Controversial abortion rights advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler says he is proud that Canada has "finally" recognized his contribution to women's rights.

A day after the Governor General announced Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada, the former abortion doctor held a news conference in Montreal, stating his push to expand access to abortions in the country has made women safer.

"(It's a) sign of recognition for all the work I've done over the years and the sacrifices I've made," he said Wednesday.

He said that he was proud to be "finally . . . recognized (for) my contribution to Canadian women."  

Morgentaler has been a controversial figure for decades, playing a key role in striking down Canada's abortion laws in 1988. He had been openly performing illegal abortions -- which had been only allowed on limited terms in some hospitals -- since the late 1960s.

He now runs clinics across Canada, although the 85-year-old does not perform abortions anymore due to health reasons.

He said over the past two decades, Canada has set an example for the world. But his appointment to the Order of Canada has outraged some conservative politicians and religious leaders.

Some Catholic leaders have even suggested they would lobby politicians and their members to convince the panel that awarded the honour to reverse its decision.

Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins called the appointment a "sad day for our country."

Collins is leading a letter-writing campaign to Ottawa to have Morgentaler's award rescinded.

He is also calling on his parishes to say a prayer Sunday that pleads for "the scourge of abortion to be lifted from our land"

LifeCanada President Joanne Byfield told CTV Newsnet shortly after Morgentaler's press conference the reasons behind Morgentaler's award don't make sense. She said Morgentaler has not saved women's lives because abortions are rarely performed because of life-threatening situations.

"How can my country tell me that this man is a hero for killing babies," she said.

"He got it because he does abortions. If they don't have the guts to say it, why are we giving him the award?

Morgentaler said he's not surprised his critics have come out.

"They don't seem to be happy with the fact that now in this country women are not in danger from having an abortion. Abortion has become one of the safest surgical techniques," he said.

On Tuesday, the Conservative government distanced itself from the appointment, saying it was not involved in the decision.

"Rideau Hall makes these appointments based on the recommendations of the Advisory Council for the Order which is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada,'' Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

The Governor General's website states that Morgentaler was made a member of the Order of Canada for "his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organizations."

With a report from CTV's Scott Laurie