Kenneth C Edelin

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 17 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g411
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Doctor who performed the abortion at the centre of a major US court case


It started out as a routine elective abortion at Boston City Hospital. The patient was a 17 year old in her sixth month of pregnancy. The attending doctor was Kenneth Edelin, the first African-American to be named chief resident of obstetrics and gynaecology at the hospital. It was October 1973—nine months after the US Supreme Court had affirmed the legal right of women to have abortions in the landmark Roe v Wade case.

Edelin successfully performed the abortion. Six months later he was charged by Boston prosecutors with manslaughter in the death of the aborted fetus. Later, Edelin would say he had been the victim of a “witch hunt.”

The Supreme Court’s abortion ruling was not popular with Boston’s large Irish-Catholic community. Furthermore, Boston in the early 1970s was being rocked by racial unrest. Federal courts had ordered the city’s racially segregated schools to be desegregated. African-American students were bussed to white schools, and vice versa.

“In Boston, …

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