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Dr. Kenneth Edelin, advocate for women’s right to abortion, health care, 74

Yawu Miller | 1/2/2014, 9:47 a.m.

Prominent obstetrician and women’s rights advocate Dr. Kenneth Edelin died Monday in Sarasota, Fla. after a battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.

Edelin made headlines in 1975 when he was convicted of manslaughter for performing an abortion, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice legal in the historic Roe v. Wade decision. He was convicted by an all-white jury of nine men and 10 Roman Catholics in Suffolk Superior Court in a trial he characterized as a “witch hunt.” While anti-abortion advocates hailed the conviction as a victory, the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court a year later.

Edelin went on to serve as chief resident of Boston City Hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology department, and chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Boston University Hospital. He was an associate dean for student at minority affairs at Boston University’s School of Medicine and served as chairman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

During his tenure at Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center), Edelin advocated passionately for the rights of women and for the rights of the poor to obtain health care. He had many critics in the largely Roman Catholic Boston of the ‘70s and ‘80s, including the late Mayor Raymond Flynn who turned a cold shoulder to his bid to become Commissioner of Health and Hospitals for the city.

While his critics pointed to his strident defense of a woman’s right to an abortion, Edelin criticized what he characterized as the Boston health care system’s chronic neglect of the neo natal needs of poor women which he said resulted in high infant mortality rates.

“Boston City Hospital, which delivers the greatest percentage of low-birth-weight babies in the Boston area, struggles to exist,” he wrote in a 1988 Boston Globe op-ed. “While the city’s other important problems – sewage-treatment plants, marathon races, downtown development – receive press and political attention, Boston City Hospital is left floundering, and no one seems to care. And all the while poor babies continue to die at an increasing rate.”

Edelin is survived by his wife Barbara, his children, Kenneth Jr., Kimberley Edelin Freeman, Joseph and Corrine, his brother Milton, his sister Norma Edelin Johnson and eight grandchildren.

Edelin served in the Air Force, attaining the rank of Captain. He also served as the managing director of the Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center.