By Beth Treffeisen
Honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, members of his family, Boston City Council members, Mayor Martin Walsh, Governor Deval Patrick and others joined for a Square Dedication and Sign Unveiling in front of the Boston Medical Center on Thursday, June 15.
Dr. Edelin was the first African American to become Chief Resident in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Boston City Hospital, now Boston Medical Center.
He is revered for his efforts to diversify Boston University School of Medicine student pipeline and advocacy for equitable health care access for low-income women and girls.
“As the Founder and Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities, as a champion for girls and women and equitable access to economic opportunity, as the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council, I feel a great kinship with Dr. Edelin,” said Councilor Ayanna Pressley.
She continued, “His contributions and impact on this City (and the nation) are simply too great to list. We so often spend out time studying the nation’s historical greats that we forget the very heroes and sheroes in our own back yard. Dr. Edelin is a local hero.”
As Chief Resident, and following the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, he was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a fetus from a legal and safe abortion, which sparked a local and national debate about a woman’s right to choose and access to health care for low-income and women of color. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts eventually exonerated Dr. Edelin.
“He was determined to help other women, especially poor women of color get access to quality healthcare, and he did,” said Mrs. Barbara E. Edelin, widow of Dr. Kenneth Edelin. “He was quoted in the New York Times after his trial saying, “Nobody likes to do abortions but the least we can do is make it safe.” To him, that is what mattered.”
She continued, “He didn’t seek to make a political point but as you know the trail changed his life forever. He fought for choice both locally and on a national stage.”
Mayor Walsh pointed out that that it wasn’t always the norm to have people of color working in hospitals.
“He possessed a rare combination of a remarkable talent and a devotion to doing the right thing,” said Mayor Walsh. “He broke ground for African Americans in our City and you can’t forget somebody like that…a lot of people made that foundation and broke that ground, and certainly the Doctor was one of them.”
Dr. Edelin worked on the League of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts board of directors from 1975 to 1977. He was also a national leader in the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and cheered the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, National Board of Directors from 1989 to 1992.
“Dr. Edelin understood that women deserve the right to privacy, the right to make their own decisions about their bodies. He committed his career to healthcare justice, civil rights and ensuring that all women have equitable access to care,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
She said in order to honor Dr. Edelin’s advocacy supporters must continue pushing the movement forward.
“Now more than ever given today’s political environment and endless attacks on safe, legal abortion, and women’s access to preventive care like birth control and scanned cancer treatment,” said Childs-Roshak. “Today let’s honor Dr. Edelin by dedicating this square and memorial. Tomorrow, let’s honor Dr. Edelin by never compromising on the future where every women has the ability to make her own healthcare decisions.”