Several years ago, Dooney’s Dictionary defined abortion in Canada as follows: “R v. Morgentaler (1988) — one of the more intelligent Canadian Supreme Court decisions — decided that Canada is better off without abortion laws, on the constitutional ground that there is a class of important personal decisions in which the state ought not to interfere. Despite predictions that the country would collapse into social chaos at the hands of hordes of fetus-murdering Medeas, the Canadian family continues to wobble along pretty much as before. A few hardy souls claiming direct access to God continue to loiter outside the bubble zones of the few clinics courageous enough to provide this medical service, and from time to time they go over the edge, but…”
We stand by our definition, of course, but it’s time to update it. 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the R. v. Morgentaler case, with its memorable decisions by Chief Justice Brian Dickson and Justice Bertha Wilson that determined that Canada’s abortion laws violated a woman’s constitutional right to “life, liberty and security of person.” A quarter-century after the elimination of laws restricting choice on abortion in Canada, a national poll reported that a majority of Canadians are satisfied with the present legal status and have no desire to revisit the debate. What was once a dangerous practice and a dirty secret has become a standard medical service to be decided by women and their doctors. That puts Canada in stark contrast to its American neighbour, where abortion continues to be an (over) heated topic of debate and legislation.
One of the principal and eponymous figures in the case, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, died on May 29, 2013, at the age of 90, occasioning encomiums to his memory across the country. The Polish-born Holocaust-survivor became the heroic Canadian physician and pro-choice activist whose efforts to ensure women safe and accessible medical services with respect to abortion eventually led to the highest court in the land, where Morgentaler’s actions were vindicated.