The Manitoba struggle with Morgentaler resumed in early March of this year after a long pause of almost a year and a half. It started with Morgentaler ‘s promise to re-open his abortion clinic; Attorney General Penner’s earlier refusal of the League of Life’s request for an injunction to close the abortuary, if re-opened; and the subsequent March 7 rally of 3,000 at the Legislature. The controversy gained momentum with the resignation of the president of the Manitoba college of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. F. P. Doyle, in protest against the renewal of Morgentaler’s license. (See April Interim, p.1 and p.20, respectively).
At the beginning of March, Morgentaler himself had only just returned from India. His first comment on the earlier demonstrations in Toronto had been to accuse Emmet Cardinal Carter and other church leaders of “meddling” and of “provoking hatred and violence.” Naturally, the call of Winnipeg’s Catholic bishops that human lives were more important than legalities provided him with more fuel for similar charges against them. Ellen Kruger and Judy Rebick, spokeswomen for Morgentaler in Winnipeg and Toronto respectively, accused the religious leaders of “overstepping the bounds between church and state.”
On March 13 Kruger and her radical feminist group continued the pro-abortionist tactics of attempting to disqualify churchgoers and religious minded people from civic office. This time they “accused” Dr. Doyle, the president of the Manitoba College of Physicians who had just resigned, of allowing himself to be “influenced” and even “pressed into his decision” (of opposing the Morgentaler license) by the Roman Catholic Church. Dr. Doyle, as reported by the Globe (March 14), unfortunately felt obligated to declare that his church affiliation had only a slight influence on his professional decision, thus playing into the hands of the Morgentaler secularists. The latter would like the public to believe that “pluralism” means secularism, i.e. that religious convictions should be forbidden in the exercise of public office.
A few days later, the Manitoba League for Life went to court to prevent Morgentaler from performing abortions. The League sought a permanent injunction to stop all abortions at the clinic. When the appeal to seek an injunction was granted, Kruger’s “Coalition for Reproductive Choice” sent letters to the Canadian Judicial Council. The group argued that two of the five judges should have disqualified themselves on the grounds that they were “pro-life” and, therefore, unfit to make judgments on the Morgentaler case. Kruger said that Justice Joseph O’Sullivan’s position as chairman of the Grey Nuns’ Youville clinic was sufficient reason to “compromise” his objectivity. As for Chief Justice Alfred M. Monnin, she claimed once more, as she had done two years earlier, that his signature (one of 36,000) on a protest against an abortion clinic, also made him unfit to judge abortion issues coming before the court.
On Friday, March 22, the League’s application for an injunction was set over until April 2 by Chief Justice Dewar. Dewar told the league’s lawyers Robert Reimer and Scott Kennedy, that no judge was available on such short notice to hear the appeal. Morgentaler had announced already that he would re-open his abortion clinic on Saturday March 23, come what may. This re-opening had not been approved by either the Ministry of Health or by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Judge Dewar noted that “if the Criminal Code of Canada isn’t enough to stop Morgentaler, then it’s unlikely a court injunction will either …”
As advertised, on Saturday March 23, Morgentaler arrived to perform abortions. He was in for a surprise, but not from the 70 or so demonstrators outside his establishment. Unlike the Toronto police, Winnipeg Police Chief Herb Stephen had decided to act. His men raided the abortuary in the afternoon, seized the equipment and had charges laid against the abortionist. Naturally, the latter, performed his “I-am-indignant,” act, declaring “This is an attack on women’s rights, on their rights to safety, health and dignity.”
His spokeswoman, Ellen Kruger, immediately organized a march to Attorney-General Penner’s home. “We’re shocked and appalled at today’s raid,” she stated. Her demonstrators did not mince words with Penner who – ironically – has acknowledged publicly to be very much on their side. He confirmed this once more with them. But, he said, “the police must work within the confines of the law.” He himself, he said, despite his strong personal “pro-choice” beliefs, was forced to uphold the Criminal Code (which rules out abortion clinics).
Visible opposition to the Morgentaler clinic expressed itself in three ways: court action by the League for Life; demonstrations around the clinic, chiefly, this time by members of a few evangelical churches; and preparations by Joe Borowski and his Alliance Against Abortion to embark upon a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience (if the clinic were to be allowed to operate). The disobedience was to be directed towards a number of provincial laws. Mr. Borowski had asked people to be prepared:
- To refuse to collect provincial sales tax.
