Henry Morgentaler

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 07 August 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4569
  1. Barbara Kermode-Scott, Calgary

Canadian abortion crusader

Certain individuals manage in their lifetimes to both inspire tremendous love and respect, and attract passionate hatred. Dr Henekh (“Henry”) Morgentaler was such a man.

Morgentaler was a family doctor who helped change Canadian law and the lives of thousands of women. He dedicated his life to helping women obtain safe abortions in an atmosphere of compassion and empathy. His philosophy was: “Every mother a willing mother, every child a wanted child.”1

On 28 January 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling of R v Morgentaler declared Canada’s criminal code prohibiting abortion unconstitutional as it violated a woman’s right—under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—to security of person. Previously abortion was allowed only in situations where certification of approval was signed by a committee of doctors who agreed that the abortion was necessary for the physical or mental wellbeing of the mother.

Morgentaler said that the Supreme Court’s ruling was a vindication of everything he believed in, bringing an end to a law that was “barbarous, cruel and unjust.” “For the first time, it gave women the status of full human beings …

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