Pro-life leaders in Canada reacted with sadness and prayers to the death of Henry Morgentaler, regretting his leading role in legalizing abortion across the nation and the tens of thousands of abortions he performed.

"As an organization supporting the protection of all human life from conception to natural death, we have always been opposed to Canada's unrestricted access to legal abortion of which Henry Morgentaler, through his continued court challenges, was probably the biggest single influence," the Toronto-based Catholic Civil Rights League said May 30.

"Nevertheless, his death reminds us of the sanctity of all life, and we continue to pray for him, as well as for his family and friends at this difficult time," the league added.

Jim Hughes, National President of the Campaign Life Coalition, said he had been praying for Morgentaler every day "for more than 20 years."

However, he said Morgentaler was "a highly divisive figure" who trained abortionists "in his methods of killing."

Hughes said the abortionist did "unbelievable damage" to Canada's future and his advocacy resulted in the abortions of "millions of Canadians."

The Polish-born Morgentaler died May 28 in Toronto at the age of 90. He had survived Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau before emigrating to Canada from Poland, the New York Times reports.

He performed his first illegal abortion in 1968 on the 18-year-old daughter of a friend. Beginning in the late 1960s, he opened illegal abortion clinics because he believed criminalized abortion drove women to incompetent abortionists.

"The law was barbarous, cruel and unjust. I had been in a concentration camp, and I knew what suffering was. If I can ease suffering, I feel perfectly justified in doing so," he said, according to a 1996 biography by Catherine Dunphy.

During his career, he performed tens of thousands of abortions. He was arrested for performing illegal abortions four times and acquitted by jurors four times. Prosecutors appealed one acquittal, resulting in Morgentaler's conviction.

He served ten months of an 18-month jail sentence, being released after a heart attack. His appeal of another abortion conviction in Ontario resulted in a hearing before Canada's Supreme Court that challenged the constitutionality of Canadian abortion law. In a 5-2 ruling, the court struck down the law on Jan. 28, 1988 on the grounds it denied women their rights in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Throughout his abortion career, Morgentaler's actions provoked death threats and some violent responses. He was attacked with garden shears and beaten by a mob. One of his clinics was firebombed, though he escaped injury.

Morgentaler's death this week prompted prayers from pro-life leaders.

"As we wish for both ally and adversary, may God have mercy on his soul," said Mary Ellen Douglas, national director of the Campaign Life Coalition.

"This is the end of an era and we hope that our country can now turn a necessary corner and find the courage to restore protection to all human beings, born and pre-born."

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, president of Canada's bishops conference, said he recognized that Morgentaler's family had lost someone they loved. He expressed his condolences on behalf of Canada's Catholic bishops.

"Every human life is sacred and deserves our care and protection," Archbishop Smith said. "As Catholics, we mourn the loss of each life, in particular of those who die in the womb, and pray to God to be merciful to all who die. May Our Lord help us all to find the best ways to aid those who are suffering and in need."