Dr. Kenneth Edelin

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund mourns the passing of Dr. Ken Edelin, a longtime champion of women’s rights, and a senior board member at LDF. Dr. Edelin joined the board in 1986 and steadfastly promoted LDF’s values and mission. 

LDF Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill said, “Dr. Edelin was a fearless man of integrity and conviction.  As an LDF board member he was a powerful voice and advocate for civil rights.”

Former Director-Counsel Elaine Jones described Dr. Edelin as “a hard-working, loyal member of the LDF board for nearly three decades.  Jones said that “it was an honor and a wonderful gift to have been able to work with him for twenty years of his tenure.  He was loved and will be missed.” 

After almost going to prison for performing  a legal abortion (the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned the guilty conviction from a lower court), Dr. Edelin became an outspoken activist and spokesman for reproductive rights. Dr. Edelin also served as a chairman of the board of Planned Parenthood.

Dr. Edelin’s book “Broken Justice: A True Story of Race, Sex and Revenge in a Boston Courtroom” recounts his experiences during  his 1971 indictment and trial for performing a legal abortion, which took place shortly after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe vs. Wade.


In the book, Dr. Edelin wrote “At the center of this book are the rights of women to control their own bodies, and the rights of doctors to perform legitimate and legal medical procedures. For me, the struggles for reproductive rights for women and Civil Rights for African-Americans are intertwined and at the same time parallel. The denial of these two rights is an attempt by some to control the bodies of others. Both are forms of slavery. We must never let slavery in any form return to America.”

He was the first African American to become chief resident of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the history of BCH. Dr. Edelin had wanted to be a doctor from a young age.

After witnessing the death of a young Black woman from an illegal abortion when he was a third-year medical student, he became a passionate defender of a woman’s right to choose and that experience propelled his 30+ year career of providing quality health care to poor women and women of color.

Dr. Kenneth Edelin’s was a passionate and devoted civil rights advocate and was devoted to his family. His love, compassion, and respect for women motivated his health and civil rights work.

A memorial service for Dr. Edelin is planned for Boston in early 2014.  He is survived by his wife Barbara, his children and his grandchildren.

Read the New York Times obituary.

In accordance with his desire to give back to the community, his family has asked that in lieu of flowers contributions in his honor be made to either of the following institutions:

NAACP – Legal Defense and Educational Fund  (Donate online here )
40 Rector Street, 5th Floor
New York, New York 10006

Planned Parenthood
434 W. 33rd St
New York, New York 10001