Abortion doctor who championed women's rights dies at 74

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 3:59pm


The doctor at the centre of a landmark abortion case in the 1970s, Dr Kenneth Edelin, died on Monday at age 74 after battling cancer.

Edelin’s wife, Barbara, confirmed that he died in Florida after suffering from the disease.

Edelin – the first black person to become chief resident of the Boston City Hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department – made headlines in the United States when he was convicted of manslaughter in 1975 for performing an abortion.

He was a great advocate for ... women to have choice in their own reproductive freedom
Barbara Edelin, wife

That was two years after the US Supreme Court legalised the procedure with its decision on Roe v. Wade.

Edelin completed the procedure surgically after the 17-year-old girl, in her sixth month of pregnancy, failed repeatedly to abort the child through saline injections, reports said.

“He was a great advocate for the rights of women to have choice in their own reproductive freedom,” Barbara Edelin said. “Particularly for women of colour and other minorities.”

His wife said Edelin was affected deeply as a child when his mother died of breast cancer.

“He became a doctor because that’s what he thought he needed to do to help women,” Barbara Edelin said.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court later overturned Edelin’s guilty verdict, in a case that helped legally define what an abortion is and when human life begins.

Edelin went on to become an outspoken activist and spokesman for reproductive rights, according to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund said.

He also served as a chairman of the board of Planned Parenthood. Edelin joined the fund’s senior board in 1986.

“Dr. Edelin was a fearless man of integrity and conviction,” LDF director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill said in a prepared statement. “As an LDF board member, he was a powerful voice and advocate for civil rights.”

In the book Broken Justice: A True Story of Race, Sex and Revenge in a Boston Courtroom, Edelin recounted the experiences of his criminal case.

“For me, the struggles for reproductive rights for women and Civil Rights for African-Americans are intertwined and at the same time parallel,” he wrote.

“The denial of these two rights is an attempt by some to control the bodies of others. Both are forms of slavery. We must never let slavery in any form return to America.”

Watch: A 2008 tribute video for Dr Kenneth Edelin

Source: Planned Parenthood Health