In 1973, Dr. Kenneth Edelin was a young medical resident at Boston City Hospital when he performed a complicated abortion on a 17-year-old Roxbury girl. Abortion had been legal in Massachusetts and had become legal in all states nine months earlier by the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. But Edelin soon became a target of anti-abortion politicians who said the procedure, called a hysterotomy — making a small incision in the uterus and detaching the fetus from the placental wall — amounted to murder. He was convicted of manslaughter in 1975.
A year later, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned the case. The landmark decision helped to protect doctors who performed abortions and also clarified the definition of when life begins according to the courts.
Dr. Edelin went on to become an abortion-rights activist and chairman of the board of Planned Parenthood. He taught at the Boston University School of Medicine until 1989. He died of cancer on December 30 at the age of 74.
You can listen to Kenneth Edelin in a 2006 interview by reporter Rachel Gotbaum for NEJM.org here.