- To stop wearing seat-belts.
- To urge civil servants to stage a one-hour work stoppage every Friday.
- To encourage prisoners to stage a weekly peaceful demonstration against the illegal abortuary.
As is customary when pro-life supporter show they mean business, newspaper editors became upset. The Winnipeg Sun published an editorial entitled “Clinic circus is sickening” (March 24) which blamed both sides for “trivializing” what is “a critical moral and ethical issue for Canadians.” Without noticing the various contradictions in what he had written, the editor concluded “Give it (the issue) a rest. Those among us who are uncommitted to either side are sick to death of the whole spectacle.”
During the following days, Morgentaler announced he would be back in Winnipeg on March 30 and appealed for money to replace the seized equipment. But, once again, a surprise awaited him. On Friday March 29 the College of Physicians announced it had suspended his Manitoba medical licence for seven days, for violating the College’s by-laws against illegal medical facilities.
As a result of the controversy, Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley (NDP) for the first time stated his stand on the abortion issue. “I am in basic agreement with the existing law, but there are other points of view I respect,” he told the legislature on March 25. He did not think a change was needed in the Federal law at this point, but he did desire wider “accessibility” within the existing system.
Attorney-General Penner advised Morgentaler not to perform further abortions in Winnipeg, once new criminal charges had been issued. While his lawyer Greg Brodsky sought to have the charges laid over until after the Ontario appeal of his acquittal, the abortionist himself bowed once more to keep his Winnipeg abortion clinic open. Meanwhile, the League for Life application for an injunction was being opposed in court by Morgentaler’s second lawyer, Rocky Kravetsky. Kravetsky argued that the request constituted an attempt to enforce criminal laws in the province, a matter exclusively delegated to the Attorney-General.
On March 30 Winnipeg witnessed a repeat of the previous Saturday: Morgentaler performed some more abortions; the Winnipeg police raided his abortuary and hauled the equipment away; and the abortionist, holding Penner personally responsible, attacked the NDP cabinet minister for bringing “shame and discredit on your own party.” “I think the honourable thing to do would be to resign immediately,” Morgentaler suggested. Lawyer Greg Brodsky declared himself to be surprised and outraged, while Ellen Kruger’s group marched once more to Mr. Penner’s home to vent their anger.
On April 2 Mr. Justice Kroft of the Court of Queen’s Bench refused to grant the injunction requested by the League. His ruling, he said, should not be construed as approval of Dr. Morgentaler’s actions. He also noted that the Attorney-General could ask for tougher bail provisions to curtail Morgentaler’s activities until court charges had been settled. The request, he stated, was denied on the (legal) grounds that the group has no “standing” to seek a restraining order and, even if it did, he would rule against it because persons in the group are not suffering any personal harm or damage from what is taking place in the clinic. The judge said he would not have granted the request even if the Attorney-General had asked for it.
While this injunction was denied, the College of Physicians and Surgeons won an interim injunction on April 4 which prohibited Morgentaler from practicing medicine in the province until the issue of his licence suspension could be settled at a trial on April 18. Chief Justice Archibald Dewar ruled that the College is entrusted with maintaining the health standards of the province and that Morgentaler had “repudiated the authority of the college.” This time, Mr. Brodsky indicated that his client would abide by the court order.
Three final notes. Ellen Kruger’s Coalition managed to get some more publicity by publicly attacking the tax-free status of the Manitoba League for Life, an educational group. She accused Revenue Canada of playing favourites and claimed her group – a political lobby – would seek the same status.
Morgentaler got some more publicity by offering “free abortions” for Manitobans at his abortuary in Toronto.
And Morgentaler got in the final word, by calling Attorney-General “an embarrassment to the NDP.” “I think he’s a hypocrite,” he said in a Globe April 6, interview from Montreal. “He should resign. He’s a disgrace to that party.” “The federal NDP is ashamed of what he is doing.” He also accused Health Minister Laurent Desjardins of “placing his religious values above the health of women” and the Winnipeg police of “beating the records for insensitivity.”