Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Henry Morgentaler profile on CTV Jan 5

This Magazine Staff

This today from Judy Rebick regarding the airing of a feature film on the life of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, Wed Jan 5 at 9:00 pm. Sounds well worth tuning in — Judy has praise for the film and she’s a character in the film — and it reiterates that we can not rest on our laurels on the issue of a woman’s right to govern her own body. One has simply to look at the erosion of the liberal position on choice in the U.S. for proof of that. (Here’s a recent article from Mother Jones on “The Way It Was” and how antichoice activists are making headway against Roe v. Wade).

On Wednesday January 5, CTV will show a feature film of his life, Choice: the Henry Morgentaler Story. It is the first time that Dr. Morgentaler’s importance to Canada in general and Canadian women in particular has ever really been recognized in the mainstream.
He risked his life and his liberty to provide safe abortions to women. Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor, while acquitted by three juries, nevertheless was jailed twice for performing abortions. It is in no small part because of Dr. Morgentaler’s courage than most women in Canada today take their choice to terminate a pregnancy for granted. It was not always so.
Heroes are never perfect people and that is certainly true for Dr. Morgentaler. The film shows an egotistical man with a big heart who turned his back on a comfortable life as a well to do doctor to devote his life to the cause of women’s right to choose. The film follows the struggle for abortion rights in Canada through the prism of his life but the focus is on Henry himself, his relationships, his loves and his struggle with his personal demons as well as his devotion to the issue that has defined his life. David Eisner does a spectacular job of portraying Morgentaler.
The pro-choice movement, while given its due in the film, is never more than a back drop to what is a portrait of a complex and courageous man. I worked with Dr. Morgentaler in the 1980s in the fight to establish a free-standing clinic in Toronto and through the court case that ultimately led to the Supreme Court striking down the abortion law. Judy Rebick is actually a character in the film. Watching an actor, Leni Parker, play me twenty years ago is a fairly weird experience.
While the film inevitably plays with the facts to improve the drama, it is a very good portrayal of the history of the struggle for abortion rights in Canada. If you were part of it, you’ll enjoy the memories. If you weren’t, then watch to see what a monumental struggle it took to win reproductive rights and what a debt we owe to Dr. Henry Morgentaler for the fact that Canada is one of the few countries where abortion is totally legal.

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