For a few days it looked as if Reggie Chartrand’s battle to force the Quebec law enforcement authorities to act against doctors who perform abortions illegally in their offices had achieved a major success.  On Tuesday, September 9, Judge Roger Savard, in a preliminary hearing of charges laid by Mr. Chartrand, ordered Dr. Yvan Machabee to appear before the Criminal Court, at its next session on November 3, to have the date set for his trial before judge and jury.

The charge resulted from an abortion performed by Machabee in November 1982 in his office in Montreal.  The woman on whom the abortion was performed (she was a minor at the time and was afraid to tell her parents she was pregnant) suffered serious injuries including lacerations of the uterus and perforation of her intestines.  She had sued Dr. Machabee for $193,677 in damages and his insurance company, Guardian Insurance Company of Canada refused to cover him.  The insurance company based its refusal on a clause in the policy stating:

“This policy does not pay damages for losses resulting from acts performed by the insured in the accomplishment of criminal activities.”

A woman doctor from a local Montreal hospital testified as to the extent and seriousness of the girl’s injuries and Judge Savard ruled that sufficient evidence had been presented to convince him that Machabee should be ordered to stand trial.

At the beginning of the proceedings, Machabee’s counsel demanded that the press and public be excluded from the hearing.  This motion was opposed by Maitre Gratien Duchene of Alma, Quebec, who was acting for Reggie Chartrand.  The judge ruled that the public and press would be admitted, but that the name of the woman who had the abortion would not be published.

Justice Minister intervenes

Pro-lifers in Quebec were delighted by Reggie Chartrand’s success but realized that there was a very real danger that Justice Minister Herbert Marx would interfere to protect the abortionist, do everybody got to work on a campaign of letter-writing to ask Premier Bourassa to ensure that Machabee would go for trial.

However, three days later, on September 12, before the letters could have any result, Marx ordered a stay of proceedings.  In doing so he stated that Quebec should not permit any doctor to be tried on abortion charges until the outstanding case against Dr. Morgentaler has been decided by the Supreme Court.

The stay of proceedings under S.508 of the Criminal Code means that no further proceedings can take place in the Machabee case unless ordered by the Justice Minister.  If he does not order a trial within one year “the proceedings will be deemed never to have been commenced.”

Pro-lifers in Quebec are angry.  They are flooding the Premier’s office with letters and telegrams demanding the dismissal of Marx and that Machabee be sent for trial.  Many of the letters suggest that Marx’s action is a clear indication that there is no legal or peaceable recourse against doctors who practice illegal abortion – that the only way to fight effectively against the violence of abortion is by violence.  For the first time pro-lifers are convinced that the abortionists are, in effect, re-writing the law to suit themselves and that the politicians are accepting dictation from them.

At the same time as he ordered the stay of proceedings, Justice Minister Marx called for a police investigation to determine whether the injuries suffered by Machabee’s patient were a result of criminal negligence.  It would appear that in doing so he was trying to convince the media and the pro-abortion lobby that he is willing to punish doctors for negligence but not for doing abortions.