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Dr. Henry Morgentaler, 90, Canadian doctor, Auschwitz survivor fought to legalize abortion

Dr. Henry Morgentaler

Dr. Henry Morgentaler

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Updated: June 13, 2013 12:37AM

TORONTO — Abortion rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who helped overturn Canada’s abortion law 25 years ago, died Wednesday at age 90 at his Toronto home.

The Polish-born Morgentaler emerged in 1967 as an advocate for a woman’s right to have an abortion, at a time when attempting to induce one was a crime punishable by life in prison.

Mr. Morgentaler later said his five-year stay in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau prepared him for his showdown with Canada’s legal system, saying that in his mind, laws can be wrong.

Mr. Morgentaler opened the first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1970, followed by more clinics across the country, and he fought Canada’s abortion law, which ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1988 decision declaring it unconstitutional.

Carolyn Egan, director of the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics, said Wednesday that Mr. Morgentaler had a huge impact on the lives of women in Canada. Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said he saved the lives of countless women.

In 2008, Mr. Morgentaler received the Order of Canada, the country’s highest recognition award.

Mr. Morgentaler’s work also earned him many opponents, and the national coordinator of the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition, Mary Ellen Douglas, said she hopes Mr. Morgentaler repented before his death and that his death marks what she called “an end to the killing in Canada.”

There are no longer crowds of protesters outside the clinics Mr. Morgentaler opened.

“It’s because of the debate, people have changed their minds. Now they have the additional knowledge and experience that women no longer die as a result of abortions,” Mr. Morgentaler said in a 2004 interview. “We’ve come to a situation where women accept [abortion on demand] as part of their rights.”


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