Tony Gosgnach
The Interim

Pro-life advocates had barely stopped making phone calls, sending letters and putting away picket signs over Henry Morgentaler’s honourary degree award at the University of Western Ontario, when news emerged that the abortion crusader was about to receive another public recognition.

The Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs – which bills itself as “Canada’s largest, oldest and most influential public affairs forum – announced it would award its 2005 Couchiching Award for Public Policy Leadership to Morgentaler August 4-7. The award, sponsored by Sun Life Financial, is intended for “a nationally recognized Canadian who has demonstrated leadership in a public policy field” and who has had “a demonstrable, positive impact on Canada or a community within Canada over the medium term, often in the face of public opposition.”

Although pro-lifers may agree that Morgentaler has indeed had public opposition, for good reason, they would dispute the contention that he has had “a demonstrable, positive impact on Canada,” with over 100,000 abortions a year in this country not only taking a very real toll in human lives, but also draining the health system of tens of millions of dollars that could be used for more beneficial purposes and decreasing the national birth rate to well below replacement levels.

Facts such as those didn’t seem to trouble the institute, however, which in a press release lauded Morgentaler for being a person “who understood that women’s equality could not be achieved within the existing restrictions on medical services for ‘reproductive choice’ … Morgentaler used both his professional status and personal skills to fight for ‘women’s rights,’ while placing himself ‘at risk.’ His actions have brought about fundamental changes in Canadian law and to the health care system and in so doing, dramatically affected for the better the lives of Canadians from coast to coast.”

Rhetoric such as that didn’t sit well with all women, however, including Wasaga Beach, Ont. resident Gloria Lawrenson, who underwent an abortion in her younger years and lived to regret it. In a communication sent to the institute and Canadian newspapers, she wrote: “As a woman who aborted her child during the ‘Morgentaler era,’ in which choice was supreme, but never provided (the choice to kill was the only one presented), I am appalled that the man who robbed Canada of successive generations is walking free to preach his unique brand of eugenics …

“It is more than a little ironic that for all your culture and education, you haven’t yet figured out that abortion is the single greatest holocaust of the 20th century and, unfortunately, (is) continuing into the 21st,” she said. “Surely, there is another Canadian out there, without the blood of millions of children on his or her hands, who would be more deserving.”

Negative reactions also came from various other sectors of Canadian society. Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes, noting that government offices, businesses and corporations – such as Foreign Affairs Canada and the Defence Department – prop up the institute, said sarcastically that such support “sends a great message to our young people about the consequences of breaking the law.”

He encouraged Canadians at large, who are considering obtaining life insurance, to avoid Sun Life Financial and let it know why. Those who currently have a policy, or some other business relationship, with the corporation are encouraged to sever that relationship if feasible, he said.

Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed dismay over the award, on behalf of the Canadian Catholic church.

“How someone who has led a movement that causes the death of approximately 100,000 innocent persons a year in Canada can be said to ‘have had a positive impact on Canada or a community within Canada’ defies the imagination,” he said.

O’Brien expressed hope that the institute will, in the future, find recipients who are more worthy of its Award for Public Policy Leadership.

In his acceptance speech, the humanist Morgentaler railed against religion and “anti-choice fanatics,” singling out the Catholic church in particular for being a “bastion of patriarchy” and an “opponent of women’s rights.” But he also found venom to fling at the Muslim faith.

“The Catholic church is not the only male-dominated religion opposed to women’s rights; the Muslim religion is equally opposed. It is no wonder that, in most countries dominated by these two religions, women are oppressed and denied fundamental human rights, of which the right to abortion is only the most visible example,” he said.

Moving beyond abortion, Morgentaler called for the legalization of euthanasia and an end to religious hospitals. He also credited abortion with lowering the murder rate in Toronto – at about the same time Ontario was announcing funding for 1,000 more police officers to deal with a huge upswing in violence, especially in Toronto.

Those concerned about the award to Morgentaler, or his statements at the 74th annual summer conference of the Couchiching Institute for Public Affairs, can write to the institute at: 250 Consumers Rd., Suite 301, Willowdale, Ont., M2J 4V6. Telephone: (416) 494-1440. Fax: (416) 495-8723. E-mail:

The Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sun Life Financial and can be written to at: 150 King St. W., Toronto, Ont., M5H 1J9. Telephone: (416) 979-9966.