By Dave Andrusko
In 1975, Dr. Kenneth Edelin told the New York Times, “Nobody likes to do abortions, but the least we can do is make it safe and humane.” Keep that in mind as we go forward today.
Old timers like me have a much different understanding of Dr. Edelin [pronounced EE-da-lin], the abortionist who passed away in December 2013. Edelin was the defendant in one of the earliest (and stomach turning) cases in which he was first convicted of manslaughter in the death of a baby born alive on October 3, 1973, and then exonerated by the Supreme Judicial Court (Massachusetts‘s highest judicial body). The legal case began in 1975, just two years after Roe v. Wade was handed down.
Why bother to bring up his name at all lo these many decades later? Because “Friends, family, and colleagues of Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin assembled on the lawn outside Boston Medical Center Thursday afternoon to dedicate a public square in his memory,” according to Emily Sweeney of the Boston Globe. “[M]ore than 100 people gathered under a white tent at Boston Medical Center to celebrate Edelin’s achievements and unveil a sign that will mark the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Worcester Square as Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin Square.”
The story is filled with tributes to Edelin, PPFA’s chairman from 1989 to 1992 and a member of the National Abortion Federation, described by The Rev. Liz Walker as “an extraordinary man who lived a life with extraordinary purpose.”
Simply because she explained the case so well, let me first quote extensively from a post written by Sarah Terzo. I will then add a brief comment.
Sarah’s 2013 column about Edelin was sparked by the case of abortionist Kermit Gosnell who eventually was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of three late-term babies he delivered alive and then slit their spinal cords, and involuntary manslaughter in the death of a female patient.
In 1973, Edelin was an abortionist at Boston City Hospital. A 17-year-old girl came in for a routine abortion. She claimed she was 17 weeks pregnant. One doctor examined her and said that she was closer 20 weeks. Later she was estimated to be 24 weeks along. Yet another doctor estimated her pregnancy as 22 weeks.
Despite the confusion, Dr. Edelin and Dr. Penza (the abortionists on staff) chose to perform a saline abortion on her. A saline abortion is performed by injecting caustic saline solution into the woman’s uterus. The solution burns and poisons the baby over a period of several hours, and then labor is induced, with the woman “giving birth” to her dead child. This abortion procedure is seldom used today because of its risks to the mother and the large number of live births that were attributed to it.
The abortion went wrong from the beginning. Dr. Penza was to perform the saline abortion. After two attempts to inject the saline solution Dr. Penza gave up. Edelin took over and decided to perform a hysterotomy. A hysterotomy is a little used abortion procedure which is performed like a cesarean section – the womb is cut open, and the baby is removed. What happened next is still in dispute.
Edelin’s legal team made the case that the baby was killed while still inside the uterus. According to pro-choice author Marion Faux:
“He [Dr. Edelin] “had run his finger around the uterine wall to separate the fetus from the placenta and then stood looking at a wall clock for three minutes before removing the fetus from the uterus.”
In this way, Faux said [Dr. Edelin] suffocated the infant. Other witnesses, however, claimed that the baby was born alive and then suffocated. After an autopsy of the baby, a medical examiner and pathologist testified that the baby could have been born alive after examining the baby’s lungs to determine whether or not he had taken a breath outside the womb.
Edelin’s defense produced experts to contest their estimation. One claimed that the condition of the lungs was caused by the saline solution that was unsuccessfully injected before the hysterotomy attempt. However, since witnesses claim that the saline solution never penetrated the amniotic sac, such a claim is unlikely. Edelin himself was quoted saying that he’d had no intention of delivering a live baby “It would have been contrary to the wishes of the mother.”
In the end, Edelin was convicted of manslaughter. Many jurors claimed that the picture of the aborted baby was pivotal in their decision. According to one report, a jury member said:
“The picture helped people draw their own conclusions. Everybody in the room made up their minds that the fetus was a person.”
Edelin was found guilty of manslaughter. The verdict was delivered amid accusations of racism – an all-white jury had convicted in African-American doctor.
A year later, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts overturned the verdict and exonerated Edelin. It seems that the crux of the argument against his conviction was the conflicting testimony and the fact that experts claimed that the baby was not “viable.” They claimed that the baby could not survive outside the woman’s womb, and, therefore, any steps taken to kill the child should not be prosecuted.
Edelin’s career was not damaged by the trial. Only three years later, he became the Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Boston University medical school.
When Edelin died, the New York Times’ obituary placed no emphasis on how Edelin killed the baby–according to his account while the baby was in utero– and great emphasis on his role as martyr–unjustly charged and convicted for “performing a legal abortion.”
In case anyone missed the point, Robert D. McFadden added, “[T]he all-white 12-member jury, which included nine men and 10 Roman Catholics, convicted Dr. Edelin of manslaughter.”
But Edelin was hardly in exclusive company. There is the [in]famous 1981 Philadelphia Inquirer story that detailed “Abortion: the dreaded complication”–the “dreaded complication” being babies who survived these hideous attacks. Nine paragraphs into Liz Jeffries’ and Rick Edmonds’ story we learn
In fact, for every case that does become known [of a baby who survives the abortion], a hundred probably go unreported. Dr. Willard Gates, an expert on medical statistics who is chief of abortion surveillance for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, estimates that 400 to 500 abortion live births occur every year in the United States. That is only a tiny fraction of the nation’s 1.5 million annual abortions. Still, it means that these unintended live births are literally an everyday occurrence. They are little known because organized medicine, from fear of public clamor and legal action, treats them more as an embarrassment to be hushed up than a problem to be solved. “It’s like turning yourself in to the IRS for an audit,” Cates said. “What is there to gain? The tendency is not to report because there are only negative incentives.”
Aborted babies still survive, although not in the numbers they did when abortionists performed saline abortions and hysterotomies. Nowadays abortionists typically minimize the odds. They use steel tools to tear these huge babies apart limb from limb until they bleed to death. Sometimes they poison them first.
The Boston Globe’s glowing tribute to Edelin ends this way:
“He was sympathetic, and he had a great bedside manner. He’d take your call anytime, morning, noon or night,” [Flash] Wiley, a longtime friend said. “He was a people’s doctor.”
Just not little people’s doctor.