Top Canada award for pro-abortion activist stirs controversy

July 2nd, 2008 - 12:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, July 2 (IANS) Canada’s Conservative government has distanced itself from the controversial selection of a famous abortion-rights activist for the top civilian award on the nation’s 141st birthday. Henry Morgentaler, who fought a lengthy legal battle to make Canada the first western nation to give unfettered abortion rights to women in 1988, was Tuesday named for the Order of Canada by the governor general.

As his naming for the top honour created a furore, the government quickly distanced itself from the decision, saying it played no role in honouring Morgentaler.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government was “not involved in either deliberations or decisions with respect to which individuals are appointed to the Order of Canada”.

The spokesman added that only the governor general made decisions to honour people on the recommendations of an advisory council chaired by the chief justice of Canada.

A Holocaust survivor from Poland, Morgentaler crusaded for almost two decades to get Section 251 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which banned all abortions except those allowed under extreme conditions, overturned.

The section made it mandatory for a therapeutic abortion committee to be set up for any abortion. Only after it gave its decision could the abortion be performed.

Morgentaler succeeded in getting the section overturned by the Supreme Court in January 1988, thus making Canada the first western nation to give abortion rights to women.

In a statement, Governor General Michaelle Jean said the Order of Canada was given to Morgentaler “for his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organisations”.

But many pro-life groups slammed the decision to bestow the top honour on him.

Catholic groups and Toronto archbishop Thomas Collins said honouring Morgentaler with the Order of Canada has lowered the prestige of the award.

Morgentaler was the first doctor to open an abortion clinic in Montreal in 1968 in open defiance of the law.

Also named Tuesday as Companions of the Order of Canada were Kim Campbell, the country’s first female prime minister, and former Supreme Court justice John Major, who recently headed the inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 331 people.

Among those named an Officer of the Order was rocker Randy Bachman, formerly of The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, for his contributions as an iconic Canadian rock musician and his support of Canadian music.

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