, 25 tweets, 8 min read Read on Twitter
With the #abortion bills in the US effectively banning abortion in all circumstances, it is time we remember Henry #Morgentaler, a Canadian physician who challenged the #criminalization of abortion in Canada and went to prison for it.


#law #medicine #obgyn
Dr. Morgentaler was born in Poland in 1923. He was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. After the war, he immigrated to Canada to study and practice medicine. 2/25
From the beginning he had an interest in reproductive health, becoming one of the first physicians to perform vasectomies, place intrauterine devices (IUD, a form of birth control), and provide birth control pills to unmarried women. 3/25
Initially, he refused to break the law:
"I answered, 'I sympathize with you. I know your problem, but the law won't let me help you. If I do help you, I'll go to jail, I lose my practice—I have a wife and two children. I'm sorry, but I just can't!' 4/25
Women were dying from improperly performed abortions, sometimes self-performed and hospitals had entire wards devoted to caring for women who had improperly performed abortions. Many women died. 5/25
According to a Globe and Mail article, Toronto General Hospital received 75 requests for abortions per day but performed only six per week. Birth control was legal, but difficult to obtain. 6/25
In 1969 in Montreal, Dr. Morgentaler set up one of his first abortion clinics, in direct contravention of the law which required the woman obtain approval from a "Therapeutic Abortion Committee" (TAC) at a hospital. 7/25
Abortions could not be performed in private clinics. They could not be performed in cases of rape or incest. They could only be performed if the woman's life was in danger and only then if she received approval from the TAC. 8/25
If one did not obtain such approval, the provider of the abortion had committed a crime contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada, punishable by a life sentence. 9/25
Though women were required to obtain the approval of a Therapeutic Abortion Committee, hospitals were not required to establish them. Many hospitals chose not to do so with only every third hospital having a TAC. 10/25
When a hospital did have one, some committees never met or met extremely infrequently. When they did meet, the TAC determined whether to approve the abortion without seeing the woman and based on subjective opinion, with no right of appeal. 11/25
In the early 1970's, Dr. Morgentaler was tried three times for contravening the criminal prohibition on abortion. He raised the defence of necessity, arguing that as a physician he had a duty treat his patients. The jury acquitted him. 12/25
But in a move that was entirely without precedent and that is now currently illegal, the Quebec Court of Appeal vacated the acquittal and substituted a conviction. 13/25
Dr. Morgentaler was out on bail while awaiting the results of the appeal to the Supreme Court. After losing the appeal, he was imprisoned for ten of the 18-month sentence, in defiance of the legal custom of parole after one-third of the sentence has been served 14/25
and during which he suffered a heart attack while in solitary confinement. The Quebec Minister of Justice sets aside his conviction and ordered a new trial. After the new trial, Dr. Morgentaler was acquitted. 15/25
In 1983, a year after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force, Dr. Morgentaler opened abortion clinics in Toronto & Winnipeg. Police raided the Toronto clinic & charged Drs. Henry Morgentaler, Leslie Frank Smoling & Robert Scott with unlawfully procuring miscarriages.
The Supreme Court of Canada legal case named after Morgentaler is lengthy, but in essence, the Chief Justice found that the TAC regime was unconstitutional as it was "a profound interference with a woman's body" that was unfair, arbitrary, and 17/25
impaired a woman's constitutional right to 'security of the person' more than necessary, and in ways that were not proportionate to the law's objective.

Other concurring opinions focused on the lack of TACs, the delays involved, and the risk to women's health. 18/25
Justice Bertha Wilson, Canada's first female Supreme Court justice, wrote that not only was it a violation of a woman's right to security of the person, but also of her liberty: 19/25
In 13 days, it is the sixth anniversary of Dr. Morgentaler's death. He should be remembered for his work and sacrifice on behalf of women. More information on him can be found here: morgentaler25years.ca 20/25
Most of this thread is from a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago. If you're interested here is Part I: adam.shehata.ca/2017/06/aborti… 21/25
And here is Part II: adam.shehata.ca/2017/06/aborti…

There, you can find information on (unsuccessful) attempts to criminalize abortion in Canada since then and the importance of listening to #women and people who work in #reproductive #health on this issue. 22/25
Criminalizing abortion does not stop it from happening, it only stops it from happening safely. In other words, it kills women. This was brought home to Canadian policymakers at the time when 20-year-old Yvonne Jurewicz from Toronto died from a self-induced, coat-hanger abortion.
This recent @CMAJ article confirms what the Canadian and US Supreme Courts found decades ago: "Pregnancies that continue to birth have a rate of severe maternal morbidity eightfold higher than that reported in the linked study of abortion." cmaj.ca/content/191/19… 24/25
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