Dr. Henry Morgentaler died of a heart attack yesterday at the ripe old age of 90. It is his legacy that makes my heart feel all tender inside for this incredibly brave man who never wavered in his active support for a woman’s reproductive rights – for a woman’s right to choose. Talk about an unpopular way of thinking, especially for the times. Especially for a man.
For the record, I’ve never had an abortion.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to conceive when I wanted to, and I gave birth, unremarkably, to two healthy babies. (I had one miscarriage at the start, but these things happen all the time.) I had the right partner in my life at the right time. I was a fully-formed adult person. Things have worked out pretty much the way I’d hoped.
Sadly, life doesn’t always go according to plan for all woman (and girls) and though I can’t imagine having to weigh the choices available if faced with a decision like this, Dr. Morgentaler toiled relentlessly in order to have abortion be a safe choice for women, if desired. Choice, is the key word.
I can’t think that there’s a single person in the world who is pro-abortion. I can’t think that there’s a single doctor out there who performs this kind of surgery who loves it. Not at all. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and we have all the historical back-alley proof of how scared women and girls will take matters into their own hands with coat hangers, or crazy douche concoctions, or take spectacular spills down staircases all in hopes of undoing something that’s been unintentionally done.
Reasons… all the reasons. Having a baby when you’re just a baby yourself. Another mouth to feed, perhaps. Maybe it’s just a very bad time for a baby to come into your life. For the rest of your life. It’s a staggering thought to me, when I consider how tough-but-wonderful life is with children in it… all the love and the time, the expense, the sacrifices… and I was prepared. (Or, as prepared as a person can think she is at the onset.) And I wanted this job.
For many women, having safe access to an abortion is completely life-changing. It can help young women AND young men stay a course when they’ve come to a bump in the road they weren’t prepared for. Unplanned pregnancies happen every single day to people of all ages, and though unplanned doesn’t always equate with unwanted, many times it does.
And so, this man – a concentration camp survivor who emigrated to Montreal in 1950 opened an abortion clinic twenty years later, because besides all the other forms of birth control available, there was still a need. And he carried on bravely, despite the death-threats and aggressive behaviours of others, and legal problems, and the prison sentence. That takes some strong conviction, and that takes some serious balls.
(Photo credit: John Lehmann/Associated Press – New York Times)
Without him, without his pressure that (still) challenges the socially conservative views of this great country of ours, I think Canada could have been stuck in a throw-back kind of era, as lots of male politicians might still like us to be. Keep your dress down. Keep your mouth shut, ladies. No opinions, please.
It is not anyone’s business what a woman choses – it is a reproductive health decision made between a lady and her doctor – that’s it, that’s all. Moralists can poo-poo whatever they want, and haters gon’ hate, but you really can’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes. And walk in her shoes with a crying baby strapped to your back for the next eighteen to twenty-five years, as well.
Thank you so much, Dr. Morgentaler, for your perseverance and for your excellence. I was supremely proud when you received the Order of Canada five years ago… though controversial to some, I thought it was very well deserved. And it says a lot about how far we’ve come as a country. Freer, I should think.
May that good man rest in peace at last. (Condolences his his wife and children.)