Morgentaler: Humanist or ripoff?


Morgentaler: Humanist or ripoff?


September 1974

Vol. 2, No. 4

Pages 1, 6

Richard Gwynn, a Toronto Star columnist in Ottawa made a very interesting observation a few months ago.

He said that while academics sometimes fret over the "power of the press" unfortunately, the real problem is just the opposite. The press, for the most part, is powerless to prevent itself from being used to personal ends by people with a flair for publicity. He applied this comment to a political situation at the time, where reporters found themselves preferring one candidate as a person, but writing more copy on the other - because he was ingenious at providing opportunities.

We have seen the Canadian press turn Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the fashionable Montreal abortionist, into something of a cause celebre - and unwittingly, at that. The journalists who wrote stories about Dr. Morgentaler made a point of asking all the right questions and none of the "wrong", embarrassing ones.

The Uncertified Human has, by good fortune, been able to obtain some of the answers to the "wrong" questions, by interviewing various people who have been associated with his clinic. Their testimony, by anyone's standard, would appear to suggest that Morgentaler is bogus.

In this issue, we will set forth some of the evidence in the much-neglected transcripts of the 1973 trial, evidence which helped the five judge court of appeals overturn the "not guilty" verdict on April 26, 1974, and which was referred to in one of the judgements. In the next issue, we will give the account of Ms. Charlebois, the woman who helped to arrest Morgentaler last August for attempting to abort her. Ms. Charlebois was not pregnant, incidentally, a circumstance which one would have expected Dr. Morgentaler to have noted. He took her money all the same. Charlebois' account of the clinic will shock some, if they have heard glowing accounts of it in the press.


Nothing in the world is more boring than the lengthy transcripts of a case in court because much of it is legal wrangle, trivia and interminable proceedings. In addition, they are expensive to obtain. It is a good idea to have someone at the trial to take notes on what is entered in the transcripts. Most of the people at Dr. Morgentaler's trial were his supporters, so that loyalty, embarrassment, or deceptiveness would most likely curtail any attempt to air unvirtuous material when it happened to appear. Through these supporters and under the auspices of well connected professional journalists, such as June Callwood, Pierre Berton, and Charles Templeton, an "image" has been created, instead, of a nice little man operating a nice little business and giving his patients a nice little feeling.

The transcripts show that:

Morgentaler does not perform pregnancy tests on his patients - he hands out positive tests. The Montreal police estimate that 20% of the women who come to Morgentaler and are charged $200 for an abortion are not pregnant. It would be fine if none of them were pregnant, but Morgentaler's cavalier approach to the matter combined with his uncavalier willingness to take the money and run, sits ill with his "humanitarian" reputation. Needless to say, he performs no Rh immune or blood tests or any of the other medical procedures which prevent complications in later years. Dr. Morgentaler's "counselling" session, according to those who have sat through it, consists of a five minute interview about 1) whether or not he can perform the abortion (fetus must be less than 12 weeks), and 2) how and when he is to be paid.

Morgentaler emphasizes, whenever he can get a free ear, that he forgives poor women most of the price, but his sympathies seem limited. A black African woman who made only $2,400 a year was charged $150.00, instead of the going rate at the time of $300. Since she had only $80.00, the good doctor settled for a post-dated cheque for $70.00 as well. Sweet charity, apparently, hath its limits.

Morgentaler continued to perform abortions after his 1973 trial, despite the bail conditions which prohibited it. Our informant who sat through the trial proceedings (Ms. T.) indicated that Dr. Morgentaler was so rigid in his convictions that he coerced one woman who appeared at his bail hearings to concoct a false confession stating that she had attempted to abort herself before Morgentaler would agree to offer his services. Curiously, our informant also told us that a number of people appeared, at the trial to testify against Morgentaler -- unasked. One man, for instance, testified that he was disgusted to realize that Morgentalerís "Medical Clinic" could not help his daughter who was suffering from abdominal cramps. After he and his daughter waited for 2 hours at the clinic, Morgentaler's nurse informed them: We can't see you. We only do abortions here.


Many people wonder about "where all the money goes". Twenty patients a day could yield approximately $4,000 a day. Since the women are processed at the rate of 2-3 per hour; his overhead per abortion could not exceed $15, considering that he indulges in no expensive testing procedures and the "recovery" room is his cellar. Morgentaler claims that the money goes for his "legal expenses", but he is not in court all the time, and even when he is, the top legal rate is $l,500 a day, considerably less than his take. Incidentally, the Quebec government recently charged him with $350,000 worth of tax evasion (Feb 13, 1974) and this suggests that part of his income may be going into investments of some sort.

What about the much discussed "competent personnel"? On June 12, 1974, the Quebec Order of Nurses announced in all major newspapers that Mrs. Joanna Cornax, Morgentaler's "nurse", is not in fact, a nurse, and they found it necessary to warn the public against her on this account.

One journalist, writing a few months ago in the TORONTO STAR, with an unconscious touch of comedy, titled her article, "Morgenaler - Saint or Sinner?". She appears to have thought him a saint after having been taken by him on a personal1y guided tour of his clinic.

Even so, she might have been wiser to have called her article: "Morgentaler--Saint or Entrepreneur?".

Morgentaler deserves more investigation than this, however. There is a lot more to the story. But we are saving that for Ms. Charlebois who, after all, was there to tell our reader.

Watch for it.

Go to Part Two