On Wednesday evening, January 15, Henry Morgentaler left Toronto for a whirlwind tour of Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. The day before, Tuesday January 14, Toronto pro-life strategists called for an “extra show of strength” at the Toronto abortuary — with the result that, at one point, in the early afternoon, close to 300 pro-life protesters crowded the sidewalks at the Harbord Street Abortion Clinic. During the day, more than 600 people arrived to protest.
Morgentaler’s trip had been announced earlier with the result that local Western pro-life groups had prepared themselves. In Calgary, Michael Malley of the Calgary Coalition for Life issued a statement saying: “we are not going to allow this man to defy the law and let abortion on demand spread throughout this province.” Malley said he was encouraged by Alberta Attorney-General Neil Crawford’s January 4 statement that the law will be applied to Morgentaler if he tries to set up an abortuary in Alberta.
Malley’s view was supported by Rev. Ted Smits, chairman of the Roman Catholic diocesan right-to-life commission in Calgary. Smits said he was also pleased with the suggestion by Dr. Roy Le Riche, registrar of the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons, that Morgentaler might be denied a license to practice medicine if he tries to open a clinic in Alberta. In response to Morgentaler’s claim that Canada was with him, Smits pointed out that in May 1983, 40,000 Albertans had signed a petition opposing abortions and that more recently 700,000 Canadians sent postcards to Ottawa taking the same position.
Another statement was issued by Calgary lawyer Norman Conrad, who said he was “incensed” at the warning by the Alberta Attorney-General. Morgentaler, Conrad said, was being “harassed;” therefore, he announced a “pro-choice” rally in front of the Harry Hayes federal government building for Saturday January 12.
The January 12 pro-abortion demonstration led to a head-on confrontation. According to the Herald, 40 pro-life supporters heckled and shouted at a rally of 150 Morgentaler supporters. (According to Calgary Pro-life, numbers were about even.) Larry Heather, president of the Protestant group “Christians Concerned for Life,” said that they had come to protest Morgentaler’s visit.
When Morgentaler did arrive three days later, it was Heather who welcomed him at the airport by spraying ketchup on his face and beard. For this, he was wrestled to the ground by police. Mr. Heather ran as an independent pro-life candidate in a Calgary constituency during the 1984 late-summer federal election. The day following the airport incident, he announced his resignation as president of Christians Concerned for Life.
Morgentaler’s only public engagement in Calgary was an interview on CBC TV the next morning. According to police estimates, there were two pro-abortion and 400 pro-life supporters demonstrating outside the CBC studio. (The Globe, reported 150 anti-abortion supporters.)
Purpose of Trip
The purpose of Morgentaler’s Western trip had been given as seeking support in his fight to keep open his Toronto abortion clinic. The Toronto Globe reported that he would probably announce plans to reopen his Winnipeg clinic in mid-March, as well as give backing for a clinic in Edmonton. However, the main purpose of his visit was to organize an Alberta abortuary and find the moral and financial support for his fight in Toronto.
Morgentaler (Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics’ spokesman Judy Rebick was quoted as saying), hopes to convince pro-choice advocates in Alberta and Manitoba that their circumstances will be a lot easier if he wins the fight in Ontario. Organizers have set up invitation-only cocktail parties in Winnipeg and Edmonton where guests will be able to open their cheque books.
In Edmonton most of the Morgentaler engagements were scheduled for the University Campus. Consequently, Edmonton Pro-Life, Campaign Life, and other groups delegated counter-effect co-ordination chiefly to the “Campus Right to Life” group. Jane Hagerty of Campus Right to Life, and chief resource person at the Life Ethics Centre at St. Joseph’s College of the University of Alberta, reported that all week long a pro-life information booth had been open in the Students Union Building (SUB). She said that their plans included maximum use of Tanya Hughson of Calgary and her counseling organization. Tanya, who has had an abortion herself, was suggested as a speaker by the Campus Right to Life when the Student’s Union grew restive at the one-sidedness of the Morgentaler visit and indicated interest in a more balanced presentation.
Miss Hughson was scheduled for a press conference and an afternoon CBC TV interview on the day of Morgentaler’s arrival Wednesday, January 16. Morgentaler’s evening talk at the Law Building (on campus) was to be picketed by 200 members of the Baptist Church. The next day January 17, Miss Hughson was scheduled for an early morning radio interview, as well as a radio presentation immediately following Morgentaler’s.
In the evening, a candlelight observance and demonstration was scheduled for outside the Student’s Union Building. This included a two-minute silence for the slain unborn and addresses by two speakers. Russ Olson, a counselor, and Mennonite Arnold Voth, M.D., specialist in internal medicine at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital and the Cross Cancer Institute. This was to be followed by a speech by Tanya Hughson at the Education Building, after which coffee was to be served. Some 700-1000 people were expected to attend.
The Globe & Mail of January 18 confirmed the success of the demonstrations by noting that “more than 500 people” attended the candlelight ceremony, “the largest demonstration” faced by Morgentaler on his Western trip. The same reporter noted that “a capacity crowd of 750 people paid $7.50 a ticket to hear him.”
However, Jane Hagerty told The Interim later that day that some 1,000 people received candles from the organizers and that several hundred people brought their own candles. After the demonstration, 450 packed the Education Building’s theatre to listen to Tanya Hughson, while several hundred people remained outside in the corridors to view pro-life literature. There were no confrontations and the crowd was entirely peaceful. Tickets for the Morgentaler event were $6, not $7.25 as reported in the Globe.