The Secret Power of Juries - an excerpt on Morgentaler

BC Humanist Association honorary member Gary Bauslaugh provides the following excerpt from his upcoming book “The Secret Power of Juries.” Bauslaugh will be speaking in the fall on “Humanism, social justice and the power of juries.”

Here he quotes part of his book relating to Henry Morgentaler who passed away yesterday.

Morgentaler’s Ontario clinic opened on June 7, 1983, a few days after the Winnipeg clinic had opened. There was enormous publicity for the opening, provided mostly by the press who gave front-page coverage to the story. Morgentaler arrived at the opening to cheers from crowds of supporters. Protesters had decided not to attend, except for one who ran toward Morgentaler brandishing pruning shears. He was blocked by one of the abortion supporters and then ran off.  Later he was arrested.

Incidents like the pruning shears one highlighted the dangers to which Morgentaler constantly exposed himself, dangers that went beyond the possibility of imprisonment. In 2005 I was involved with organizing the annual meeting of the Humanist Association of Canada. Morgentaler had, years earlier, been given their Humanist of the Year award (the American Humanist Association similarly honoured him some years earlier) and he was invited to speak at the 2005 meeting. Even then, over 20 years after his last trial, special security precautions had to be taken.

At the meeting I was privileged to speak about that year’s award winner, Evelyn Martens, about whom I had written extensively. Martens, like Morgentaler, was a courageous social activist who had, in 2004, been prosecuted on two counts of assisting suicide. I was also asked to announce that Martens’ award, and henceforth all future such awards, would be called “The Henrys.”  Morgentaler then handed out that year’s “Henry” to Martens. I shall never forget sharing the stage with these two diminutive, aging people who had put themselves at so much risk in serving the desperate needs of those whom no one else would help. How much easier, I thought, to just write about these things; how much more difficult to actually put oneself out there on the front lines. It was a great but undeserved honour to stand up there with them.

Prior to the opening of the Toronto clinic Morgentaler had been warned by his new lawyer in Toronto, the eminent, brilliant and progressive Morris Manning, that he would be breaking the law.

“Fine,” Morgentaler is reported to have said. “Let’s get on with it.”

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