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Updated: Wed, 29 May 2013 13:42:16 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Abortion activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler dies

Abortion activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler dies

Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who led the abortion movement in Canada, has died at the age of 90.

Morgentaler emerged in 1969 as one of Canada's most controversial figures when he broke the law and opened the country's first abortion clinic in Montreal. Over the next two decades, the Montreal doctor would be heralded as a hero by some and called a murderer by others as he fought to change Canada's abortion laws.

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Carolyn Egan, with the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics, said she spoke with members of Morgentaler's family, who told her he died early Wednesday morning, surrounded by family, and that it was a peaceful death at his Toronto home.

Morgentaler, who was born in Lodz, Poland and came to Canada after the Second World War, emerged in 1967 as an advocate for the right of women to have abortion on demand — a polarizing issue in Canada. His abortion clinic in Montreal was followed by more clinics across the country.

"His work changed the legal landscape in Canada, and eventually led to the 1988 landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision that gave women the right to obtain abortion care," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

"Dr. Morgentaler was a legend, a hero, and a national treasure in both our countries, and we will miss him dearly."

In the late 1960s, Morgentaler dedicated his energies to family planning issues, including abortions.

In 1967, he urged a House of Commons committee to reconsider abortion law, saying any woman should have the right to end her pregnancy without risking death.

At the time, attempting to induce abortion was a crime punishable by life imprisonment and the woman faced two years' imprisonment.

Pro-life activists targeted the clinics and rallies, protests and legal battles followed until Jan. 28, 1988, when the Supreme Court struck down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional.

In an interview with The Canadian Press in 2004, Morgentaler said his five-year stay in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau prepared him for his showdown with Canada's legal system.

With files from The Canadian Press

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