For almost a quarter of a century now, very few Canadians have opened their morning papers without seeing some kind of news on abortion. Arguments have changed, people have come and gone, laws have been revamped and courts have ruled but, through it all, there has been one constant – Henry Morgentaler.
Morgentaler is, and always has been, the icon of the pro-abortion movement. He was the first to realize that a great amount of money could be made by privately franchising his practice throughout Canada. He quickly understood that the women’s movement was all-important in popularizing his cause. He defied the laws and took on the Supreme Court.
These alone are ample reasons why the mere mention of his name makes pro-lifers gag on their morning coffee- especially when his exploits elicit favourable press coverage.
“Many in the press and the pro-abortion movement single him out as the champion of women’s rights. They conveniently neglect to mention the all too many occasions in the past which dispute this,” explains past Interim editor Carl Scharfe. It’s this heroic portrayal, he maintains, which infuriates pro-lifers.
”The man’s a scoundrel,” continues Scharfe, “and when the media portray him as a saint, it frustrates and maddens those who know the real story,”
A quick scan of The Interim over its 10 year existence that it has never seriously Morgentaler a candidate for sainthood. In fact, the paper has tried to do everything within its mean to carry out a most thorough character demolition.
It would be untrue to say that these stories have caused huge public reaction but, if nothing else, The Interim has been able to provide an historical record for those who might not have got the “real story.”
The paper’s first, and probably most contentious article, occurred in April, 1983—its second issue. The Interim ran a story which accused Morgentaler of performing abortions with unsanitary medical equipment. According to the article, Rev. E. Doherty, then vice-president of Berkeley Bio-Engineering Inc., admitted that Morgentaler was reusing “Vacurrettes” – devices his company manufactured for use in vacuum abortions.
Doherty claimed that the unsterilized, re-use of these instruments could cause diseases such as viral hepatitis, tetanus, venereal disease and gangrene.
He added that because the instruments were made of polyethylene, re-sterilization was almost impossible. Further, the devices were clearly marked “cannot be re-used.” The article pulled no punches: Morgentaler’s re-use of an item which cost $3.30 was putting women at grave risk.
The next attempt to tell the full story came in the December 1983 Interim. At that time, Morgentaler often told the press that he would provide poor women with abortions at less than his usual fee.
An investigative reporter from the Interim smelled a gigantic rat. Calling Morgentaler’s Toronto office, the reporter said she was a woman who wanted an abortion but couldn’t afford to pay the full price. The receptionist suggested several solutions but never once did she say that Morgentaler would perform the abortion at a reduce price. Obviously, the abortionist never lowered his rates.
The entire conversation, which was recorded in Interim, disproved Morgentaler’s claim of generosity and tried to paint him as the distant CEO of a huge, uncaring and impersonal industry.
Elaborating on this corporate monster theme, the January 1985 issue ran a front-page story estimating how much Morgentaler was making at his Toronto facility alone.
When adding together his consultation fees, the fees for performing the abortion, and the amount of money that went to his holding company, the total came out to an astonishing $1,050,000 per year.
This was in 1985 and, with his empire rapidly expanding throughout Canada, the current yearly take must be phenomenal. Back in 1985, nobody outside the pro-life press seemed to care that the great defender of women’s rights was making over a million a year from these women he claimed to be defending.
Possibly the most damaging article on Morgentaler appeared in the February 1985 Interim. The article told how a South American woman began screaming after an abortion at Morgentaler’s Toronto facility. When she would not stop, Morgentaler’s nurse shoved a sanitary napkin in the women’s mouth to prevent her from screaming.
“I felt very bad because…I cannot get our of here…I wanted to get out of there, said the woman in her broken English. Throughout its existence, The Interim has always tried to depict Morgentaler as the wealthy, unethical kingpin of the huge, impersonal Canadian abortion industry. By using well-documented articles, exposes and cartoons, the paper has attempted to tell the story which, for some reason or another, Canadians don’t usually find in their morning papers.