a statement released Thursday, Governor General Michaëlle Jean said that Morgentaler has had “a major impact” on Canadian public policy.  “A Holocaust survivor, he has not hesitated to put himself at risk in his determined drive to increase health-care options for Canadian women,” the statement reads.

“He has been a catalyst for change and important debate, influencing public policy nationwide. He has heightened awareness of women’s reproductive health issues among medical professionals and the Canadian public.”

After it was announced in July that it would bestow the award on Morgentaler, some past recipients, angry at the decision, gave back their medals in protest.  `If the majority have decided this is OK and a good thing, the minority has to accept it and understand that not all laws and rights will agree with our own personal beliefs.’  Jean said.  Among those who returned their medals were Montreal Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, former New Brunswick lieutenant-governor Gilbert Finn and B.C. priest Lucien Larré.

Born in Poland in 1923, Morgentaler and is a Holocaust survivor that lived in the Łódź ghetto until 1944, after which he was detained and sent to Auschwitz.  Morgentaler immigrated to Canada from Poland after the Second World War and opened a clinic in Montreal in 1969, where he performed thousands of what were then illegal abortions.

Morgentaler gave up his family practice and began openly performing illegal abortions in his private clinic in 1968. At the time abortion was illegal except for cases in which continuing a pregnancy threatened the life of the pregnant woman. On August 26, 1969, an amendment to the Criminal Code legalized abortion in Canada if performed in a hospital after approval of a Therapeutic Abortion Committee which was a three-doctor hospital abortion committee.  Morgentaler’s abortions remained illegal under that new law; they became legal in January 1988 as section 251 of the Criminal Code (now known as section 287) was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.

A family physician, Morgentaler argued that access to abortion was a basic human right and that women should not have to risk death in order to end their pregnancies. Morgentaler’s clinics were often raided by police, and one in Toronto was firebombed.

Morgentaler was arrested several times and spent months in jail as he fought his case at all court levels in Canada.

“Canada is one of the few places in the world where freedom of speech and choice prevail in a truly democratic fashion,” he said, reading from a statement.  I’m proud to have been given this opportunity coming from a war-torn Europe to realize my potential and my dream – that is to create a better and more humane society.”


  1. One night it was destroyed by a bomb.  In the morning the sidewalk we walked down and the street in front of it were covered in bricks – the entire front of the building was gone.  No one was killed, which was surprising, though it happened in the middle of the night.  Toronto, particularly the area called The Annex where we lived, is an eclectic town where folks wander about pretty well all hours of day and night.

    The shock of terrorism in your own neighborhood does not sit well in your stomach.  Bombers?  Here?!?  That is, of course, the purpose of terrorism – “you aren’t safe here”.

    Like nearly every other person, I am not “pro-abortion”, but abortion exists.  It needs to exist in a clean, safe and sane environment or we risk returning to the horrors of the past.

    At sixteen (I have only mentioned this once before and said I was 17 – I was embarrassed to say I was actually only 16) I got a phone call from my ex-girlfriend to inform me she had just had an abortion.  All that night I sat alone, alternately relieved, stunned, sobbing and generally in a state of shock.  It had been her choice – she had chosen to finish being a child before becoming a parent.  If not for Henry Morgantaler, we could have been two of those kids, driving scared in the middle of the night to a ‘clinic’.  “Marcie told me he’s very clean.”

    Congratulations, Henry.  Good on you.

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