The Morgentaler Clinic, downtown Toronto. Dr. Henry Morgentaler deserves a huge amount of gratitude for so many things: He pioneered the suction-curettage method of early surgical abortion; he defied the law to set up free-standing women’s clinics; he coined the term “fetus fetishist”, which is SO applicable to this day; and of course, he helped make certain that the bad old abortion laws of our home and native land were struck down for good, 25 years ago this week. He began his campaign for abortion rights the year I was born, going before the House of Commons to testify that the illegality of abortion was killing women, and that women should have the right to safe, legal procedures instead. He is also a living refutation of the pernicious anti-choice myth of abortion-as-holocaust, seeing as he survived the REAL Holocaust at Auschwitz. (How fitting, then, that this week also marks the anniversary of the liberation of that camp.)
But Dr. Morgentaler wasn’t alone. Countless women from across Canada fought for the right to a free choice, with no time limits, no mandatory waiting periods, and no “therapeutic abortion committees” in big-city hospitals to decide their fate. Every time the government tabled a new bill to try to reimpose restrictions, women turned out in the hundreds of thousands, shouting “NO NEW LAW!”
I was among the marchers back then, and aware from the start (volunteering at a university women’s centre has that effect on one) that the anti-choicers weren’t going to take their defeats quietly; they were going to try again. And sure enough, they did. They tried all kinds of tactics, all of them dirty. It is fair to call them terrorists; terror tactics were their stock in trade. They bombed clinics; they harassed patients and clinic staff on the sidewalks and in parking lots; they chained themselves to the doors with bike locks; they shot doctors, wounding some and killing others; and, most insidiously, they elected anti-choice MPs to Parliament, in the hopes of sneaking new legislation in (under the guise of “debate”, never mind that the actual debate was settled by the Tremblay v. Daigle decision, which followed on the heels of the striking of the old abortion law and is also now almost a quarter-century old.)
I wish I could say the fight were over, but I know damn well it’s not. Today, even with legality fully established, accessibility of abortion is still not what it should be. And there is still the fight to be fought against new anti-choice legislation every time some “reasonable” measure (which in fact is anything but) gets introduced by some pompous twit in Parliament. And for that, we need millions more marchers, many more Morgentalers, and above all, constant vigilance against the sneak-thieves of our own democratic process. Because, in the final analysis, women’s right to bodily autonomy is not something that can or should be decided by a vote in Parliament…ever again.