Looking Back

On January 28, 2016 Abortion Access Now PEI marked the (28th) anniversary of the Morgentaler Decision by honouring J'Nan Brown, one of the founding mothers of the abortion rights movement in PEI. Here, J'Nan recounts a gesture she made in support of Dr Morgentaler, over 25 years ago. 

In 1989, the province of Nova Scotia had passed legislation prohibiting the performance of abortions in clinics, in response to Dr. Morgentaler’s plans to open a free-standing abortion clinic in Halifax. The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) launched a legal challenge of the Nova Scotia legislation, but were denied standing by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Dr. Morgentaler challenged the law by announcing that he had just performed seven abortions at his Halifax clinic. He was immediately charged under the provincial Medical Services Act. After seven additional charges were filed, the province obtained an injunction against his performing any more until charges against him had been heard. In 1990, a Nova Scotia provincial court judge struck down the Medical Services Act as unconstitutional and acquitted Dr. Morgentaler of all charges. The court found that abortion law is a matter of federal, not provincial jurisdiction. The Nova Scotia government appealed this decision. From The Morgentaler Decision: A 25 Year Anniversary

Here's what J'Nan had to say: "On June 4th, 1990, the day the court case against Dr. Henry Mortgentaler reopened, my daughter, Jennifer, my eight month old grandson, Alyre, and I travelled to Halifax. We were going to present a blanket to Dr. Henry Mortgentaler on behalf of Island Women. We drove through heavy rain showers on the way there.  It was a cool, damp and drizzly day when we arrived in Halifax. A group of about 25 pro-choice supporters were on hand for the presentation which took place on the steps of the Nova Scotia provincial courthouse.  Dr. Morgentaler expressed his thanks, made a statement to the media and left the courthouse with his lawyer, Anne Derrick.  Walking away from the courthouse in the rain Dr. Mortgentaler unfolded the blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders.  Moments later he took it off and wrapped it around Anne's shoulders.

The blanket, woven by Island weaver, Lynn Douglas, is a gift to the Mortgentaler Clinic in Halifax. It is a symbol of the care and compassion that Mortgentaler and his clinics' staff have given to women.  It is also a symbol of CARAL PEI's continuing support for the opening of a clinic in Halifax.  Historically Island women have had to travel to Montreal or Boston to have an abortion.  The clinic in Halifax will provide access to this legal medical procedure within an easier travelling distance.  Until we can have access to abortion within our own medical community the clinic in Halifax offers the best option.

During the drive back to P.E.I. my daughter and I reflected on the day's event.  We talked about how grateful we were to Dr. Mortgentaler, grateful that he has been willing over the years to take the issue of choice for women through the courts.  We agreed that despite Justice Minister Kim Campbell's assurance that with the passing of bill C43, the problem of access would be solved, it would probably be necessary to take our provincial government or the P.E.I. hospitals to court.  And we smiled at the thought that Alyre had attended his first demonstration."