Born in Poland, Morgentaler spent WWII imprisoned in a concentration camp. He remained in Europe until 1950, when he moved to Canada and began pursuing a medical career. He specialized in family planning; becoming one of the first Canadian doctors to offer vasectomies, intra-uterine exams and birth control to unmarried women.
In 1968 he closed his practises and open a private clinic where he performed abortions. He never hid what his clinic was for, and publically admitted to performing over 5,000 safe, but illegal, abortions. His clinic was raided several times, and he was arrested for preforming illegal abortions. In first case a jury found him not guilty; a decision which was later, in an unprecedented move, was over turned by a court of appeals and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In 1975, this move by the court of appeals was made illegal (a court of appeal can call for a retrial but cannot overrule a jury’s decision) – known as the Morgentaler amendment.
While in prison his second trial went before a jury, and once again the jury refused to find him guilty. After severing 10 months, a suffering a heart attack, he was released from prison. His third trial resulted, once again, in the jury acquitting him- a decision they made in under an hour. After this third acquittal the government of Québec declared Canada’s abortion law were unenforceable against trained medical doctors and dropped the charges against Morgentaler days before his fourth trial was supposed to begin.
In 1983 he decided to challenge abortion laws in other provinces, so he publicly declare his intent before opening abortion clinics in Winnipeg and Toronto. The Toronto clinic was quickly raided by police and Morgentaler was charged, once again, with performing illegal abortions. This trial, in the Ontario courts before an Ontario jury, once again acquitted him of his crimes. In 1988, an appeal for this case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada, who upheld the jury’s original decision and declared Canada’s anti-abortion law unconstitutional resulting in their abolishment. He has called that day “the happiest day in his life.”
He continued opening and running abortion clinics throughout Canada until his death.
Just as Tommy Douglas was the man who almost singlehandedly brought universal health care to Canada, Morgentaler almost singlehandedly brought the legalization of abortion to Canada. Whether you agree with him or not you have to respect the sheer force of will he showed in his believes. And the unspoken support of those 4 juries who refused to enforce the law against him.
This man is a hero, he is my hero. I wish I could thank him, because if it weren’t for him, I would not have been able to obtain the safe and legal abortion I did, right here in Ontario. Thank you Morgentaler.