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Henry Morgentaler

MORGENTALER, HENRY (1923– ), Canadian physician and abortion advocate. Henry Morgentaler was born in Lodz, Poland, the son of well-known members of the Jewish Socialist Labor Bund. His parents and sister were murdered by the Nazis, but Morgentaler and his brother survived incarceration in Auschwitz and Dachau. Following the war, Morgentaler accepted a UN scholarship offered to Jewish survivors and enrolled in medical school in Germany. He completed his first year at Marburg-Lahn University, and his second and third years at the Université de Bruxelles. In 1950 Morgentaler emigrated to Canada, where, despite quotas for Jewish medical students, he resumed his studies at the Université de Montréal and received his medical degree in 1953.

Convinced that women had a right to a safe medical abortion, Morgentaler appeared before the Canadian House of Commons Health and Welfare Committee as president of the Montreal Humanist Fellowship in 1967 and urged the federal government to repeal the Canadian law against abortion. Recognized as a leading advocate of abortion rights in Canada, he was inundated with requests for help from across the country and began performing abortions in his Montreal office. To deliberately challenge the law, he announced in 1973 that he had, in violation of the law, successfully carried out more than 5,000 abortions. Three times he was arrested, charged, tried by jury, and found not guilty of violating the Criminal Code. An unprecedented decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned his first jury acquittal and sent Morgentaler to prison, prompting Parliament to pass a Criminal Code amendment – now known as the Morgentaler Amendment – denying appellate judges the power to strike down acquittals and order imprisonment.

In 1983 Morgentaler opened a clinic in Toronto. He was again charged and acquitted, and in early 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada finally struck down Canada's abortion law. Morgentaler, who had eight clinics across Canada, continued his campaign to provide abortion services and test federal and provincial law.


C. Dumphy, Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.