Henry Morgentaler, the leading campaigner for the legalization of abortion in Canada, has been honoured with the Order of Canada. He spent ten months in prison, despite being acquitted three times by juries, and his letters from prison were published in the Canadian Humanist. IHEU supported him, among other things by sending letters of protest to the Canadian authorities.
Henry Morgentaler was born in Poland in 1932. Being of Jewish descent, he ended up in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau, which he survived. After his medical studies in Brussels he emigrated to Canada, and settled as a general practitioner in Montreal. In 1968 he became the founding president of the Humanist Association of Canada, which immediately became a member of IHEU, with Morgentaler representing it on the IHEU Board.
In 1976 the Quebec government decided to end all further prosecution of Morgentaler. In 1988 he received the Humanist of the Year Award at the Buffalo IHEU Congress for upholding his humanist principles, at the cost of great personal sacrifice.
Morgetaler’s conviction was the first and last time that a Canadian Appeal Court overruled a jury verdict of innocence. Canadians were outraged by this travesty of justice. This forced the federal government to introduce a new law preventing a jury’s decision being overturned, now known as the Morgentaler Amendment.
Finally, in 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada used Dr. Morgentaler’s appeal based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to strike down Canada’s abortion law for infringing on a woman’s right to life, liberty and security of the person. Today, there is no abortion law in Canada, although some provinces still put barriers in the way by denying financial aid or by refusing to licence abortion clinics.
Morgentaler opened the 1990 IHEU World Congress by emphasizing that in spite of the great progress already made in realizing the ideals of the 1789 French Revolution, Humanists still faced an immense task to achieve the full realization of those ideals.