Monday, January 7

Morgentaler at 20: An Activist reflects

On January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark judgment in R. v. Morgentaler. To mark this month’s twentieth anniversary, The has commissioned contributions from some of those involved in the case. Today, journalist and former National Action Committee on the Status of Women president Judy Rebick describes how the ruling was received by the Canadian women’s movement.

I’ll never forget January 28, 1988, the day the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law. It was freezing cold. A group of pro-choice activists were standing in front of the Morgentaler clinic along with a mob of media waiting to hear the news from our comrades in Ottawa. They were supposed to call the clinic as soon as the decision came down and the clinic staff would let us know what happened. We didn’t have cell phones in those days. A reporter called me aside and said she had just heard on her radio that the Supreme Court had struck down the law on the grounds that it interfered with women’s right to security of the person. I didn’t believe her. We thought the justices might very well strike down the law, but we figured it would be on the technical grounds of lack of equal access. A decision based on the Charter guarantee of security of the person was too much to hope for. After all, the major argument of the pro-choice movement was that a woman had the right to control her own body.

Indeed, the majority decision written by Chief Justice Brian Dickson stated:

[S]tate interference with bodily integrity and serious state-imposed psychological stress, at least in the criminal law context, constitutes a breach of security of the person… Section 251 [the old abortion law] clearly interferes with a woman’s physical and bodily integrity. Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus an infringement of security of the person.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...constitutes a breach of security of the person…"

Now of course, sometime in the future, historians, lawmakers, and lay persons alike will recoil at the putrid stench of perverted injustice eminating from this statement in the Morgentaler decision in the same way we react today to the American Supreme Court's statement in its infamous Dred Scott decision: "On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them." Today, the very life of the babe in the womb is held in bondage (by the state and radical feminists alike) in the exact same manner that the Africans' were in the days of Dred Scott.

One day, we will see that the horrific act of abortion is the real "breach of security of the person."

God bless you.