Dr Mary Conley of Victoria, BC, has won the 2011 Reproductive Health Award from the Federation of Medical Women of Canada (www.fmwc.ca/index.php).
Dr Conley spent her career as a family doctor, teacher, abortion provider, and pro-choice activist. Originally from New Brunswick, she graduated with an honors degree from UNB and an MD from UBC. She received her training for performing abortions while interning at the Ottawa Civic Hospital In 1975.
On moving to Victoria, Dr Conley joined the Birth Control Clinic and served as their medical advisor for 8 years. This involved teaching the interns, individually, about birth control methods—a subject not offered at medical school. She imported cervical caps from Britain and did research as to their effectiveness. Throughout her career she continued to teach contraception and women’s health to the medical staff and community groups.
In the beginning she referred her abortion patients to gynecologists, but it became evident that these patients were scorned by some of the hospital staff, so she did her own procedures. In 1980 she trained with Dr Morgentaler in Montreal, the first doctor outside Quebec to do so.
After the Supreme Court threw out the abortion law, it became a turbulent time for abortion providers. The government attempted to make a new law; it was defeated by the Senate. When Premier Vander Zalm tried to restrict abortion access, Dr Conley publicly announced the opening of her office for the procedure. Despite a continual barrage of hate mail, death threats, picketers, and the shooting of a number of Canadian doctors—including Dr Romalis in Vancouver—Dr Conley continued her work, and, as well, her radio, TV, and newspaper interviews.
In this atmosphere of fear, many of the abortion providers on Vancouver Island quit. The result was that patients from all over the island, the Gulf Islands, and beyond were referred to Dr Conley, and eventually, she was performing over 90% of all abortions done in Victoria. She was also tireless in her lobbying for RU486.
In 1996 she won a Woman of Distinction Award for voluntary service to the community. She is now retired and has taken up painting with great passion. She lives with her artist husband in Victoria, BC.
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