News from The New York Times this week that a pro-choice hero died this past Tuesday. Dr. Jean Pakter headed New York City’s bureau of
maternity services and family planning from 1960 to 1982. Among other feats, in the 60s, she
conducted research on the number of women injured or killed by practitioners providing illegal abortion. Those estimates became instrumental in political
debates around abortion, including the 1973 Supreme Court arguments in Roe v. Wade.
The Center for Reproductive Rights praises Dr. Pakter as an inspiration for those in the reproductive rights movement and is extremely grateful for her
commitment to reproductive rights.
Here’s an excerpt from the Times:
was still illegal during Ms. Pakter’s early years in public health, and she had the task of compiling reports based on mortality statistics and anecdotal
information about the commerce in abortion. These reports provided some of the few reliable estimates in the country about the number of women injured or
killed by illegal practitioners. (There were dozens each year in the city.) She worked actively to support a state law, passed in 1970, that gave women in
New York the right to abortion, three years before it became available nationally.
The enactment of the state law created a flood of patients to New York and a sudden outcropping of abortion clinics. Dr. Pakter was instrumental in
establishing rules for them, including guidelines for what equipment had to be in doctors’ offices and a requirement that abortions after 12 weeks be done
in hospitals. These rules were later adopted in many states.
The law also provided data for a series of annual reports showing that large numbers of abortions—163,000 in New York City the first year—could be
performed safely if monitored by the local authorities.
Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing the majority decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, cited the June 1971 edition of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the
government’s public health journal, to support one contention in his argument for legalizing abortion. “Mortality rates for women undergoing early
abortions, where the procedure is legal, appear to be as low as, or lower than, the rates for normal childbirth,” he wrote. “Consequently, any interest of
the state has largely disappeared.” The report he cited was by Dr. Pakter and her colleagues.