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2 February 2014

In Memorium: Dr Garson Romalis

Dr Garson, a champion of women’s reproductive choice who survived numerous attempts on his life for providing abortion care, died in hospital on 30 January after a period of illness.

His death comes as a huge loss to B.C. Women’s Hospital in British Columbia, Canada, where he practised for more than three decades, The Province reports.

‘He will be very much missed by the team and he has inspired and mentored many,’ said VP medical affairs Dorothy Shaw. ‘He was well-known as a champion of women’s reproductive choice.’

Romalis began medical school in the 1960s, when abortions were not even legal, but as he saw women die from illegal procedures he was driven to action, The Province reports.
He learned how to perform an abortion and in 1972, soon after the procedure was liberalised, he began a Vancouver practice for obstetrics, gynaecology and abortion care.

While he stayed out of the abortion debate, his work still made him a target for anti-abortion extremists. In November 1994, Romalis nearly bled to death after shots rang out while he was having breakfast in the kitchen of his Vancouver home and in the summer of 2000 he was stabbed in the back while turning his car over to the valet at a clinic on West 7th Avenue where he had an office. But despite the threats on his life, he carried on with his practice right up until his recent illness.

‘To carry on, you know providing services to women after he had been attacked not once, but twice was just so remarkable,’ Shaw said. ‘He was an inspiration ... (and) someone who showed tremendous courage.’

Dr Garson gave a moving speech, titled ‘Why I am an Abortion Doctor’, at a University of Toronto Law School symposium on 25 January 2008 marking the twentieth anniversary of R. v. Morgentaler, the landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down the laws restricting abortion in Canada. He concluded the speech:

‘I love my work. I get enormous personal and professional satisfaction out of helping people, and that includes providing safe, comfortable, abortions. The people that I work with are extraordinary, and we all feel that we are doing important work, making a real difference in peoples’ lives.

‘I can take an anxious woman, who is in the biggest trouble she has ever experiences in her life, and by performing a five-minute operation, in comfort and dignity, I can give her back her life.

‘After an abortion operation, patients frequently say “Thank You Doctor.” But abortion is the only operation I know of where they also sometimes say “Thank you for what you do.”

‘I want to tell you one last story that I think epitomizes the satisfaction I get from my privileged work. Some years ago I spoke to a class of University of British Columbia medical students. As I left the classroom, a student followed me out. She said: “Dr. Romalis, you won’t remember me, but you did an abortion on me in 1992. I am a second-year medical student now, and if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be here now.”’

Vancouver abortion doctor who survived murder attempts dies in hospital. By Larissa Cahute, The Province January 31, 2014

Why I am an Abortion Doctor, by Dr. Garson Romalis. Toronto Review of Books, 29 October 2012